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The Professor Puzzler blog has been pretty quiet recently, so I'm breaking the monotony by asking myself a question.

Me: Professor Puzzler, what is a Double-Dactyl poem, and how do you write one?

Other Me: That's a great question! I hesitate to say that the Double-Dactyl is one of the silliest poetry forms in existence, but…well…it’s one of the silliest poetry forms in existence.

Let’s start with a Double-Dactyl example, and then we can dissect it to understand how the form works. This is a poem about Noah (yes, the guy with the ark).

Splishity splashity
Noah the Patriarch
Built a big boat out of
Gopher-wood trees

Finding some grace in the
Eyes of Jehovah, this
Sailed o'er the seas

Before we get into the rules, what is a dactyl? A dactyl is a metrical foot which consists of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. In other words, it sounds a bit like a waltz. OOOM-pah-pah OOOM-pah-pah. Okay, now let’s dive in.

  1. There are two sets of four lines. These sets of four lines are called “quatrains.”
  2. In each quatrain, the first three lines are each two dactyls. The last line of each quatrain is a single dactyl followed by one accented syllable (OOOM-pah-pah-OOOM)
  3. The only rhymes we need are at the end of the two quatrains.
  4. The first line must be nonsense words. Since they’re nonsense, they don’t have to have anything to do with the subject of the poem, but it can be fun – as I did in my Noah poem – to make them similar to real words that connect to the subject of the poem.
  5. The second line must be a proper noun. This would most commonly be a person’s name (or name and title), but could also be a place, organization name, or even something like “U.S.S. Nautilus.” In the example above, NO-ah the PA-tri-arch has the accents on NO and PA, with the other syllables unaccented.
  6. Somewhere in the poem – preferably in the second quatrain, and usually the sixth line of the poem (but the location is not a hard-and-fast rule), there must be a line that consists of a single six-syllable word that fits the dactyl rhythm. In the Noah poem, that word is “antediluvian” (which means “before the flood”).

There you have it – now you’re ready to write your own Double-Dactyl. On my YouTube channel (link: Doug's ventiloquism, music, and teaching) my puppets (yes, I’m a ventriloquist!) and I will posted a series of three Double-Dactyls. The third in the series is actually sung instead of recited; if you learn the tune, that may help you write your own Double-Dactyls!

Wiffity Woffity (a poem about a timberwolf and a dodo bird)

Axity Waxity (a poem about George Washington and a cherry tree)

Offity Scoffity (a poem about Alice in Wonderland)

Note that in my poems, my nonsense words all end in “-ity” but that is not a requirement; I just like the way it sounds. I guess I just got stuck in a nonsense rut.

Finally, if you’re interested in other kinds of poetry, one of my puppets shares his own rendition of Robert Burns’ “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” and several of my puppets have done limericks: Jeorge’s Limerick, Jeffrey’s Limerick, Professor Jameson’s Limerick, Doctor Jonas’ Limerick.

And for those who like Star Wars, be on the lookout for some Star Wars themed Double Dactyls late in 203!

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