Take the form of a dragon–body of a lizard, tail of a serpent, teeth of a lion, wings of a pterodactyl. It is a zoological mishmash, a sum-of-all-fears creature. Nonetheless, the dragon has been the central antagonist of heroic conquests from time immemorial. Consider Beowulf, Bilbo the hobbit, and St. George, each dragon slayers in their own rights.
But no account describes the ferocious absurdity of the dragon quite as well Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and the resulting illustration by John Tenniel. In Carroll’s famous nonsense poem, he conjures the air of suspended fear by creating words from whole cloth. The frumious Bandersnatch, the manxome foe — Carroll’s adjectives allude to definition, though they have no definition at all. The result is a near-nightmarish feel to the poem, one in which the mind cannot quite make sense of the scenes.
And if Carroll’s poem was a work of creative genius, consider Tenniel’s rendering of the Jabberwock. Tenniel begins with the classic elements of a dragon — the body, the tail, the wings — but then he adds his own nonsensical flare. The front claws are attached to spindly, furry fingers. The eyes are sleepy and human; the teeth are those of a gopher. The Jabberwock wears a Fu Manchu and dons a button-down vest. It is an awkward, absurdist rendering, one that somehow makes the Jabberwock even more fearsome.
The use of nonsense words in poetry can expand the cognitive dissonance of a given piece and heighten the sense of wonder, excitement, or fear. There is no better current example of this than “Jabberwocky.” And why did I use the word “current” in the preceding statement, you ask? This brings us to today’s poetry prompt.
Poetry Prompt: Will you write the next great dragon or creature poem using nonsense words? That’s this week’s challenge here at Tweetspeak. Use hyperbole. Create adjectives and adverbs. Name your creatures with ferocity. Above all else, though, have fun and share your poems with us in the comments.
Tweetspeak’s April Dragons and Creatures Poetry Prompt:
This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is Dragons and Creatures, and we’ll be composing poems epic poems. I’m sure of it. How do you participate?
1. Pick a creature…any creature. Need some ideas? Check out this complete list of mythical creatures. Or listen to our very own Dragons and Creatures playlist.
2. Compose your own poem about a dragon or creature.
3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSCreatures hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a Twitter user, leave your poem here in the comment box.
5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and feature it in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Last week, Monica Sharman took an unexpected approach to discussing creatures, exploring the angst of Wile E. Coyote in his efforts to catch the road runner. In “For Wile E. Coyote, ” she wrote:
In his own name, sarcasm and irony
were embedded like the way his own head stuck
right through the edge of
the cliff he tried crossing
with all those light-bulb ideas—
skis on wheels,
bow with himself as the arrow,
hot-air balloons stocked with sticks
of dynamite. Road runner always
took off with a beep-beep and a puff
of dust like the one he left at the bottom
after falling off the edge. Fade out,
fade in, and he’s still alive to dream up
another over-complicated contraption
only to get blown up by his own
dynamite again. And he could’ve made it
so much simpler if he realized
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a Looney Tunes poem before. Needless to say, I loved this offering.
Now, let’s create some poems with a bit of Jabberwocky nonsense.
Photo by Dave_B_, Creative Commons via Flickr. Jabberwocky sketch by Sir John Tenniel, circa 1871, via Wikimedia Commons. Post by Seth Haines.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In April we’re exploring the poetry theme Dragons and Creatures.
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Maureen Doallas says
This one’s in “Neruda’s Memoirs”:
Monica Sharman says
Maureen, I’ve always oohed and ahhed at your two-line stanzas. And that ending!
Monica Sharman says
Seth, thanks for making my day!!! I’m afraid Wile E. and I have some things in common.
Maybe one of these days I’ll write a poem for Yosemite Sam or Marvin Martian. 🙂
As for Jabberwocky, that and The Raven (what a pair) were two of the big ones that intrigued me as a little girl and enamored me toward poetry. Thanks for your great prompts.