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Would You, Could You Actually Write an Abecedarian?

So you learned the Alphabet, yes?  But then what?  The ABECEDARIAN is an alphabetical excursion: poem, essay, assay, story, aggregation of . . .

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An abcedarian poem is one in which verses or words begin with the successive letters of the alphabet. The first line could start with the first letter of the alphabet: A. The following lines, then could start with B, C, D, E ,F, G,H, etc.  You can write a double abecedarian – so a,b,c, figuration at the beginning of the line will also be used at the end of each line.  For example:  Alabama is not Arizona, nor is it Alaska. (See the beginning and end of the line ends with “a.”  And you may choose to write a prose poem using the letters of the alphabet. 

Psalm 119 is one of the earliest famous abecedarian poems, the song arranged in sections according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which is featured in its own section.

Carolyn Forché:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/carolyn-forche  and see YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsbMHshf1a8


A model of excellence in writing an abcedarian is Carolyn Forché’s 47 page poem: “On Earth.”  It is in her book entitled blue hour. I think this book ought to be on every poet’s book shelf.  Here are two stanzas from Forché’s poem:

a barnloft of horse dreams, with basin and bedclothes
a bit of polished quiet from a locked church
a black coat in smoke
a black map of clouds on a lake
……………………………………………..
air filled with ash, notebooks with sorrowing ink
airfield to airfield
algebraic music
all night the boats calling out
all of them, à-dieu
all questioning to myself . . .

What is exciting to me is how one form won’t sit still – how it fidgets itself into another shape—like it’s playing dress-up.  Here is a poem by Howard Nemerov that is obviously an Abecedarian – but it’s also a sonnet.


A Primer of the Daily Round
by Howard Nemerov

 A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives to town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead, 
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,     
                Who happens, just now to remember A      
                Peeling an apple somewhere far away. 

Here's the first stanza of a poem by Dominique Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn.  She has written the alphabet in a prose-poem sequence.

Aaron always arrived at Hammer and Taft early, although occasionally Hammer--and always Taft--arrived somewhat earlier. Aaron immediately unwrapped a ham salad sandwich and ate hald. Aaron always waived a midday break and instead ate sandwiches and drank herbal tea at a regular pace all day. Around late afternoon. Hammer and Taft always bragged about massive appetites and disappeared. At a nearby restaurant, Hammer and Taft ate abundant salad, meat, and pasta (and drank many large cocktails).  Aaron ceased answering calls and searched databases. Later, Hammer and Taft came back.  

The entire sequence tells of Hammer and Taft -- all the way from A-to Z.

 The abecedarian wears many costumes and dresses itself up as a sonnet, a sestina, as novel, as story, and is limited only by the imagination. 

Here are some additional  “abecedarianists”  and some examples from which to model your work.

A Poem for S.
By Jessica Greenbaum

Because you used to leaf through the dictionary,
Casually, as someone might in a barber shop, and
Devotedly, as someone might in a sanctuary,
Each letter would still have your attention if not
For the responsibilities life has tightly fit, like
Gears around the cog of you, like so many petals
Hinged on a daisy. That’s why I’ll just use your
Initial. Do you know that in one treasured story, a
Jewish ancestor, horseback in the woods at Yom
Kippur, and stranded without a prayer book,
Looked into the darkness and realized he had
Merely to name the alphabet to ask forgiveness—
No congregation of figures needed, he could speak
One letter at a time because all of creation
Proceeded from those. He fed his horse, and then
Quietly, because it was from his heart, he
Recited them slowly, from aleph to tav. Within those
Sounds, all others were born, all manner of
Trials, actions, emotions, everything needed to
Understand who he was, had been, how flaws
Venerate the human being, how aspirations return
Without spite. Now for you, may your wife’s
X-ray return with good news, may we raise our
Zarfs to both your names in the Great Book of Life.

And a prose poem abecedarian by Sue Walker:

ABCing
Sue Walker

Abouten Adam’s aggravoked and ailish housecat  allus a-fleetin’ an’ a-flying and aspersed, abouten Annie, ass-backward, back-assward, busy boiling bacon, bakin’ beans, barefoot bred, beatin’ biscuits,  being on ‘bout bald face whiskey, barnburning, barnlots, barnyard preachers, bed babies, bankers, bards, blanket stretchers, big-butts, Big Mama bedscrow and bescrewing, bookooing betwixt a balk and a breakdown,  buckin’ a bull off a bridge, cuttin’ up, carryin’ on, cat-fevered, cattin’ around, calcilatin’, chargin’ it to the dust, chunk-chonk, commencing cuttin’ the tail off the dog, damn doddly, draggy, disremembering ‘dis down-in-the-mouth, dog-stud debt-daddy, dead mule in the yard, dadgummit, eegit, ever enurf to choke a horse, embrangled fuddle-britches, feak-fat fool, fruit jar sucker, fo’ gawd, gap-toothed, gimber-jawed  grammoner ginniin’ around gizzard-shads grinning like a mule eating briars, he-kickin’, hell-bent, haggly-headed hush-mouth intent on, indeed invested in irrepressible Ima Hogg in Houston, imagining jouissance, joy-riding, juicing the cow, jumpin’ the broom, James Dickeying, kickin’ up a row, kowtowing lackadaisical larker, low-down, low-life, laid-off lout  meaner than a junk yard dog with 14 sucking pups, meaner than a skunk, muley mouth milk and water mill clapper misspelling Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, moon-eyed, moralizing mulligrub, nickering, nattering, narring, neighing, naying, no count, no good,  nittering  niddle-noodlenuncupating “not, not, not”  off scouring, obsecratating ovation, plus pretty poems promise popular publication, promise precious prizes, publicity, possum fat and hominy, pure-n-tee pleasure, quill-wheeling past Prichard, past Panola, Pansey, Point Clear, quaggling quintessent quawking quiddity, rambunctious, rampageous, redneck, shilly-shallying, scattering sibilants, scat-singing shaconian scribe, taddling, tiddling, tautegorical tale-teller, thaumaturgist, touchous type-tapper,  unusual ubermensch, various, vigorous, versified vittupso, wag, windy-spinner, writer, witing-out, X-ing out, XXXX, Zounds!