Playing With Acrostics
Winnie Griggs here. Today I wanted to talk about Acrostics. And just so everyone is on the same page, an Acrostic is a poem or verse, either structured or free form, where certain letters in each line, when read vertically, spell out a word or phrase. And the word that is formed refers back to the verse itself. For instance if the word formed is clock, then the verse itself would be about some aspect of clocks or time.
Now, don’t confuse an Acrostic with an Acronym. While similar, there is a key difference. An acronym uses the first letter of each word (sometimes excluding prepositions) to form a shortcut word. For example NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), and Scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus). An Acrostic, on the other hand, is a verse where certain letters from each line have significance but are not intended to be taken as a substitute for the whole.
Of course I’ve known about acrostics since my schooldays. But what I didn’t know until recently is that there were so many different forms of acrostics. So today I thought I’d give quick description and example of each
There is, of course, the Conventional Acrostic.
This is the one you usually have in mind when you think about acrostics. In a conventional acrostic, it is the first letter of each line that forms the word. For instance, here is an acrostic I worked up on one of my favorite flowers. (Caveat, I’m by no means a poet)
Tall and splendid
Lovely to look at
In the words of Mary Poppins
Practically perfect in every way
And just because I was on a roll, here's one I did using my name
Wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend
Informed by these precious relationships
Notes from songs of love and laughter
Necessarily tinged with droplets of pain and loss
Inspiration is born in these moments
Eventually emerging in the pages of a book
Then there’s the Telestich Acrostic
This one uses the LAST letter of each line to form the word or phrase. Again, I tried my hand at writing one (and I found this one much more difficult than the other!) and here is what I came up with:
When I’m down they’re therapeutic
I’ll have one, no make it two
Chocolate chip and peanut butter too
But oh there’s shortbread and macaroons—it’s so hard to pick
Especially when you throw in gingersnap and biscotti
Who am I fooling by saying just two, certainly not me
My willpower’s no proof against their siren calls
A third type is the Mesostich Acrostic.
For this one, letters from somewhere in the middle of each line are aligned and used to form the word or phrase. For example:
A harbinger of spring
With a rosy red breast
And a short thin beak
Your bright blue eggs
Have a beauty unique
Adding more complexity is the Double Acrostic.
This one requires that both the first letter of each line AND the last letter of each line form words. My attempt at this one is a bit convoluted, but here it is.
Ride along as if on a magic carpet
Over hill and dale, past trees and a river
Accompanied by friends, sipping on a chai
Destination aside, it's fun riding with pals in my Jeep
The last two forms don’t actually form words with a single letter. They take the Acrostic in a different direction
You have the Abecedarian
Like a Conventional Acrostic, you focus on the first letter of each line. But instead of those letters forming a word, they are successive letters of the alphabet. So, if the poem were written in English, there would be 26 lines moving through the alphabet, starting with A and going through Z. I did not try my hand at this one. But you can see an example here: https://www.poetrysoup.com/poem/alphabet_games_1484213
Other examples of this can be found in Psalm 119 and Provers 31. Of course it’s only in the Hebrew version that you can see this progression in the Hebrew alphabet.
Then there's The Golden Shovel
This is a much more recent version of the acrostic. It was created by National Book Award winning US poet Terrance Hayes in 2010. In a Golden Shovel you take a line, or lines, from someone else’s writing, and use each of their words as the end-words of each line in your poem. In the example below, I used a line from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, one of my favorite poems.
Once when it was just me, myself and I
I dug out a box of pictures I took
back in my college days, and thought over the
choices I'd made and how this one or that one
would have changed things more or less.
Then I happily realized the road I’d traveled
brought no regrets – and I’m ready for whatever else might come on by
There you have it - my short overview of acrostics. What do you think? Were any of these formats new to you? Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a book of your choice.
And if anyone wants to try their hand at writing their own acrostic, I'll give a $10 gift card to one of the authors of those as well.