Peter Wallis introduces us to a short form the sevenling for today’s NaPoWriMo prompt. He says:
a Sevenling – a seven line
poem consisting of two three-line stanzas and a single final line.
It is a form devised by Roddy Lumsden. I was lucky enough to be taught about it at a workshop
He took the idea from a poem by Anna Akhmatova (here translated by D. M. Thomas)
He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.
He hated crying children,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.
. . . And he married me.
The first three lines should contain an element of three – three connected or contrasting
statements, or a list of three details, names or possibilities. This can take up all of the three lines
or be contained anywhere within them.
Then, lines four to six should similarly contain an element of three, connected directly or
indirectly or not at all.
The seventh line should act as a narrative summary or punchline or as an unusual juxtaposition.
There are no set metrical rules, but being such a short form, some rhythm, metre or rhyme is
To give the form a recognizable shape, it should be set out in two stanzas of three lines, with a
solitary seventh, last line.
Titles are not required. A sevenling should be titled Sevenling followed by the first few words in
The tone of the sevenling should be mysterious, offbeat or disturbing, giving a feeling that only
part of the story is being told. The poem should have a certain ambience which invites
guesswork from the reader.
Lists of three and the number seven are magical things.
I find this exercise best if you can approach it lightly. Aim to jot down several attempts and then
go back to the one that you feel most drawn to.
Don’t overcomplicate things – Akhmatova’s poem has just seven end-stopped lines.
Start with three of anything – the last three novel you read, three favourite holiday destinations,
favourite foods or drinks, three ways to sign off emails, three schoolfriends, three wishes . . .
I find that the first two stanzas are relatively easy to come up with.
What takes the time is the final line which cuts across expectations. You might find yourself
redrafting this in the back of your mind throughout the day.
In the original workshop, as I was a teacher, I used “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” (The
Back to basics.
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,
the curriculum says.
Then I jumped to my father questioning me after school. He wanted signs of academic progress.
What did you do at school today?
Was it good? Tell me
your best thing.
Miss Crowther’s dress had seven petticoats.
The one thing I gloried in was the teacher’s full skirt, not having twigged what my father thought
school was for.
More recently, as part of a project about allotments, I wrote:
SEVENLING (He set to work)
He set to work and planted
three rows of radishes,
two of lettuce, one of peas.
The home he left was cheerless.
Home welcomed his return.
He changed his clothes.
Anniversaries can be made of such afternoons.
Peter Wallis is a U.K. based poet and Hawthornden Fellow. He won publication of a pamphlet, Articles of Twinship, in the Bare Fiction Debut Poetry Collection Competition 2015 (copies available via the Contact Page at peterwallis.co.uk). His poems have been widely published and have both shortlisted and longlisted in the National Poetry Competition. He is Submissions Editor for the U.K. charity “Poems in the Waiting Room”.
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