Poetry with a constraint

The exercise for the Iowa mooc  this week was to apply a constraint to a poem. It could be anything, a specific form, not using any “e”s, rhyming couplets, time-based constraint, only using book titles in your library etc.

I chose to use the declension of war in Latin for my constraint. I was hopeless at it at school and failed School Certificate, as it was known then.  I had very little idea what the teacher was talking about nearly all of the time. I do remember there was a lot of wasting done by longboats and I certainly remember having to chant the declensions.

The declension of war is easy to do in a silly way as Bellum becomes blum and it ends up as blum blum bli blarum blis blis and the word really doesn’t sound like a warring kind of word.

Teaching was easy in those days, each day, the teacher would just turn to the next page in the book. I don’t recall any marking ever being done.  The first day we had to learn Otago Girls’ High School motto.

 Recti Cultus Pectora Roborant – the right sort of training makes the heart as strong as oak. Very English 🙂

The books were very dreary.

We were forced to do embroidery and had to go next door to an old house where we toiled under a picture of the lace maker while the gas fire hissed.

The diminutive Mrs Lacelles would make the colour choice of our silks very clear, “No canary yellow girls, no canary yellow.” Every one began with a sampler bag. I still have mine. I’m guessing she didn’t like my orange colours either. You may scoff but I toiled over this for a year.  By fifth form I was so despairing that I paid Julia Davies $10 to finish my supper cloth.

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Do get on with it, I hear you say… so the poem with a constraint:

 The Latin Declension of War

I can’t learn it, I never understand what the teacher is meaning.
Main Forms: Bellum, Belli
Gender: Neuter
Declension: Second
Nominative Plural
yes we need to name them all the Somme, the Napoleonic, the Syrian conflict, the Final Solution, Vietnam, Rwanda, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Khmer Rouge, all this laying waste. I can’t do it, there isn’t enough space, even for one century, I’ll never remember it.

no, not beautiful, just boys crying out for their mothers, or children dying or sisters or grandmothers, the whole family I suppose. Well it is plural so that must be right.

Genitive Plural
rhymes with decorum, die politely, Dulce et Decorum Est
and forum
But no one wants to talk about it

Dative Plural
1904, 1914, 1939, 1946 1950, 1956, 1965, 67, 73, 80, 91
too many dates I am worried I’ll miss someone’s favourite and I’ve just done some in one century. Is it multi-choice Miss?

Locative Plural
rhymes with hell is where the you live, ringing like the clappers, not to raise the dead. Do we need to learn all the places?

Accusative Plural
a good name for a dog and accusing, they did it, they did it first. I won’t get any marks for mentioning the dog.

Ablative Plural
abject, abortive abominable, aggravated, appalling, aggrandisement, again and again. I can’t remember what ablative means.

Vocative Plural
voice it then, beautiful, no bella,
just tell it like it is.

When is the exam Miss? Do we need to be able to decline Amare as well? Miss?

Sue Heggie

Have a good weekend everyone, this is my weekend reading.



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