How I learned to love the kyrielle, the kimo, the ovi, and the bop
Heather Moulson is a popular and entertaining open-mic poetry performer. However, she is still a relative newcomer to poetry – and always keen to learn more. Here she attends a course and experiments with a number of lesser-known forms, such the kyrielle, the kimo, the ovi, the bop, and the more familiar ghazal. Read how she got on:
I was very curious about Poetix, a poetry university that runs courses online. I knew that Sharron Green, a clever and prolific poet, regularly attended their classes, so I couldn’t resist it when Sharron invited me to this specific structure workshop.
A Zoom introduction, by charming American poet Dara Kalima, set us on track. My misconception that a week’s course would be a nice diversion was blown away. The discipline of tackling these daily tasks gave me an alertness that had got lost in lockdown. I found them difficult, fascinating and absorbing.
Our first task set by Dara was a kyrielle, a form with which I did have a brief acquaintance. That didn’t mean it wasn’t a slog, with four-line stanzas of eight syllables per line. The first three lines have to rhyme. I struggled with both counting syllables, and rhyming. I was torn from my comfort zone. I got out of bed on Sunday night and wrote one. Here is the first stanza as an example:
I’m hankering for a red dress
I think it will be a success
Perhaps I won’t look such a mess
And I want a slit up the side
The next task - a kimo poem - wasn’t a smooth ride either. An Israeli haiku comprising of 10, seven then six syllables. That didn’t make it any the less enjoyable, and as it’s short, I can show you an example or two in their entirety;
The fat ginger cat sat there on the fence
Looking neither right nor left
He waited for no-one
I’m staring at his feline long whiskers
“That cat’s on our fence again!”
I waited for no-one
Gripping stuff. Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the paper, we were set an ovi, an ancient Indian musical form, dating back to the 12th century. My old friends the limited syllables had returned with full force. Stanzas of four eight-syllable lines with the first three rhyming. Luckily, the kyrielle had cleared the path. This one I wrote in daytime:
I wash my face with scented soap
Then my red lipstick brings me hope
I hate bare lipped girls who mope
I use the boldest shade of red
Wednesday brought the ‘criteria prompt’ poem, consisting of 20 lines. With a prompt for every line - eg talk about your favourite colour, talk about the colour you hate - it was far from being spoon-fed but I liked being told what to write.
Even though some tasks were optional, I wouldn’t have dreamed of not taking them on. One suggestion came in the form of the seguidilla, a seven-line Spanish poem that originated from a dance song. There are basic rules to this; syllable count being 7-5-7-5-5-7-5 with one assonance rhyme between lines 2 and 4, and another between 5 and 7. I was surprised how I was swept along with this concept despite having to be sharp about every line written. This is an extract:
I stir my homemade curry
Fenugreek and seeds
Its pungency cloaks the air
And fills all my needs
No more takeaways
When we would go collect it
In those salad days
The ‘bop’ greeted us on Thursday. This challenging form consisted of three stanzas, with each stanza followed by a refrain. The first stanza of six lines presents the problem, the second stanza of eight lines explores the situation, and the third stanza, back to six lines, either presents a solution or the failed attempt to do so. I composed mine about my belligerent cat and lack of sympathy from the vet. I was surprised how involved I got. Another short example;
My cat loathes me
sleekly black-furred and elegant
with slick, velvet paws
she simpers for every stranger
and saves her glares for me
One withering look will do it
Why don’t you like me?!
The ghazal followed at the end of this hard-working week. It’s a form that uses the art of rhyme and repetition, traditionally a poem of longing. I wrote this one from my cat’s perception of things. A minimum of five stanzas in couplets, each one standing alone, and the same length, and using the same word at the end of every couplet. You must also feature yourself in the first line of the last couplet. I managed to put Dobby’s name in there, and wrote from her side of things eg sardine yearning. I needed at least two coffees after that. A quick example:
Sardines pictured on a shiny oval tin
Unopened while my bowl has nothing
I write an angry letter to The Times
The Editor is charmed but does nothing.
I was surprised at how sorry I was to see Friday appear, and our last task. Simply an end poem with a mixture of all the forms we had learnt. Despite my feelings about syllables, I dived into the kyrielle, kimo and ovi, then back to kyrielle.
After an open-mic and graduation on Zoom on Saturday afternoon, I felt bereft. I really recommend taking a course with this prolific institution.
Heather Moulson began writing poetry in 2017, and has performed extensively in Surrey and London, particularly at Poetry Performance at the Adelaide in Teddington. Her pamphlet Bunty, I miss you was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2019