Making the Implicit, Explicit

Making the Implicit, Explicit

I have nightmares about being asked to scan poetry. I am a poet. I love poetry, even the classics with their rhyme and meter. But, I confess, I find scanning impossible.

The first time I came across scansion was in grade school. I don’t remember the exact grade but I am thinking late elementary like 5th or 6th grade. We were told to take our vocabulary words and to mark the accented and unaccented syllables. I could not do it without a dictionary in hand. I tried to say the words “naturally” but I could make my voice “rise” up on whichever syllable I wanted to be the accented. In a possibly related fact, I can’t hear “notes” in music. Yet, I taught myself how to play a few songs on the piano when I was a young teen.

Do I just have a failed ear? How am I a poet if I cannot scan a line?

When I started writing poetry, as most poets do, I wrote in rhyme. I remember my first creative writing teaching during my freshman year of high school telling me that I had a natural use of rhyme and rhythm. When something, supposedly, comes naturally does that then make it harder to explain?

As I continued my education as a poet, I wanted to be able to make the implicit knowledge I thought I might have (is this that subjective thing called talent?) and somehow make it explicit. I wanted to be able to explain how it was that I wrote a poem so that I could help other people appreciate poetry without it just being about taking apart lines.

And we are back to scanning.

There are, of course, a variety of meters but the most common is blank verse. The first thing that probably comes to mind when you think of blank verse is Shakespeare and/or iambic pentameter. If these come to mind, you are correct! Blank verse is also noted for not having rhyme. Many definitions/explanations of the meter indicate it may have evolved while writers were translating classic Latin and Greek verse which does not rhyme. There are also many Italian forms that do not rhyme and writers always want to make something new while still speaking to the tradition of the art form. Non-rhyming, yet metric verse was a natural progression.

Blank verse can, of course, lend itself to easy scanning but can also begin to sound like da dum da dum da dum if devices such as enjambment are not utilized or if readers (in oral presentations) do not try to vary their reading patterns. It is still a very prominent form with modern writers such as Frost, Stevens, Yeats and Auden. With the revival of variations on sonnets I can see the meter continuing to be popular. It is said to be the meter of the natural voice, how often do we write in blank verse without realizing it?

I’d like to post a poem that I initially wrote while trying out different forms. It started from an exercise that asked you to write a sonnet. The poem is in no way a sonnet now but what do you think of the meter? Am I fooling around with blank verse.

The Navy Wife

The yeast left rising,
doubling fat and full
is Sunday morning:
bacon, eggs and milk.

On the couch, the snoring
mustached man is Monday,
smelling fat and foul.
The ship it clings to him—
the smokes, the sweat.

Yet she lies
with him. Sees some
hope in him
even as he breeds
and teaches her wine.

On a Wednesday,
stretched between weekends,
she wanders; plants
fruit trees in the yard.

He returns on Friday,
during dry dock,
driving with a warm
beer perched on his knee.
He just misses
striking the saplings.

She grabs the keys from him
and goes inside, locking the door.
She fills a pot with water
while she lights the stove. Tonight
will be her favorite: corned beef,
cabbage and potatoes.

(Copyright 2010, Paper House, Folded Word Press)

I wonder if there are new ways to learn how to scan lines? What methods could help my old ear finally hear a word and just know which is the accented syllable, which is the unaccented one. Am I the only one with this issue? Do you use blank verse or other metric forms? Do you scan poetry? I am a nerd at heart, so do not fear to admit that you scan poetry in your free time. I make lists for fun.


Craft of Poetry

Types of Poetry

Jessie Carty’s writing has appeared in publications such as The Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Journal and The Houston Literary Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House, 2009) and The Wait of Atom (Folded Word, 2009) as well as one full length poetry collection Paper House (Folded Word, 2010). Jessie works as a freelance writing, writing coach and as editor of Referential Magazine . You can find her around the web but most often she is blogging about everything from housework to the act of blogging itself at


4 Comments Add yours

  1. meika says:

    When I desperately need to scan, I read it aloud, with a funny voice, well, exaggerated. The rhythm thing is about breath after all.

    Other thoughts: Iambic pentameter ta-dum–ta-dum is the march of progress, or at least walking somewheres while speaking english at the same time, pedestrian okay for shopping, but not good for long walks through history.

    Scanning is last in my list when writing, but currently first on my list in exploring new places to go.

  2. jessiecarty says:

    Meika – thanks for commenting! I might have to try that exaggerated reading technique!!

  3. Alan King says:

    Here’s an essay on a young poet’s journey and lessons along the way. Please read it here at

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