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Writing Exercise by Janet Holmes

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Improbable Tales

Many of the first poems were ballads -- narrative songs with refrains -- and, frankly, some of them were pretty grisly, replete with murders, ghosts, you name it, but the stories were good enough that they've been passed down for centuries.

Probably the closest we could come to the improbable stories found in the old ballads are the stories in today's more sensational tabloids.

Your assignment is to choose a truly improbable tale (aliens? Sasquatch? dogs that foresee the future?) from a tabloid and render it in traditional ballad form--so future generations will know what ours considered newsworthy.

What's ballad form? Remember these things:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Lines 1 and 3 have four iambic "feet," and the other lines have three feet. (This stanza is often called a "hymn stanza" because so many hymns were composed in its meter. If you can sing your ballad to "Amazing Grace" -- or to "The Yellow Rose of Texas" -- you've got it.)

Finally, the whole thing must tell a story.

Have fun with it!

APW Poets respond with ballads of Improbable Tales told here (1997).

Janet Holmes is author of The Green Tuxedo, winner of the Sandeen Prize) and The Physicist at the Mall (Anhinga Press, 1994).

In 1997, Holmes was chosen by W.S. Merwin to receive the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry for 'Humanophone' and other poems published in Nimrod Magazine.

Her work has appeared in the 1994 and 1995 editions ofThe Best American Poetry, and in journals including Antaeus, Poetry, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Seneca Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She is recipient of a Bush Individual Artist's Fellowship, the McKnight Fellowship-Loft Award in Poetry, and two Minnesota State Arts Board grants.

She is currently Director of Ahsahta Press and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho.

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