Week Two: Diminishing Verse

Meet the Form

Origins Uncertain

Not much is known about the origin of this form, but it’s possible that the Diminishing Verse form that we know today evolved from the classic triplet, and there is some evidence to suggest this (more on that here). All triplets consist of a three line stanza (commonly referred to a tercet), as do many Diminishing Verse poems. But where a classic triplet features a distinct rhyme scheme, the Diminishing Verse form has a more interesting–and challenging–way of creatively manipulating the last word of each line.

The Incredible Shrinking End Word

The key unique feature in a Diminishing Verse poem is the manipulation of the last word in each line, in a diminishing fashion. I did find some variation on where the emphasis should be placed within the end word itself. In one variation, emphasis is placed on the vowel sound of the end word, making the challenge to decrease the number of preceding consonants while maintaining the vowel sound (flair/rare/air). Another variation offers less flexibility, asking the poet to remove initial letters of the word without any other changes to spelling (heat/eat/at). A poem of this kind might read:

If you can stand the heat
And you can’t wait to eat
The kitchen is where it’s at

Nearly all of the contemporary examples I could find focused on this second emphasis, and this was the basis for my own experiments.

Other Notes On Structure

Beyond the above-mentioned end word requirements, there are very few formal restrictions in this form:
– No rules for syllable count, line length, rhyming, poem length, etc.
– Stanzas can be of any length, but tercets are most common. This is mostly due to the strict end word requirements and the natural constraints those requirements impose.

Tips and Techniques

Reverse-engineering your poem by starting with a cluster of usable end words may be the most fruitful way to get started in this form.

I began by making a list of possible end words in sets of three (if you can up with more, take it as far as you like!). Starting with the smallest word (usually one consisting of two or three letters) and working backwards by adding one or two letters at the front may make this easier. Even with only 3 lines, you’ll be surprised how limited your options really are.

When selecting your end words, watch out for affixes (kind/un-kind) and compound words (bee/honeybee) that modify the meaning of a word, but signify nearly the same thing. They may not make for good poetry.

Once you’ve made your list, pick out some of your most intriguing word clusters for further development.

Two Original Diminishing Verse Poems

The Riots of Spring

As the thunder churns, as the lightning cleaves,
The nestlings cower in the quaking leaves;
The spider’s web quivers beneath the eaves.

But soon the red fox will doze in the clover;
The monarch will settle on its yellow-petaled lover;
The riots of spring will be over.

Daily News

He dreads
The daily news–he only reads
The ads.

Bonus Challenge!
Diminishing Verse…in Reverse

If you add one or more letters to the beginning of the end word of each previous line (instead of subtracting), you get Diminishing Verse’s opposite: the Culminating Verse poem!

An Original Culminating Verse Poem

Tart

The art
In eating a tart
Is knowing when to start.

Links to Online Resources:

Diminishing Verse – The Writer’s Digest
Triplet – Poetry Magnum Opus