Brian D. Morrison completed his MFA at the University of Alabama, where he was assistant editor at Black Warrior Review. His poetry has appeared at West Branch, The Bitter Oleander, Verse Daily, Copper Nickel, Cave Wall, and other journals. Currently, he works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University.
Brian Morrison talks about his revision process as his poem “A Field, A Horse, Beauty” became “A History of Love.”
A Field, a Horse, Beauty
By Brian Morrison
In open country, a field wide open,
weeds knee high and more weeds,
there’s a boy and girl. A boy on a fence
and a girl on a hay bail, grass
at her ankles. There’s a horse; they admire it.
The horse doesn’t care. There’s a body
and a body and the nature of bodies,
a line of trees and a lake. No one cares.
There’s a cloud that doesn’t seem to move.
A horse and a fence. There’s
beauty in legs. There are ankles and chests
and a breeze. Someone sees all of this,
someone tall. The boy and the girl,
someone who is tall walking up to them,
and a horse nosing the fence. The boy
on the fence, the girl on the hay bail,
grass at her ankles. Minor beauty.
Someone tall pets the horse, calls the girl:
daughter, come along. A boy on the fence.
Hay bails. Someone tall and daughter,
grass scent on her ankles. They ride away
on the horse who doesn’t care. The boy
on the fence is left with the grass, the weeds
and more weeds. The boy on the fence
who doesn’t care. The boy on the fence
swept up in the scent of grass,
the scent of her ankles that didn’t care.
A History of Love
By Brian Morrison
A boy sits on a fence near a girl
he has chained, the dead
grass at her ankles. She nips;
he saddles a horse.
The boy admires the living. A line
of barren trees. Weeds and more
weeds. The one cloud isn’t moving.
A minor beauty in legs
no longer moves the boy. The girl
carries her ghost like a scent
on her dress in tatters. The boy
rides away. The hunger,
broken-toothed, rots the girl
who doesn’t care about the dead
grass. The boy on the horse
is swept up in the scent
of what’s missing, the inescapable
love of a girl no longer girl
he’s leaving, a girl whose bite burns
already inside his new stone chest.
[“A History of Love” was recently published in The Bitter Oleander, Volume 21, Number 1.]
Writing Prompt: Please select a poem you’ve written and scan it for “clunky” language. Try to balance stressed syllables with unstressed syllables. Brian Morrison has created a worksheet he uses for scansion and meter that covers, actually, quite a bit of ground. Spondees and phyrric feet aren’t here (neither are “masculine” or “feminine” endings), but iambs, trochees, anapests, and dactyls are.
Definition of Terms
Meter is the rhythmic structure in a poem.
Scansion happens when you mark the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem (a dot or little u is often used to mark an unstressed syllable and a / is used to mark a stressed syllable). Once the poem has been scanned, we can look at its syllabic patterns.
Paying attention to stressed & unstressed syllables can help us understand how language sounds/feels in our poem. It helps us visualize our meter. A line with a lot of stressed syllables (like Brian Morrison’s “broken-toothed, rots the girl” note: I’ve bolded the stressed syllables) is different from a line with a lot of unstressed syllables (like Brian Morrison’s “and a body and the nature of bodies,” note: I’ve bolded the stressed syllables). If you’re ever unsure whether a syllable is stresses or unstressed, you can look up its pronunciation key in a dictionary.
Iamb refers to a pattern in which there is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. As Brian Morrison mentions in his video, it’s like the sound of a heart beat–da DUM, da DUM…
Iambic Pentameter then refers to a line that has five (penta) iambs in a row. da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
Trochee refers to a pattern in which there is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllables–DUM da DUM da…
Dactyl refers to a pattern in which there is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables–DUM da da DUM da da…
Anapest refers to a pattern in which there are two unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable–da da DUM da da DUM…
Spondee refers to a pattern in which there are two stressed syllables in a row–DUM DUM DUM DUM…