Swagger Challenge: Write a Zeno


Last month we began posing monthly challenges for our writing group, named The Sunday Night Swaggers. The plan is for a different one of us to pose a challenge each month, and for all of us to share our poems at the first Poetry Friday of the month. This month Margaret Simon (Reflections on the Teche) posed our second challenge: Write a Zeno.

A quick intro to Zenos: J. Patrick Lewis created the form. In an interview with Michelle Heidenrich Barnes of Today’s Little Ditty  he explained, ” The zeno was inspired by the “hailstone  sequence” in mathematics. I define a zeno as a 10-line poem with 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1 syllables that rhyme abcdefdghd.” (If you’d like to find out more about the “hailstone sequence”, click here. It’s actually kind of cool!)

I’ve written Zenos before, and was looking forward to writing some more. But this time around I was stymied. Flummoxed. Confounded. I wrote page after page after page. Lists of rhyming words. False starts. Half starts. I wrote about Halloween vampires, black crows, crimson maple trees, snowy egret carnage, the marsh, mornings, my cat, and more. Yikes! Nothing fell into place. The tyranny of a 1-syllable rhyme has been grossly underrated! 

It’s been one of those weeks…

Some mornings, words fall into line
gather neatly
on the
some days they fight,
twist and kick, then
storm off-

© Molly Hogan, 2019

The Poetry Friday Round-up is hosted by Cheriee at Library Matters. She’s sharing an interview with Canadian poet Robert Heidbreder and some wonderful examples of his poems. If you’re interested in checking out some other Zenos, you can find my fellow Swaggers’ Zenos at their blogs.

Margaret Simon (Reflections on the Teche)
Heidi Mordhorst (My Juicy Universe)
Linda Mitchell (A Word Edgewise)
Catherine Flynn (Reading to the Core)

17 thoughts on “Swagger Challenge: Write a Zeno

  1. lindabaie says:

    Yep, “storm off-stage”. Isn’t it interesting that we can DO unless squeezed into a corner, or a zeno in this case. You’ve made lemonade, though, Molly! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cweichel says:

    Wow! Your final zeno ended up being brilliant! I have made note of this format and will have a go at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tabatha says:

    Those words aren’t having any, are they? What a fight they put up! I admire your persistence. I wanted to write for Ink/Poemtober, but I wasn’t able to think of a theme or form that suited me. I am hoping that my subconscious is working on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I’m casually participating in Ink/Poemtober. I’m using the Inktober prompt words and have written about them…sort of…. I’m sure your subconscious is hard at work! I loved the poems you shared today. Thanks again!


  4. Linda Mitchell says:

    Ha! I felt the same way too when we got started. I had to use a prompt found on the internet to get myself started. Those one syllables are tough! But, I like your uncooperative words. They ended up behaving after all!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your poem perfectly captures the way I sometimes feel. Thank goodness it’s only sometimes. Otherwise, I’d never write anything! (BTW, I’m glad the snowy egret carnage didn’t make the cut!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. margaretsmn says:

    I love what you ended up with. I guess that’s the point of a poetry challenge, to challenge, but I am sorry it was difficult. Your zeno explains the process perfectly. Here is one from my little collection:
    Nervous Poet
    Writing poems on your paper
    upside down and
    right side
    Writing poems
    read close-
    makes me nervous
    to mess

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Challenge is good! You have no need to apologize! It was an energizing process and I have generated lots of ideas for future poems. I actually managed to pull together a Zeno this morning–figures! lol I love your Nervous Poet poem! Thanks for sharing!


  7. Kay Mcgriff says:

    Oh wow – you wrangled those contrary words into a spectacular poem–that captures how I sometimes feel when writing. I hope all those drafts that didn’t work this time will lead you somewhere else in your writing. That would be an extra bonus!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. maryleehahn says:

    “The tyranny of a 1-syllable rhyme has been grossly underrated!” HA!!
    You nailed it, though! Good work!


  9. cvarsalona says:

    Yeah, you may have wrangled with some words but your finally got the rhyme. Molly, your poem explains the productive struggle so nicely.


  10. Love your zeno, Molly, and I feel you. I had a nonfiction book project to work on over the last few months. The deadline was tight. Now that it’s over, it’s very hard for me to shift my brain back to poetry. I just need to let myself write the garbage, and eventually, the good stuff will start to trickle.


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