The Phorbe


Like all poets who do not despise form, I invent forms. Usually they are one-offs (this variation on the sonnet, for instance), but I think I 've now come up with one I will actually revisit and rework and play with, plumbing its depths. I suspect it will play to my strengths and I think it will be a road that leads me to some destinations I've been meaning to visit but have never been able to find the way. Dramatic monologues, for instance. Or the kind of stories ballads traditionally told.

I suppose the first phorbe I've written is of this latter sort. But first let's talk about the form itself.

Phorbe (pronounced FOR bee) is derived from the English phrase 4x4, but 4x4 is too unwieldy to say and the fancy faux-Latin look of phorbe is pleasing to my sense of perpetual joy in being annoyingly faux-clever.

Here are the rules:

It is written in quatrains.

The first line of each quatrain consists of precisely four words.

Those four words, in order, are also the first word of each line in the quatrain.

That's it.

I came up with the idea this morning, half awake, and I wrote down parts of two stanzas before falling back asleep for an hour. (Always have paper by your bed.)

I've become a fan of the new zine Perhappened. I've enjoyed reading it, and I've submitted a couple times. They published my "A Barn in Livermore," which combined me being surprised at how close ranches still were (still are?) to the interstate in Livermore with various childhood memories, mostly of my grandfather's barn, but also of various other hideyholes in Montpelier and Nephi that I still wonder about.

Anyway, their next issue is themed FAIRYTALE and, to my surprise, I don't have any unplaced fairtaley stuff lying around. Needing to write a phorbe led directly to something I will now submit to them.

But I want to write more phorbes, andwhen I have a set, I think I'll send them to POETRY. I haven't shot that high in a while, and it's important to always reach further than your reach.

Examples are always better than rules, so here are those first two stanzas, in nearly finished form:

Once upon a time,
upon a heath,
a cloud crossed the sun.
Time enough for a chill and a shudder....

There—is a girl,
is a red cloak wrapped tight, is
a basket—all for her, the
girl’s, grandmother

Based on one poem's worth of experience, I feel it's safe to say that the second line is the trickiest.

1 comment:

  1. .

    Too soon to say for sure, but I'm leaning toward the "traditional" title of a phorbe to be the first two lines. In this case, "Once upon a time upon a heath."

    Also, for real pedants, unless required by grammar, only the first line in a phorbe quatrain is capitalized.