The Playful Acrostic

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kaye lindenAn acrostic poem is defined as a poem in which the first or last letter of each line when read vertically will spell out a word, phrase, or name.

Take a look at the following poem. What secret does it hide?

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

by Lewis Carroll

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

(Hint: Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland.)

The word “acrostic” derives from the Greek meaning “at the tip of the verse.” An acrostic might also read diagonally if the poet wants to play with the form. See Edgar Allan Poe’s A Valentine.

A double acrostic has two vertical arrangements (first and middle letters or first and last letters) and a triple has three vertical arrangements (first letters, middle letters and last letters).

When I was a child, I used a mnemonic device to remember facts such as the order of the planets of the solar system: “My very energetic mother just saw Uncle Ned pass.” (I know—Is Pluto a planet or an asteroid?) This is a type of acrostic.

The history of the acrostic form suggests it was used as a magical expression of incantation or revelation of powerful information. In ancient times, the acrostic was used in Latin, Greek and Hebrew literature—it occurs in Hebrew biblical Psalms. The poet thus asks the reader of the acrostic to join him in a secret, in the discovery of his message.

Acrostic poetry originated in ancient times but there are those who view the form as empty and petty. All poetic forms have a playful side but if well-written, an acrostic cannot be trivialized.

an acrostic attempt

by Kaye

Dead women walk across prairies in this town,
unburdened by their bodies they
roam the Animas, the river of lost souls.
Ancestral voices whisper across
never-never lands,
ghosts of miners who quarried silver and coal,
odd lives honed to three lines on shattered headstones,
desperado’s tales sharing the legends of drunken escapades.
Ungodly gauchos once gouged these mountains,
robbers of wagon trains and outlanders
ambushed in pine forests on lonely trails,
nabbed by the nameless outlaws of this town.
Gleaners of gems and people, they moved
onwards, drawn west, when nothing was left in the mines.
Dead women walk across prairies in this town,
uprooted by death, from their beloved home.
Rich perhaps, once, from the silver their husbands mined,
and useless to them now. Their money lies
netted by descendants of these robbers
gone west, gone with the rowdy crowds who finally departed the
ore and orgies, the graves of wives in Colorado, for gold dust in California.

Acrostic poems offer a secret and the fun is their riddle-like structure. In my attempt above I did not name the town but wove the name of the town in the first letter of each line. You could also weave the name or message throughout the poem as in code form. The poet can have creative fun with an acrostic, bolding the letters of the message or not bolding them, writing the message backwards etc. I can get pretty crazy with this type of thing.

Challenge: Write an acrostic. Take a word or message or name, and write it vertically with one letter per line. Now, go back and write each line and form a cohesive poem. If you want even more challenge, turn on the timer and write fast without judgment. Writing an acrostic works as a brain challenge. It is one tool for preventing brain aging.

Alternatively, write a poem about what you cannot hear or see, or about what you don’t know. Keep that object secret but weave it into your poem as an acrostic or a playful mixed-up acrostic which works like a woven blanket.

If you like what you wrote, submit it to the Bacopa Literary Review before June 30.

Or, if not submitting to Bacopa, email it to me for a couple of comments:

Adios till next post,

Resources: for a variety of acrostic puzzles
A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch
The Poetry Foundation for general information

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Kaye Linden, born and raised in Australia, is a registered nurse with an MFA in fiction, now studying for an MFA in poetry. She is the current 2017 flash story editor, and past poetry and short fiction editor, with the Bacopa Literary Review; teacher of short fiction; assistant editor for Soundings Review; previous judge for Spark Anthology; and medical editor for "PRESENT e-Learning Systems." Linden is a prolific award-winning writer in all genres but especially favors writing prose poetry and short stories. She is now writing a “Tips” series for writers. First in the series is 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, and 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems is now available.

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