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Poster poems: the alphabet


These most fundamental components of all writing have long fascinated poets, and spell out your challenge for September

If William Carlos Williams’s “a poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words” is right, and I see no reason to demur, then written poems are built on a foundation of the alphabet, the visual units from which words are made. Sometimes, poets have been so intrigued by the alphabet that they have made it the foreground of their poems, rather than leaving the letters hidden in plain sight. There’s even a poetic form, the abecedarian, that is based on alphabetical order and dates back to Biblical times. In these poems, the first stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and each succeeding stanza begins with the next letter until the full set is completed.

Edward Lear used the abecedarian form on numerous occasion. He employed it to characteristic effect in his wonderfully wry A Nonsense Alphabet. Lear’s range of references for the letters runs from the predictable (B for book), to the odd (U for urn) to the downright zany (S for sugar tongs). There’s also a reminder of a lost world of erudition in his choice of the Persian king Xerxes for the letter X, on the assumption that his readers would not find it out of place among the other 25 more everyday nouns in his set.

E stands for egg.

The Moral of this verse
Is applicable to the Young. Be terse.

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