by Ashley Lister

When I’m not writing, reading or reviewing, I teach. I teach creative writing and one of the subjects I keep going back to is poetic form.

The reasons for this are fairly clear in my mind. Coleridge defined prose as, “words in their best order.” Coleridge also defined poetry as, “the best words in the best order.” To this end, I’ve always thought anyone writing prose with a knowledge and understanding of poetry is in a position to elevate the quality of material being produced.

Which is why, this month, I’ve decided to mention the Hávamál as a poetic discipline.

The Hávamál is a Viking poem, but it is often called a book of wisdom. Written somewhere around AD 700-900, the Hávamál is one of the more well-known Eddaic poems and, amongst other things, it contains nuggets of universal wisdom that still apply today, more than a millennia after these words were first written.

Here are a couple of examples from the Hávamál:

A guest needs
giving water
fine towels and friendliness.
A cheerful word
a chance to speak
kindness and concern.

Give each other
good clothes
as friends for all to see.
To give and take
is a guarantee
of lasting love.

A typical Hávamál stanza usually contains six lines or two units of three lines each. The first two lines in each unit are tied together by alliteration, and the third is also decorated with alliteration. For those who’ve forgotten: alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds, usually the sounds of initial consonants, as illustrated below:

Better a humble
house than none.
A man is master at home.
A pair of goats
and a patched roof
are better than begging.

It’s also possible to look at the stresses used in the Hávamál but, for the purposes of this exercise, I’d prefer to see writers focusing on words of wisdom and the use of alliteration.

And that’s this month’s exercise from me: produce a six line poem in the style of the Hávamál, sharing words of erotic wisdom in the comments box below. Remember to keep a tie of alliteration between lines one and two (and four and five), and to ensure that there is some alliteration across lines three and six.

Have fun with this and I look forward to reading your words of wisdom.