Writing Exercise

by | July 6, 2013 | Writing Exercise | 16 comments

 by Ashley Lister 

 The quatern is a sixteen line French form composed
of four quatrains (four line stanzas).

The quatern has a refrain (a repeated line) that is
in a different place in each quatrain. In other words, the first line of stanza
one is the second line of stanza two, the third line of stanza three and the fourth
line of stanza four. It’s surprising how much this affects the meaning of the
words in that refrain.

A quatern should have eight syllables per line. It
does not have to be iambic or follow a set rhyme scheme.

I don’t know why you won’t undress

Your clothes are getting in my way

I say this to you night and day

It leaves our love life in a mess

And so I tell my therapist

I don’t know why you won’t undress

It stops me trying to caress

The parts I think you needed kissed

But he tells me to give you time

He says you don’t need my duress

I don’t know why you won’t undress

I worry you’re no longer mine

I hear my therapist confess

He’s seeing you: You’re deemed a slut

He wants some advice from me but

I don’t know why you won’t undress

I have to admit, I love poems that work with refrains. All poems get us thinking about words and the way we use them in different fashions. The use of a refrain, especially with such a didactic placement as the one in the quatrain, makes us think more about our selection of choice phrases.

As always, I look forward to enjoying your quaterns
in the comments box below.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Tommi T Kekola

    Okey, here's mine, I don't know if it's 'erotic' enough, but at least I did try to follow the rules. (Except at first some lines came up with seven syllables, so had to remodel some). Great fun, and thank you for the exercise!

    You said you would love me long time,
    But you did not mention how much?
    Back then there was no such nonesuch,
    As you for all nightly playtime.

    During the lunch we did go dutch,
    You said you would love me long time,
    repeated over every time,
    While eating your bloody spinach.

    Stale it went and needed retouch,
    Was it really worth all that mime?
    You said you would love me long time,
    even during our hit and touch.

    Now there you are all dressed in lime,
    Still longing for my loving clutch,
    In the end it was way too much,
    You said you would love me long time.

    (sorry, noticed one line with 9, so had to redo again! Arrggh!) If there's still something wrong, let it be!

  2. Ashley R Lister


    This is fun. Your refrain has so many echoes of prostitution and artificiality that it already fires the reader with a juxtaposition (because those offering to love someone for 'a long time' are usually not offering the spiritual version of love).

    I'm also mightily impressed that you rhymed Dutch with spinach.

    It's good to see you've been hacking away at this with an editor's pen. I know that with most writing exercises we get the words on the page and we can walk away but here I see you're counting syllables, measuring rhymes and tweaking at this like a mechanic fine-tuning an engine.


  3. Nettie

    Well, I found two errors in my earlier draft. I'm cross-eyed now. Good exercise. I've never even completed a sestina before, much less something like this.

    Where once we spoke in lips and tongues
    the words we speak are rhyme and slant.
    Just yesterday our heartbeats grasped
    the rhythm of the other. No more.

    Now there is dissonance, a roar,
    where once we spoke in lips and tongues.
    And our flesh, once sealed breast to chest
    by effort from a wet cunt's clasp

    against the stroking cock now rasps
    with irritation and galls form
    where once we spoke in lips and tongues.
    Our body is cleft and we can't

    resurrect after Death implants
    her worm. We should have held firm, clasped
    in each other's arms and savored
    how then we spoke in lips and tongues.

  4. Ashley R Lister


    Glad to hear you're cross-eyed. This was worth the effort. There's enjambment over stanzas – always worthy of merit. There's a jarring rhythm that reflects the content as it discusses an interruption in communication – clever!

    And you've got the word 'cunt' in there which is one of the strongest expletives and always turns heads.

    Great writing.


  5. Lisabet Sarai

    Another challenge… another excuse to keep me from real work…!

  6. Ashley R Lister


    Can't wait to see your poem 🙂


  7. Rachel Green

    Tommi: How super. Very clever. I so wanted to see 'only five dollar' in there!

    Nettie: I'm in awe. I can't hope to match the raw power in your verse.

  8. Rachel Green

    Gender Therapy

    There's so much blood upon the floor
    the bullwhip's end is caked. Your back
    is tattered shreds of red and black
    yet still you weep and beg for more.

    You seem surprised when at the end
    there's so much blood upon the floor
    and as you stumble to the door
    you catch your breath and like a friend

    catharsis comes and goes; a need
    to purge yourself from flesh to core.
    There's so much blood upon the floor
    but not a drop more than agreed

    upon in sessions three and four
    and though my psychiatric chair
    has leather straps, an oath I swear.
    There's so much blood upon the floor.

    • Ashley R Lister

      Rachel – love it. This is dark, there are touches of humour, and your use of enjambment makes reinforces the repetition.

      Isn't this use of the refrain addictive? I've just written a piece for our next poetry event and I went with this form because it's so compelling.


    • Rachel Green

      Ah, it is indeed. I don't generally like refrain poetry but this form works very well. Thanks for te prompt.

  9. Lisabet Sarai

    Okay, this has taken me awhile, but here you go:

    My First Quatern
    22 July 2013

    The line between delight and pain
    you're teaching me to tread. Again
    your leather licks along my spine,
    your fingers in my hair entwine,

    your blades their bloody trails incise;
    the line between delight and pain
    grows blurry as you kiss my eyes
    and dive for pearls between my thighs,

    splayed and shackled. Now your cane
    paints ruddy stripes across my flesh,
    the line between delight and pain:
    ecstatic, luminous, insane.

    With blood and tears, with spunk and sweat
    you baptize me. Appalled and wet
    I teeter on the edge again,
    the line between delight and pain.


    I tried to make make the rhyme scheme consistent, but it sounded too much like doggerel.

    This was a fascinating exercise. Writing this was more like solving a puzzle than creating a poem. Not at all like my past experience of sitting down with an emotional state I was simply trying to get out on paper.

    • Ashley R Lister


      I have to echo what Rachel has said. The rhythm in this is superb and there are so many brilliant phrases (leather licks/spunk and sweat).

      Thanks for sharing this one. I love it.


    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks for inspiring me. I haven't written poetry in decades.

  10. Rachel Green

    Oh, bravo! What a fantastic rhythm, so much so that I had to go back and check for the repeating line.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Ah, Rachel – praise from you is sweet indeed.

      However, I realized after I posted that the first line in the third stanza only has seven syllables (sigh).

    • Rachel Green

      add 'so' (so splayed and shackled…)

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