Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry

Double Dactyl

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A dactyl is a poetic foot of the form >-- (ON-off-off). For example, matador, realize, cereal, limerick, etc. A double dactyl can therefore mean simply two dactyls in a row.

A double dactyl is also a verse form, otherwise known as "Higgeldy piggeldy". Like a limerick, it has a rigid structure and is usually humorous, but the double dactyl is considerably more rigid and difficult to write. There must be two stanzas, each comprising three lines of dactylic dimeter followed by a line with a dactyl and a single accent. The two stanzas have to rhyme on their last line. The first line of the first stanza is repetitive nonsense. The second line of the first stanza is the subject of the poem, a proper noun (usually someone's name). Note that this name must itself be double-dactylic. There is also a requirement for at least one line of the second stanza to be entirely one double dactyl word, for example "va-le-dic-tor-i-an".

A classic example by Theodore L. Drachman:

Small Problem
Higgamus Hoggamus
"Anton Von Leewenhoek
Has a small problem," con-
Fided his wife.
"Microbiology
Doesn't disturb me; his
Microanatomy's
Blighting my life!"

A wonderful one by Paul Pascal on the subject of Antony and Cleopatra:

Tact
"Patty cake, patty cake,
Marcus Antonius,
What do you think of the
African queen?"
"Gubernatorial
Duties require my
Presence in Egypt. Ya
Know what I mean?"

A similar verse form called a McWhirtle was invented in 1989 by American poet Bruce Newling.

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