Double Dactyl Poetry

Write a double dactyl poem in honor of National Grammar Day.

Neal Whitman, Writing for
6-minute read
Episode #557

Double Dactyl Poetry

Aside from the metrical description, there are three other requirements for a double dactyl. The one that makes National Grammar Day particularly suitable for a double dactyl is that the topic of a double dactyl has to be a two-dactyl proper noun. Not just any proper noun fits this description. Some that do fit include Emily Dickinson, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ivan the Terrible. And as you may have noticed by now, so does National Grammar Day! So here it is, a double dactyl composed especially for next week’s august occasion:

Holy infinitives,

National Grammar Day!


Time to geek out!

Syntax, semantics, and

Strange ambiguities—

This is the fun stuff that

Grammar’s about.

In case you’d like to try writing your own double dactyl, whether it’s about National Grammar Day or something or someone else, I’ll explain the rest of the requirements. They can be found in the introduction to the book Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls, which was edited by John Hollander and Anthony Hecht, the inventor of the double dactyl. That’s right—unlike haiku, limericks, or sonnets, the double dactyl has a known inventor. In the book, Hecht explains that he invented the form in 1951, when he was looking for a poem in which the word Schistosomiasis could take up an entire line all by itself. Schistosomiasis, by the way, is a parasitic disease spread by snails. (SHIS-to-so-MY-a-sis)

In fact, this word brings us to the second requirement for a double dactyl: At least one line must consist of a single, double-dactylic word. Furthermore, just to make things more difficult, Hecht and Hollander declared that no double-dactylic word should be used in more than one double dactyl poem. I won’t bore you with a list of all the no-longer-eligible words I found in the double dactyls in Jiggery Pokery, but I’ll put a list of them on the transcript for anyone who’s interested.  


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.