Fun With Forms: Double Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crowns


Ok, on to the sonnets.


Constructing a Double-Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crown is easier than it sounds once you have deconstructed the process into a series of steps. We should begin with a definition of the form, I assume that if you are reading this you are familiar with the basics of sonnet-writing. A traditional Heroic Sonnet Crown is constructed of fifteen linked sonnets contributing to the same story or theme. Because I am a narrative writer I prefer to use the form to explore character and story in a way that leads the reader from point A to B in linear time. In a Heroic Crown fourteen of the sonnets are written in the traditional manner and the fifteenth is composed of the first lines of the previous fourteen sonnets laid out in order (hopefully in a way that leaves you with a coherent poem).


A Double-Acrostic Heroic Sonnet Crown follows the same pattern with the added embellishment of an acrostic that runs down both the left and right sides of the poem, a secret message which adds extra levels of challenge and depth for both the poet and the reader.


Once you have settled on this form, finding an appropriate subject to fill it with is another matter entirely. It is more difficult than one would think-though I will venture to suggest that extended narratives work best so long as you break the story down into 14 sections before beginning and save the fifteenth sonnet (comprised of the first lines of the previous fourteen poems) for a revelatory summary of events.


Usually when I am writing a DAHSC I begin with the fifteenth sonnet, the Jewel, and construct a 28 character acrostic that will provide the theme and enable the jewel to stand out like an amethyst in a pendant. Here is an example of the double-acrostic jewel that I wrote for a DAHSC that I am working on right now:


Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

Undo the straps of leather sandals. There is grass

Mashed into the tired treads. The corpses of field

Mice dry. They panted to death on liquefied tarmac. The

Entire family fits in here, or seems to. A

Righteous man in a righteous church, my father cannot

Include the foulest child he spawned, grease-haired with

No ability to wash. She takes refuge in a

Kind memory that will not last. A girl, too thin,

Arms extended for the body of a child on the road.

No one notices the small, gold handcuffs.  The lad

Seems happy, innocent.  The rotten church you

Attempt to serve, the foul, the wounded who spread this

Suffering through a state that reeks like a dead rat.


There are a few things to notice here. I knew what the story was going to be when I began and since I had settled on the outcome I had a pretty good idea about the theme that I would follow. This enabled me to create the 28-letter stand-alone double acrostic ‘Summer in Kansas is Death and Dust.’ A hint- words like ‘love’ or ‘shove’ should be avoided since if they fall on the left side of the acrostic you will have to use the word ‘Shiv’ a lot since it is one of the only words in English that end in ‘V’. I found this out the hard way. Thankfully, there is usually use for a word meaning ‘knife’ in a poem about love. Using lined paper I blocked out the letters in two columns bracketing the paper so that it looked like this:

S                                                                                                          I

U                                                                                                         S

M                                                                                                         D

M                                                                                                         E
E                                                                                                          A
R                                                                                                          T
I                                                                                                           H
N                                                                                                         A
K                                                                                                         N
A                                                                                                         D
N                                                                                                         D
S                                                                                                          U
A                                                                                                         S
S                                                                                                          T


Once I had created the frame I could weave the story in around it, training it like a vine through a trellis. The most difficult part was creating a workable narrative that could also function as the beginning line in and of itself.


Once I have the story and the jewel I am ready to get started. It is much easier to frame the crown from start to finish at this point rather than tackling it one sonnet at a time, after all, you already have your map, you know where you are going. There isn’t any need to go groping in the dark. For the sake of brevity, I will give one example of a sonnet grown from a jewel.


This is the first sonnet in the DAHCS:




Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

Opened the garage door and met the bright burn.

My face felt like pork crackling, a tic, tic, tic,

Eerily like oil popping in a pot, which

Taught me the taste of my own sweat. A fat white grub,

Incandescent, dried to a curl in the driveway. You

Might not believe me, but I loved the feel of this fear,

Earthy as it was. These long walks served to burn

Some of my more metaphysical terrors

Entirely out of me. Returning after miles, I

Very strongly stank of adolescent hormones, of

Earthworms baked in a stone oven, my hair so oiled the

Rank sweat scalp-fluid stained my neck. Yes, this was a

Year of decomposition for me. Forced exhaustion. Fear.


As you can see, it shares a first line with the jewel. The second sonnet in the series begins, ‘Undo the straps of leather sandals. There is grass’ and the third, ‘Mashed into the tired treads, the corpses of field’. Because the first lines of these sonnets are already written your acrostics are limited and defined by the letters that appear every fourteen lines.


Since I knew that the first letter in my double-acrostic would have to be ‘S’ and the fifteenth ‘I’, I was able to construct a double acrostic that not only made sense, it moved the story forward. I chose, ‘Sometimes every inch burns, I fear’. This makes more narrative sense when connected to the third, fourth, and fifth acrostics, I assure you.


I constructed this frame in the same way that I made the last one, but with the first line already in place so that it looked like this:


Summer in Kansas is slow dehydration. I

O                                                                     N

M                                                                     C

E                                                                     H

T                                                                      B

I                                                                       U

M                                                                    R

E                                                                     N

S                                                                     S

E                                                                     I

V                                                                     F

E                                                                     E

R                                                                     A

Y                                                                     R


Keeping the story in mind, remembering my map, I filled it in. And then I did it thirteen more times after that.


If you feel like a challenge, you might try an ‘Emperor’s Crown’. This is a form constructed of three linked Acrostic Heroic Crowns (a single acrostic in this instance, running down the right side of the poems), an example of which is found in my second book Crown of Thorns, available HERE

About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on October 9, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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