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In my last post, I described the inspirational lecture William Nack shared with my feature writing class.

After looking through my notes (as I attempted to take his advice and use it to become a better writer), I thought I should focus on his words of wisdom regarding poetry.

Become comfortable with iambic pentameter.

Reading Nack‘s profiles is equivalent to reading poetry. It is truly a beautiful style. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from his lecture was that this does not occur on accident; he writes in iambic pentameter, making the words flow rhythmically in your mind’s voice. I had never considered writing this way, but it is something I am attempting to become comfortable with.

I must admit: I vaguely remember learning about this type of prose in a high school English class, but as Nack was discussing it I was tempted to Google what it meant, exactly. (I decided not to for two reasons: it would be rude, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him.) I saved the Google-ing for later. Here’s what I learned:

The technical way to describe this type of English prose is that it is a pattern of five unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. An unstressed syllable is essentially a “short” syllable while a stressed syllable is essentially a “long” one. Take, for example, the word “trapeze” — the “tra” is unstressed, while the “peze” is stressed. Tra-PEZE.

I was still a little confused.

In laymen’s terms, think of a human heartbeat, or the sound “da-DUM.” The “da” is unstressed while the “DUM” is stressed. A line of traditional iambic pentameter looks like this:

da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM

A perfect example can be found in a sonnet from John Donne.

Your force | to break | blow, burn | and make | me new.

Now an example from Nack’s “My Turf,” which defers from traditional pentameter only by the number of syllables in the pattern.

Mur-phy | knew what | had to | be done.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I’ll try | to write | this way | for good.

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