Exercise One: Satirics

Satire has been around about as along as poetry itself. Satiric poetry, broadly defined, is using verse to "hold up a mirror" to someone or something to show him/her/it a shortcoming, an evil, a folly, a blemish. One way to do this is using humor, as the poets Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and Jonathan Swift did.

Alexander Pope wrote a long poem called "The Dunciad" which is a critique of one of his contemporary critics, Lewis Theobald. In the first version of the poem, Pope goes into excruciating and often hilarious detail about the goals of the goddess "Dulness," for whom Theobald (being, according to Pope, not only dull, but untalented, and altogether ridiculous) is a champion. Pope's poem is epic (much the same as another satire of his, "The Rape of the Lock") and he ends on the final proclamation of the victory of Dulness:
Thy hand great Dulness! lets the curtain fall, And universal Darkness covers all
This is a typical way to use satire - Pope utilizes the epic form which seems to suggest importance, but the subject matter, in both "The Dunciad" and "The Rape of the Lock," turns out to be trivial. That is part of the point: "Reader, don't make a mountain out of a mole hill." He also lampoons his main character by making him a mock hero; it is one thing to call someone an idiot, it is quite another thing to show how this idiot sees himself as a hero. The final warning shot is not only about his subject; this is about his audience - the "universal darkness" is the duping of everyone who could possibly side with this guy and, in so doing, side with the goddess, Dulness.

Here are a few more examples of satirical poems before we get started. Pay attention to all of the ways we can be satirical - we can certainly go straight for the skewering, just grab our subject by the neck and say, "This is why you're repulsive" (like Stevens), or we can show how "good advice" or "good intentions" are not always so good (as Owen and Brown do):
Obviously satire can be applied to just about any form of poem, but I wanted to use this exercise as an opportunity to explore three forms grouped loosely under the heading "satirics":

Step One: The Epigram
This is a very short rhymed verse, often a couplet, wherein a truth is shared or, in the case of satire, a fault is revealed. Here's an example:
I am unable, yonder beggar cries,
To stand or move; if he say true, he lies.
And here's an epigram about an epigram from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
This exercise, as with the following two, is pretty easy because the form is uncomplicated. Simply come up with a series of five epigrams. Though I am grouping this under satirics, your epigrams needn't be satirical, they just need to make a clear point. Here's one by Benjamin Franklin:
Little strokes
Fell great oaks.

Step Two: The Epitaph
This is pretty much the same thing as an epigram, but this is specifically something you might find on a tombstone or in an obituary. The poet sums up the life or personality of a person (or anything else, a dog, a business, an ideal). I can think of no poet who has made better use of this form then Edgar Lee Masters whose collection The Spoon River Anthology uses epitaphs to tell the entire history of the town of Spoon River. Here are some examples (the names they begin with are the names of the fictional dead):
Chase Henry
IN life I was the town drunkard;
When I died the priest denied me burial
The which redounded to my good fortune.
For the Protestants bought this lot,
And buried my body here,
Close to the grave of the banker Nicholas,
And of his wife Priscilla.
Take note, ye prudent and pious souls,
Of the cross--currents in life
Which bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame.

Nicholas Bindle
Were you not ashamed fellow citizens
When my estate was probated and everyone knew
How small a fortune I left? -
You who hounded me in life
To give, give, give to the churches, to the poor,
to the village! - me, who had already given so much.
And think you not I did not know
That the pipe-organ, which I gave to the church
Played its christening songs when Deacon Rhodes,
Who broke and all but ruined me,
Worshiped for the first time, after his acquittal?
Masters creates a web of stories with his epitaphs so that each of the characters' stories intertwine and the reader is left, even after they are all dead, to wonder who is telling the truth and who is not.

Compose a series of epitaphs on a group of dead persons or places or things. Say "dead presidents" or "dead empires" or "dead fashions." Be sure to link your epitaphs as Masters does, just to add a little more richness to the exercise.

Step Three: The Limerick
This is a form that has a rhyme scheme, so it is a little more structured than the other two. The limerick is a very familiar form and one that has been used time and again for satirical verse. The structure is a single five-lined stanza (called a quintet), with a rhyming pattern of aabba. Th lines alter between three and two feet in anapestic meter. Here's a model:
A - - / - - / - - /
A - - / - - / - - /
B - - / - - /
B - - / - - /
A - - / - - / - - /
Here are a few examples of limericks to get you hearing the rhythm of the form:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard. 

T.S. Eliot is quite at a loss
When clubwomen bustle across
At literary teas
Crying, "What, if you please,
Did you mean by The Mill on the Floss?"
W.H. Auden
So here's your chance to create some limericks and they aren't hard. In fact, here's a program used for school children: The Limerick Factory at Learner.Org.