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Poets Online Archive


May 2023 - Issue #308

William Carlos Williams invented a stanza and poem form he called the triversen. I have always liked William Carlos Williams who wrote both short poems ("The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This Is Just To Say" are almost too well known, anthologized, and taught) and epic poems such as Paterson. (Plus he is a Jersey boy like myself.) I like the triversen which allows you to write on any subject but within a structure.

A verset means “in one breath” and triversen means “three” so this is a triple verse stanza. It is a form but it is not formal.

Here are Williams' 3 simple rules.
Each stanza equals one complete sentence, and each sentence/stanza breaks into 3 lines. S, each line is a separate phrase in the sentence.
Williams wanted each line to have a variable foot of 2-4 beats per line.
In its pure form, he wanted the poem to be 6 stanzas (18 lines).

Each line can vary in length with two to four stressed syllables. No more than four because he hated iambic pentameter lines! He did not want to write in verse, but he also did not want his poetry to look or read like prose. He often used this stanza in poems that were not triversen but also in poems that follow the pure 18-line triversen form.

You can see this stanza used in Williams' "The Artist" which also uses some unusual spacing, indents, and no punctuation - though that is not required of the form. Our model poem for this prompt is his poem "On Gay Wallpaper."

Some of you might start with a single complete statement or observation that you break into three lines. But those breaks should be strategic - perhaps by phrases or where you want the reader to take a breath, or pause to ponder. His occasional wider spacing also emphasizes the thoughts or pauses.

Some people have suggested that Williams' triversen his "triversen" is the equivalent of the Japanese haiku or the three-line katauta in that each line is a connected idea for the statement in the first line.

Williams' poem longer poem, "January Morning," is an example of him using the stanza form mixed with other stanza forms. That poems begins:

I have discovered that most of
the beauties of travel are due to
the strange hours we keep to see them

and Wallace Stevens' "Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself" uses the stanza and the six stanza structure, though it does not follow all three of Williams' rules. The poem begins:

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Walk out the door
to sunlight growing grass
and three young does in flight.

Three does like the four winds
scatter morning thoughts

Storm clouds gone
beyond the east horizon
fleeing weeks of rain.

Titmouse kicks down seeds
till feeder’s empty
and sparrows peck the feast.

Sunlight washes shadows
till the field rises green-gold
sweet under your step.

Oh, the deer and the birds -
rise up on your animal feet
as if you could fly.

Taylor Graham


Sunrays peek beyond
cumulous cloud vapor
rest on wispy edges.

Glancing at seashores
far below beams filter
though mist like damp hair.

Highways of light hit
a glassy saltwater surface—
lost horizon’s golden road.

The ocean chameleon
sheds it slate grey coat
welcomes altering aqua hues.

Bare toes dig into sand
along the beach as couples
exchange twilight glances.

Lovers clasp hands as waves
ebb and flow watching restless
whitecaps nip at children’s heels.

Sterling Warner


The darker the colder
the more ominous
the night passed.

The wind spit wreckage
the path confused
by spirits.

Each gust a scalpel
a distant alarm
brought home.

A huddled walk
a stumble back
a wind’s will distracts.

A car door opens
to reveal her
hiked skirt.

He offers her up
I turn him down
she sleeps on.

Rob Friedman


I took three breaths,
my eyes lightly closed,
while intoning my mantra.

I saw his wheelbarrow,
his note, even the plum,
and heard the Great Falls.

Eyes open, the table supported
a plate with crumbs, a teacup,
a vased tulip and three shadows.

The rising sun hasn't arrived here
yet, but when it does, this poem
will have arrived at its conclusion.

So many beginnings turn out
to be endings when viewed
from the sunset of the future.

The ancient star lifts my spirit,
my gaze, my pen, the shadows,
but the tulip bows its head.

Lily Hana Hayashi


Taking a path, I'd seldom trod,
I stumbled over rocks and logs,
A clumsy sod.

Wandering lonely, no way through,
Exits barred by swollen streams,
And fallen yews.

Plagued by frustration and by doubt,
Seeking solutions in a pathless wood,
With no way out.

I looked to the sky to see what to do,
Beseeching heaven, as the woods closed in,
And I didn't have a clue.

No paths remained to travel on,
So, I beat a path from whence I'd come,
Before light had gone.

A lonely, empty, fruitless quest,
A dead-end journey,
Like all the rest...

John Botterill


Old men slouch
on benches
in the shade.

They are hostage
to the baking
July heat.

Pigeons forage
on the ground
for peanuts.

Young boys
shoot hoops
on blacktop courts.

These rituals
weave lives
into fabric.

The little park
soon becomes
a neighborhood.

Frank Kelly


On her one-hundredth
Birthday, our last Auntie eats
Five shortbread cookies.

In the wet winter,
At one-hundred and one, she
Takes her final breath.

Hawks soar in the green
Spring as the family gathers
Among the poppies.

Her youngest niece reads
About Auntie’s time in the
Concentration camp.

The elders in black
Bow to her photo, among
The purple orchids.

The family feasts on
Rice and teriyaki like
Auntie always did.

Rose Anna Higashi


The circus is back
selling tickets to the loyal
to the saddest show in America

This is not Shakespeare
where jester is wise
but it is tragic

A clown with funny hair
and a painted face
but no sense of humor

A shyster showman
with trained seals and dancing poodles
but I am not laughing

Stormy weather won’t keep
this big top from blowing over
because the show must go on

True- there’s not much new or inspiring
in the ring or at the concession
but all I need is one big orange crush

Terri J. Guttilla


Super powers
don't just belong
to caped heroes.

Knowing that
I know nothing
is one.

Not worrying
how others see
me, another.

Taking one
hundred percent

How about "Know
Thyself" from the
Delphic Oracle?

Owning your
super powers
sets you free.

Robert Best


As always
the upper hand,
suffers retreat after retreat.

Clouds loom over blooms
staunching sun,
damping early grass.

Summer’s promise far away,
lost in some demi-Eden
among ancient ruins.

Yet always the green surge of life
among the dead leaves
sending roots into sodden earth.

Yet always the finches and wrens
calling among the shoots
and early buds of oaks and gums.

And you always there, always here,
rising with the spring,
eternal promise, bringing hope.

Rob Miller