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Viking ain’t easy, but it’s necessary.

So yeah, I was the one responsible for choosing the drottkvaett for this month’s poetry form, and no, I’m not sorry in the slightest. One of the reasons I chose it is because you have to edit. More than once. You can’t just dash it off like a sonnet or a cinquain- you can’t make it up in your head unless you’ve had a lot of practice, because there are sets of overlapping rules. So you have to write it down, and then you have to change it.

NB- unless you speak one of the Norse dialects, in which case the odds are you are NAILING this form, because it’s designed for your language which is mostly alliterative and has way fewer phonemes than English.

But I thought you might feel a little lonely, so here’s how I’m writing my drottkvaett, which is, incidentally, about mowing my goddamn lawn because why not.

So step one is I think about mowing the lawn and I throw together a whole bunch of lines in trochaic trimeter. I don’t worry too much about alliteration or rhyme at this point because I’m going to be moving everything around anyway.

Green blades, new light growers
Hiding ankle twisting
Loudly comes grass eater
Roaring blades a whirling
Chews through growing clover
Chews through berried thorn-cane
Coughs and sputters wildly
Urban morning’s rooster

So that isn’t actually a poem. Whatever. Now I start grabbing pairs of lines to see what matches up. “Hiding ankle twisting” is crap and I’ll discard it in favor of something else. If I start my something else with a G word, I’ll be partway to a first couplet, so I go grab the dictionary and start thumbing through it. Gauntlet. Yeah, that’s pretty good, because the first mow of the season is always a challenge for my ancient and decrepit mower.

Green blades, new light growers
Gauntlet-casting springtime

Okay, let’s check the couplet and see if I have to make any adjustments. First line, 1/5 alliteration, that’s good. I know the second line has the right alliteration. Now check the rhyme. I’ll need at least a half-rhyme for “grow” in the 5th syllable of the first line. Oh look. I got lucky and “new” is in there. Because the “w” rhymes and because this is an odd line, new/grow is a valid half-rhyme. How about the second line? -ing/Spring? Excellent. That’s a full rhyme. So this is a valid couplet and I can move on.

Loudly comes grass eater

Ouch. I love this line with the kenning “grass eater” for lawnmower, but it doesn’t have any rhymes or alliteration at all, and looking back at the rest of my lines there’s just no L in there so I can’t even use it as a second line of a pair. What can I do to save it? Well, “loudly” has to have a synonym, right? If I can get a synonym for “loudly” and another for “eater” then I can save the sense of the line if not the actual words.

Noisy? Nosher? Ugh. I don’t like any of this. What if I grabbed that very last line, Urban morning’s rooster, and paired it up here? Trying this:

Early comes grass eater

That has the right alliteration, but no rhyme for “eat.” I look for synonyms for come, but find nothing, so I’ll look at replacing “eat” – bite? Boldly goes grass biter? Biter isn’t bad. Can I rhyme something with that? Well, there’s always “plight.” I definitely have a dilemma.

Plight solved: bold grass biter

Ok, that has 3/5 alliteration and the requisite rhyme. I want to pair it with another kenning, so let’s play with “Urban morning’s rooster.” I love that line too, but I love the idea of it more than the actual sound. So I need to start with a B, let’s try something like “bane” because my neighbor mows at 7am every Saturday. Bane of… something sleeping? Bane of weekend’s sleeping? That doesn’t quite rhyme, though. Bane of Sunday slumber? Sun and Slum isnt’ the world’s greatest rhyme but I’ll go with it. So my next pair is:

Plight solved: bold grass biter
Bane of Sunday slumber

Okay. Now I need to talk a bit more about what the mower does, so I’ll grab that pair of lines out of the middle:

Chews through growing clover
Chews through berried thorn-cane

The alliteration here is great. Now if only anything rhymed, amirite? Can I rhyme with “clov”? Is there a plant besides lovage that I might be mowing? “growing” isn’t a great word here anyway, so maybe I can get a better pair that still starts with C? I start to google “Plants begin…” and google autocompletes “…ning with a c” so I guess this is a common problem? Oh. Shit. Most of these are “California” something or other. Cowslip might work. And it rhymes with growing already. Sure, why not?

Chews through growing cowslip
Chews through berried thorn-cane

I like the kenning of “berried thorn-cane” for blackberries, but there’s no rhyme there. What if I use crunches instead of chews through? That doesn’t help me unless I want to rhyme crunch/bunch. Ugggg, why am I doing this to myself? What rhymes with thorn? Besides porn, obviously. Born? Morn? Just-born… no, that screws up the rest of the kenning. My mind starts to wander, doing its own thorny chewing. Thicket? Stick-thorned thicket? Oooo. That has possibilities.

Chews through growing cowslip
Crunches stick-thorned thicket

Yeah, I kinda like that. Now I just need two lines to wrap this damned thing up, and I don’t like the two I already have. “Coughs and sputters wildly” and “Roaring blades a whirling” can go. I want to talk about the weeping moans of the shorn grass here, like my enemies’ blood on the ground before me. Okay? Let’s throw a bunch out and see if we can get a pair anywhere.

Short-shorn lies the meadow
Scent of urban summer
House looks more suburban
Weeping spray of saplets
Hayfever is coming
Clippings drop like soldiers
Clippings fly like blood-drops

Okay. So out of all that drek there’s two lines I kinda like, and they’re screwed for rhyme and alliteration:

Clippings fly like blood-drops
Short-shorn lies the meadow

I need to keep “clippings” but I don’t want another C alliteration set, so that has to be the first line. Let’s treat the second line first, because I had an idea:

Blunt-shorn lies the front lawn.

So there’s my rhyme, assuming I can make the B my alliterative letter. Clippings is static so the next word there has to be a B word for my 3/5 alliteration in that line.

Clippings b—- ? blood-drops and I still need a [??d] rhyme in that line. I could rhyme and alliterate bleed and blood. Too cheap? Maybe not. Clippings bleed ? blood ? Nah, don’t like it. I like the notion of the clippings flying around like Dexter-level splatter. What if I used bleeding instead? Clippings flee, still bleeding? Lost my alliteration. I could use trimmings instead of clippings.

Clippings bold lie bleeding

Except I’ve used both bold and lie here already and it’s only eight lines.

Something, bleeding, broken? That has possibiliites. I need a rhyme for broken. Or bleed, I guess, I could swap those two. Choking,maybe, or… oh, reed? Reeds fall. I like it.

Reeds fall, broken, bleeding.
Blunt-shorn lies the front lawn.

Okay, that was only mildly excruciating. So let’s see what it all looks like together, shall we?

Green blades, new light growers
Gauntlet-casting springtime
Plight solved: bold grass biter
Bane of Sunday slumber
Chews through growing cowslip
Crunches stick-thorned thicket
Reeds fall, broken, bleeding.
Blunt-shorn lies the front lawn.

Yeah, that doesn’t suck the most of anything I’ve ever written. I guess. It’s always hard to know how to feel about something I’ve just finished. But that’s how I do it. Editing. More editing. You’ll notice that what I ended up with bears only a passing resemblance to what I started with. The drottkvaett isn’t about sitting down and just writing. It’s about making a hell of a lot of hard work look effortless later when you yell it in court in front of a bunch of assembled seafarers.

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