Poetry Exercises

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On this page I have collected my responses to the poetry-writing exercises which Stephen Fry sets for the reader in his book The Ode Less Traveled.

The entries here are unfinished, unpolished, unvarnished, and unloved – but they are important. They are not just part of the creative process: they are that process.

Exercise 1


I must remind you that these are not even drafts – they are scraps, not even fit for animals to hear. Here are the 2019-11-01 results from Poetry Exercise 1: “Write ~20 lines of iambic pentameter.”

  1. Today I have to buy a pair of pants
    I have to buy gray pants today -- one pair
    The pair of pants I buy in gray today
    Will be the pair of gray pants that I wear
  2. "Traitor!" cried the traitor's handsome servant
  3. Seer:
        I see, in far-off Blaz, a pyre ablaze
        Could one of our informers be at stake?
        If so, in the disgrace you will not share
        For 'tis a risk that I have let us take
  4. If archery's your sport, then come along
  5. I smell potatoes every time it rains
  6. Ms. Buzzerbother is a boastful bore
  7. I cook -- and yet, I cannot cook like Keith
    Who these last thirty years has cooked for kings
  8. At least a year spent biting at her neck
    And twice as long attending to her ear
  9. My dingus is a loyal hunting hound
    He never fails to point at pretty birds

(They were supposed to all be blank verse, but I couldn’t resist a bit of rhyming.)

Exercise 2


Once again, these are less than drafts – they are scrap, slag, odds and ends, nothing much – but they might amuse you anyway.

  1. Not far from here, a generator whines
    A siren wails as others honk their horns
  2. The chocolate candy shell protects the goo
    The goo itself enrobes a cherry sweet
  3. Some girl unknown to me has awful teeth
    I'm in one piece, although I'm swallowed whole
  4. If I am ever gonna get a job
    I have to mail that thing to Joanie G
  5. My lips and nose and ears are singly fine
    The trouble starts when all of them combine
  6. A buzzing whine. From nearby comes the blare
    Of horns. The squad car passes all this by.
  7. A maraschino cherry, cuddled in
    A sticky sweet white liquid, half liqueur
  8. I haven't met this girl, and yet she says
    That I must hop into her mouth at once!
  9. I've while the hours away, as if my typing
    Will leave, upon someone, the needed mark
  10. The bits of me degraded by a longing
    To change my looks, are surely mine for good

Exercise 3


Yes, another round. Cease your blubbering! Watch out for “weak ending” endecameter! Steer clear of trochees and pyrrhic substitutions! Make way for the unfathomable, indefensible, much-malignable results of tackling Poetry Exercise 3:

  1. With fat cigar alight, I'm set for tasting
    The Nicaraguan smoke, my Sunday best
  2. A plane above me, roaring, going somewhere
    The backyard is for leisure and for thought
  3. The chair-shaped flowerbed, dilapidated,
    Sits forlorn 'gainst the fence, long out of use
  4. This thick cigar will not leave me enlightened
    Cigars, though lit, shed no illumination
  5. I wallow in a self-inflicted nothing
    My days are mine, but seconds slip away
    Too late, I've learned the foolishness of quitting
    An honest, worthwhile job with decent pay
  6. Cigar dogs me, half unsmoked
    By its fumes I am half-choked
    "Syllables!" it sings to me,
    "While I burn -- write poetry!"