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Tinker

Acrostic and its Variations

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Greek Verse

Acrostic, Greek for "at the tip of the verse". is a poetic genre or technique that dates back to 1000 BC in ancient Babylonia. The first letter of each line or stanza spells out a name, a word, the title of the work or even a sentence or phrase. Ben Jonson created an acrostic as an intro to his classic play, The Alchemist, spelling out the title in his argument. The skill is in disguising the acrostic so that it is not obvious. In modern times, this form is most often used as light verse and occasional poetry. But how exciting to read a serious piece in stanzas, and upon explication discover an acrostic stanza within its midst, giving emphasis to a name, title, phrase etc. I wonder if our subconscious reads the acrostic, even when we are not aware.

The defining features of the Acrostic are:

  1. written without prescribed meter, rhyme, line #, or length, but all can be structured at the poet's discretion.
  2. written with the 1st letter of each line within the stanza spelling out an acronym, name, title, phrase, or sentence. Poets have even placed the acrostic within the poem such as the first letter of the first line, the first letter of the 2nd word in the 2nd line, the first letter of the 3rd word in the 3rd line and so on…………
  3. often used for light verse or occasional poetry, but can be very effectively inserted into a serious piece.

The Argument (Intro to the classic play The Alchemist by Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

THE SICKNESS hot, a master quit, for fear,
His house in town, and left one servant there;
Ease him corrupted, and gave means to know

A Cheater and his punk; who now brought low,
Leaving their narrow practice, were become
Coz'ners at large; only wanting some
House to set up, with him they here contract,
Each for a share, and all begin to act.
Much company they draw, and much abuse,
In casting figures, telling fortunes, news,
Selling of flies, flat bawdre, with the stone,
Till it, and they, and all in fume are gone.
                               --Ben Jonson writes this acrostic predominantly in iambic pentameter with rhyme.

sublime by Judi Van Gorder

a hidden message
consciously placed,
raising awareness by the tapping
of the mind's
subconscious resource
to patiently
influence thought,
caress the imagination.
secretly

ranting slogans
uttering personal praise
leading gently by
eloquent execution.

August by Judi Van Gorder

avacados ripen
upon heaving limbs while a
gecko skitters up a plaster wall
under the palapa roof and chicadas
sing their
tenored song....
 

Nanook's Journey by Frank Gibbard

 

 

Sub genres of the Acrostic are:

  • Spine Poem is a relatively new invented form of acrostic. It appears to be an exercise sometimes used in classrooms. You really don't write anything at all. It is a technique of stacking books so that their spines line up creating line of the poem with their titles. The trick is to line up titles which sequentially might actually make a little sense or tell a story. Children's book titles seem to work best.

    Where the wild things are
    10 little monkeys jumping on the bed
    Goodnight moon.

  • Abacedarius is an Acrostic with the letters of the alphabet appearing in the initial letter of each line rather than a word, name or phrase. This use of the acrostic was thought to connect the secular with the holy and can be found further described in Semitic Poetry.
     
  • Adagem is a variation of the Acrostic in which the first word of each line conveys a message when read downwards.
     
  • Compound Acrostic spells different words down the first letter of each line margin and last letter margin.
     
  • Double Acrostic was a popular verse in the 1800s apparently spurred by Queen Victoria's favoritism. She is said to have used this technique in her own writing. It was sometimes viewed more as a puzzle to be solved than a verse form. The verse can either spell the same word down the first letter of each line margin and the last letter of each line margin or spell a word or phrase down the first letter of the line and another word or phrase up the last letter of the line.

    This piece is said to have been written by Queen Victoria and was found at

    Poems of Today and Yesterday

    NapleS
    ElbE
    WashingtoN
    CincinnatI
    AmsterdaM
    StambouL
    TorneA
    LepantO
    EcliptiC

  • Mesostich spells a word down the middle letter of each line of the poem.
     
  • Pruntiform is a recent invented acrostic form created by Randy Prunty in which the words of the first line of the poem are sequentially the first word of each subsequent line. The structure of the poem is at the discretion of the poet.

    You can also use the title of a book, movie or poem (with 3 or more words in the title), begin each line of your poem with the sequential words from the title. The subject could describe the book etc named or it could be about anything. The frame of the verse is at the discretion of the poet.

    Unnoticed by Judi Van Gorder

    Water does not remove the stain
    For it is deep and indelible.
    Elephants dance in the attic.

  • Telestich, sometimes referred to as a Citsorca ("acrostic" spelled backwards) is the exact opposite of an acrostic. A word or phrase is created from the last letter of each line.

    Indigo by Judi Van Gorder (a telestich)

    Need to cast off the ennui,
    the inertia of seven
    long days of the flu, a dead
    lump like too much chili
    in my stomach, roiling,
    urging me to go.

  • Triple Acrostic was also found at Poems of Today and Yesterday and was understandably rare. As the name implies the letters of the right margin, the center of the line and the left margin each spell out a phrase. These were apparently found in Puzzle books of the early 20th century.

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