Toward a Literary OC
By Sharif Shakhshir
So before I start telling you how to teach poetic rhythm, I want to tell you how NOT to teach it. First off, don’t talk about iambs, trochees, dactyls, or anapests. They are worthless. They don’t mean anything right now! They will mean something later but not now!
I know what you’re thinking: “WHAT?! MEANINGLESS?! Isn’t measuring out stressed syllables into these types of feet the whole point?!” Yes, but imagine a gorp. Now is it more proper to measure that gorp in feet or inches? That’s an unreasonable request since you do not know what a gorp is more or less how to measure it.
That is the problem with how we teach meter. We give children the measurements with which to measure syllables into feet, but don’t explain what a stressed syllable is or how to distinguish it from an unstressed syllable. This was my biggest problem and I find from the poetry workshops I’m in, that it is the greatest challenge of everyone else as well.
While going through poetry classes through high school and college, most of my teachers could not explain what a stressed syllable is. They kept trying to get me to hear the difference, but for an analytical person like me this didn’t have much success and to be honest it doesn’t seem to have much success with too many other people either.
It wasn’t until I took a linguistics class two years ago that linguistics professor offhandedly said that a stressed syllable is one that is pronounced louder, at a higher pitch, and/or for a longer duration. Somehow that’s all I needed for it all to click.
That’s it for this lesson. The basics is to just do what most teachers overlook, teach what a stressed syllable is and how to recognize it. Practice it with them. Do this for an entire class or so before you ever say the word “iamb.”
I tried this at El Sol with our students David and Andrew and had way better results than I have ever seen with other teachers whom I have seen trying to use measurements of feet to explain the syllable, like using a galaxy to explain a solar system.