Forget the limerick and the haiku, I have been reading today about double dactyls, an extremely structured comical verse form. A dactyl is three syllable word with the stress on the first syllable, like “blankety”.
The double dactyl verse form is 8 lines
But there’s more rules than that!
- The first line has to be nonsense – hickory dickery and higgledy piggledy seem to be favourite;
- The second line has to be someone’s name
- One of the lines in the second stanza has to be a single word
- The last lines of the stanzas rhyme.
The example given in UMRA, where I’ve been reading about this, was by Wendy Cope:
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.
Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.
A quick google finds a page for the form on Wikipedia, with a few elegant examples – I liked Brian Flanagan’s:
Penis Van Lesbian
Entered the bus’ness that
no biz is like.
Keen on increasing his
he took on the stage name
of Dick Van Dyke
Further googling finds the Braden Files, with three pages of double dactyls here, here and here. So enamoured of the format is the writer that the “about” page is also in the form. Each of the examples is brilliant, many of them about figures I know nada about. One particularly brainy one is in Latin, but of all them, my favourite is
Pitter pat, pitter pat.
Noah of Ararat
Heard the rain cease on the
Shem, Ham, and Japheth said
Called it just right.
It’s an extremely dense format, and the challenge in writing them for yourself is the dual problems of finding a double dactyl name, and a single dactyl word, and then putting the lot together with enough other stuff to make sense. Limericks and haiku are trivially simple by comparison.
Here’s my first attempt:
Famously portrayed a
Doctor named Who
Flying about with a
Capable copper box
Without a loo.
I’m not the first to attempt a sciffy double dactyl. Further googling finds this wonderful discussion thread with many further fabulous attempts – some clearly baby-steps, some extraordinarily well honed.
The sciffy one, by a poster called Badger, takes us to a galaxy far, far away
Took his light sabre from
Light side to Dark,
Known later as Vader,
His son fell his caper,
Losing his spark!
Midway down the thread is a huge list of double dactyl words, culminating in the quite possibly solitary quadruple dactyl word paradichloroaminobenzaldehyde.
Finally, the thread is taken over in style by Chris Doyle, who has had numerous verses published under various names:
Little Red Riding Hood
Skips to a fate that she
Lying ahead is an
Wolf for whom Grandma was
Just an hors d’oeuvre.
and this one, where every possible line is a single double dactyl word:
August von Wassermann
Flunked his own test.
[…] got excited about double dactyls in 2008, which is a rather horrifyingly long time ago. I blogged here, here and here on the […]