Writing Exercise – the Ottava Rima

by | August 6, 2013 | Writing Exercise | 17 comments

 By Ashley Lister 

 We vow tonight will be an early night

We both have work to do tomorrow morn

But now, before I kill the bedroom light

I plead for you to tend to my hard horn.

The mood is set. The time seems very right.

We’re both fired up from watching hardcore porn

I do those things you tell me you adore

And then I stop ‘cos you’ve started to snore.

The Ottava Rima describes eight lines of poetry set out in the
form: a b a b a b c c. These eight lines can represent a single poem or a
collection of these stanzas can make up a longer work.

Originally, when it was brought to us from the Italian language,
the Ottava Rima had 11 syllables per line. Because this form was then appropriated
by English speakers in the 16th century, when iambic pentameter was
all the rage, those 11 syllables were reduced to ten. In the following you’ll
note that I’ve used some lines with ten and some with 11 syllables.

We did it whilst you cooked a sweet ‘n’ sour

We did it on the table in the kitchen

We did it whilst I read King’s The Dark Tower

We did it whilst you sewed and did some stitchin’

We did it in the bathroom in the shower

We did it even though your crotch was itchin’

On that morning we earned a world renown

To kill time whilst our ISP was down

The Ottava Rima is a lot of fun. It’s been used for a
variety of disparate purposes including religious verse, comedy, troubadour
songs and dramatic narratives. It’s been used by a host of impressive names
including Fairfax, Byron and Burgess. As always, the challenge this month is to
use this form to present something erotic.

I look forward to seeing your responses in the comments box

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. Shantella Bonds

    I have never heard of the Ottava Rima until now, so thanks for the information. I'm going to write one or even much more. It seems like fun especially because I like rhyming poetry. I will take up this challenge.

  2. Ashley R Lister

    I look forward to seeing what you produce. It really is a fun form.


  3. Lisabet Sarai

    Sounds easy compared to last month! I can write iambic pentameter in my sleep.

    Yours are hilarious!

  4. Ashley R Lister


    Thank you. I look forward to reading your poetry.

    Ash x

  5. Nettie

    Of course I find errors as soon as I post. Anyways, here goes again. I really enjoyed this form as it allowed me to expand upon my story. This is a great form for a more fully expressed story. The real difficulty I had was in ending it – where and how.

    I only have a temporary title, but hate that already, so for now this is just


    She dreamed him in her red silk panties. Its strained
    lace panel stretched taut, cut into his cock –
    even as that rose defiant against the chains
    of tiny bows along his hips. He'd balked
    until his first leg passed through the alizarin
    cloth. And then he stood before her, walked
    then turned and bent over the back of their plain
    grey couch; its suede soft. She pulled out her crop

    and tap, tap, tapped its length across the back
    of his hairy legs, just below the plum of his ass.
    He squirmed. She reached out and fingered the black
    edging of lace into his deep crevasse.
    Her finger passed his hole to stroke his sacs
    free from the confining silk. Their mass
    was plump and tight. The tip of her nail tracked
    their tender curve defined by the lace. He gasped.

    She smacked his hairy ass with the leather tress.
    It left a mark, another crimson smirch
    against his fragile white flesh. She leaned and pressed
    her lips against the mark. Licked it. He lurched.
    She grabbed his cock with her other hand, its hardness
    greater than her compass. She dropped the birch
    to finger then lube his tight, pink hole. She caressed
    it with oil then wormed her knuckles in, and searched

    until she felt the base of his nut. She stroked.
    He choked, then called out her name as he came.

    • Ashley R Lister


      Isn't that always the way with typos? I think there's something about hitting the SEND key that makes us see what we're sending.

      This is a great narrative – so much happening in such a constrained form. You've made great use of enjambment. You've made even stronger use of the way you punctuated two word sentences within the line. This is bold!

      Improvements – I was trying to find the rhyme for the final couplet in the first stanza: then realised it wasn't there. You've taken the form and made it your own (which is what we should do with poetry) but I have to admit I was momentarily stumped as I tried to fit that against my understanding of the form.

      Great poem – and a strong climactic conclusion 🙂


    • Nettie

      I completely missed the cc rhyme of the last two lines. So, this was "made my own" because I completely missed that last bit of rhyme condition. sheesh.

      I'm glad the piece still carried a story!
      Thanks for your comments!

  6. vbonnaire

    once in the arms of you

    by valentine c. august/2013 [email protected]

    one night the sea called to the two of us
    our simple garments fell away in lust
    you unpeeled my soul that night without fuss
    octavio’s poems we read with trust
    by the sandy sea, in your VW bus
    and you soothed my heart as all lovers must
    under the moon as it sang in white light
    and your arms pulled me close with all love’s might

    we drove all those miles with our campfire smiles
    to the place where the big trees met the sea
    your sensual hands with all of their guiles
    made short work of the lonely lyre of me
    and now your story lives on in my files
    and all the chords you strummed, a life of glee
    the tender wildflower you plucked, budding love
    that redwood cathedral that soared above

    the raccoons looked down on the two of us
    and we pitched our charming tent with a bed
    candles lit the path to the rusted bus
    two poets, one lust, the campfire glowed red
    suddenly you were the master of lust
    I was lost in the feathered tongue of head
    the goose-filled down, and the softness of you
    we snuggled so closely until morn’s dew

    like a lyre you strummed my chords by the sea
    til I sang of a happy soul set free


    • Ashley R Lister


      The feathered tongue of head? Beautiful line.

      You've worked this into a stylish piece with a symmetry balancing the first and third stanzas from their rhyme scheme down to the imagery of nature watching over the lovers you've described.

      Improvements – this is going to sound like a nit-picking quibble on my part, but LUST doesn't rhyme with US or BUS. In fact, you used LUST to rhyme with BUST and MUST in the first stanza. Can you think of an alternative rhyme? Or was this deliberately placed to bring in that anaphoric reference?

      Great poem – that final couplet works really well.


  7. vbonnaire

    Hey first go, will try many with this and thanks for the crit! xxoo!

  8. Lisabet Sarai

    Ottava Rima -not nearly as easy as I expected! So much for arrogance. And there's no way I have time for more than one stanza!

    Sum of Parts

    A wisp of hair, a fingertip, a sigh,
    The swelling shadow where your collar parts,
    A tantalizing flash of ivory thigh
    Above the lace. Your dancer's ankle starts
    Me dreaming of a rippling velvet cry
    Wrung from your tender throat. With all your arts
    You'd not escape my fever wild and true
    If I could ever grasp the whole of you.

  9. Ashley R Lister

    This has been well worth waiting for.

    The rhythm of that iambic pentameter is hypnotic and the imagery is distinct and clear. I'm honestly impressed.

    And, as a related question to those who share their poetry on here: have you poets ever thought of recording your material? I'm starting a radio show tonight – a radio show with a focus on poetry – and I'll be playing pieces of poets reading their work.

    If you're interested in sharing your material please let me know at: [email protected]

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thank you, Ashley! I'm glad you like it.

      This column of yours is great. I haven't written poetry in decades. And I never learned about most of these forms – I just grew up with a sense of meter and rhyme, maybe inherited from my musician dad.

    • Ashley R Lister


      Thank you. I have a lot of fun with finding these different forms. It never fails to amaze me that so many talented writers contribute to the comments on these each month.


    • Nettie

      Let's see if this reply makes it through. This was about your looking for people to record their work. While I love listening to well-read poetry, my own voice records as nasally and high pitched. I also talk too fast.

      On the other hand, I've had an amateur actor read my stuff aloud and it sounded positively lush. What about getting someone else to read one of our pieces?

  10. Nettie

    And, as a related question to those who share their poetry on here: have you poets ever thought of recording your material?

    Interesting question, Ash. One thing I have tried and profoundly failed at is reading my own work. Now, I've worked with an actor who read my stuff and the difference is lightning.

    To me, yes, many types of poetry are meant to be read aloud, but my own voice is nasally and I become too self-conscious. aargh!

    Anyways, there are poets out there that I listen to at like poets.org, etc., and the difference between them reading their piece and say, a Richard Burton, can be the difference between being distracted from the beauty of a poem to actually "getting" it.

    Do you know any student actors who might be interested in reading poetry? I'd share my pomelettes to be recorded then, but my own voice, erm… well, as long as someone could "edit it out"…

  11. Ashley R Lister

    I'm currently presenting a radio show that focuses on poetry. There's music, obviously, and there's other stuff too, but the focus is on performed poetry – amateur and professional performances.

    I take your point about not liking the sound of your own voice. It's common for a lot of us writers.

    But I've heard recordings of Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton reading 'Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight.' Thomas's version carries the gravitas of the original author. Burton, although he reads well, sounds too theatrical to my ear.

    Anyway, I digress. I do have access to readers and recording equipment and a radio station. If you want to send me any poetry so we can record versions of it and then play them to a modest audience of poetry enthusiasts, let me know and we'll get onto it.

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