by James A. Tweedie

The form of the “brief” ordinarily consists of a couplet of anapestic tetrameter with the first soft beat of each line clipped off (x / xx / xx / xx /). The anapest, which functions very much like a dactyl, is meant to evoke a sense of the grand and heroic, as in the dactylic Greek verse that constitutes the epics of Homer.

The function of a brief is to select a famous person’s name and squeeze a terse, but cogent, description of some aspect of their claim to fame into the couplet. Beyond this, however, the challenge, is two-fold: 1. The person’s name concludes the poem, and, 2. The end of the first line of the couplet must rhyme with it.

For example:

“A” large Scarlet Letter by Hester was worn.
Hypocrisy rules in this book by Hawthorne.

Because this poem’s subject is an author, I call it an “author brief.”

To further illustrate the idea, I have compiled a series I call “Artist Briefs” :

 

Artist Briefs

The rain-dappled window-screen leaves me in awe—
The world as if painted by Georges Seurat.

His palette subdued, not at all like a gecko,
For black, white, and gray, are the shades of El Greco.

The painstaking detail—make no mistake—
Perfection attained by the brush of van Eyck.

Self-portraits galore, and each is, you must grant,
A masterpiece painted by—who else?—Rembrandt!

A prismatic whimsy in fractured array
Of circles and squares is the art of Paul Klee.

The air is translucent, the room’s clean and clear,
As light permeates everything by Vermeer.

His work was prolific, a man on a mission,
A shade of blue now bears his name, which is “Titian.”

His fresco, “Last Supper,” was sketched inch by inch. He
Then went on to paint “Mona Lisa”— Da Vinci.

Impressed by his Italian Renaissance clientele,
The Pope had him repaint the Vatican—Raphael.

A Renaissance Mannerist, not-quite-yet Rococo,
A sculptor and painter, the great Michelangelo.

 

Note how the couplets on Titian and Da Vinci utilize an extra beat to accommodate the feminine ending of their names (a solution that could also have been applied to the ending in the Hawthorne example) and those on Raphael and Michelangelo have two extra beats simply to fit it all in.

Couplets could trim the first soft beat and open with a pure dactyl, as in this poet brief:

Ravens and pendulums sway to and fro;
Dark, yet inspired, are the writings of Poe.

And whatever this is:

Wheeling and dealing are where it’s all at;
“R S T L N E,” Vanna and Pat.

Hopefully, by now, you’ve got the idea. “Science Briefs,” “Political Briefs,” “Explorer Briefs,” they’re all fair game!

Now, it’s your turn to give it a try. Post your briefs in the comments section below.

 

 


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17 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    Don’t know if this fits the bill, but here goes:

    Opponents will tell you
    “He stings like a bee!”
    The one and the only,
    Muhammad Ali.

    Reply
    • James Tweedie

      Clever rhyme with Bronte. Some names are almost impossible to rhyme.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This would also be a great form for satire:

    Consider the artwork of Pollock, the sham–
    A splatter of housepaint and strawberry jam.

    One writer who ought to be grabbed by a jailer:
    The posturing radical named Norman Mailer.

    A poetess driven by suicide’s wrath:
    The self-absorbed lyricist, Silvia Plath.

    Reply
  3. Evan Mantyk

    In Praise
    Poor poets who lack in good rhyming are needy
    Of learning from him: the bright bard James A. Tweedie!

    In Mock
    A tail in his hand, says “This Elephant’s thin!”
    —The sad and blind man known as Charlie Darwin.

    Reply
  4. Mark F. Stone

    Of smart, artful verse, I’m an ardent supporter.
    That’s why I’m a shill for the skillful Cole Porter.

    Landscapes and cafes, a starry night’s glow.
    Such are the subjects of Vincent van Gogh.

    “Smooth” pairs the lyrics of Rob — sweet as manna —
    with awesome guitar play by Carlos Santana.

    We’ve not seen this kind of ebullience since
    we bathed in the radiant purple of Prince.

    **********

    James, I hope I did not use too many I/we statements! Mark

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Mark,

      I like your “briefs,” particularly the Cole Porter one. Also, to date, I have written 17 Artist Briefs although only 10 were included in this post. One that was omitted was very close to one of yours:

      A-twistin’ a-turnin’, it’s all on the go,
      The world’s all a-swirlin’ for Vincent van Gogh.

      Great minds, etc etc……

      Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What an inspirational form! I may be a little off key, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Thank you, Mr. Tweedie.

    With the grandiose prose that got him exiled,
    I’m mildly beguiled by the late Oscar Wilde.

    I’m hooked on Wilde’s book and its heyday gateway
    to devilish pictures of Dorian Gray.

    A soulful proposal we’re apt to get lost in,
    wading through works by the quirky Jane Austen.

    Sat far from the madding crowd in his cardy,
    Jude the obscure lures the dark Thomas Hardy.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Wow, Susan, you cram so much into a small space! It’s clear to me that if you owned an alley this poetic form would be up it!

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        I am grinning at the thought, Mr. Tweedie, and perusing the internet for the sale of a choice alley for your new form. I’ll definitely pay you royalties!

      • Mike Bryant

        My attempt, James:

        The Jolly Green Giant makes spinach compliant
        But words obey sweet Susan (née Jarvis) Bryant

  6. James Sale

    Ingenious, and great results – love some of your examples, James, and also some of the others who’ve followed you on this. Well done!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      What a fun and challenging site, Mr. Sale – I’m proud to be a member.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      As English as trifle and Stilton and ale —
      That great Dantesque translator, Mr. James Sale!

      Reply
  7. Mike Bryant

    Only to correct the look…

    The Jolly Green Giant makes spinach compliant
    But words obey sweet Susan (née Jarvis) Bryant

    Reply
  8. james A. Tweedie

    For a final fling, here are the rest of the “Artist Briefs” not included in the original post. I’m glad to see that a few of you found this to be amusng:

    He created Cubism, why? Just because! So
    It made him quite infamous, Pablo Picasso.

    “The Scream” made him famous, folks liked it a bunch,
    Created by a one-hit-wonder named Munch.

    His paintings appear to be carved out of rock,
    His nudes are all chunky, the Cubist, George Braque.

    He made quite a fortune from lithography,
    Each mass-produced batch signed, “Salvador Dali.”

    First, “Descending Nude,” then a Dadaesque romp.
    His “Fountain” a urinal, Marcel Duchamp.

    Impression, Rouen, et danseurs de ballets,
    Nymphéas, Giverny. Voilà! Claude Monet.

    Reply

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