Throughout the years I’ve written poetry, I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with different forms. I came across a little book my younger daughter had given me for Christmas one year. The blank book isn’t really a good size for a journal but is just the perfect size for short, one-page poems!
Sure enough! I opened the small book and therein were several short poems I’d written (and forgotten about). They were all written using the same form. When the poems were originally written, this form was unfamiliar to me, but I made a notation in my Rhyming Dictionary/Poet’s Craft Book where I keep a record of forms not mentioned within the text. The information in my note is sadly incomplete. It says simply: Jaleen (6,4,4,6 … 6,4,4,6) two stanzas, rhyme scheme abbc, addc, iambic.
No information about who originated the form, nor even a hint about the unusual name. So I decided to do a Google search today to see if additional information was available. There wasn’t much …
Thanks to another poet’s blog, I now know the Jaleen is a creation of poet Mary Harper Sowell. An Arkansas poet (1924-2005), there’s a very brief mention of her on Wikipedia. The Arkansas School for the Blind has a more complete entry about her life. But poet and blogger Freeda Baker Nichols (who also happens to be Sowell’s cousin) provides examples of Sowell’s poetry and posts a couple of her own poems in the Jaleen pattern (here and here). I’m grateful to Freeda for helping refresh my memory about where I’d first learned about the Jaleen!
As a younger poet, I was a member of Poet’s Roundtable of Arkansas for many years. Often, the poetry contests encouraged experimenting with new forms, and yes, I did my share of experimenting! The Jaleen was no doubt a category in a poetry contest: write a Jaleen (the scant details would have been appended to the category instructions).
The little poetry book pictured above came from my younger daughter, and I think I must have decided it would be appropriate to have the first page entry about her. Since the Jaleen pattern is so compact, it was an ideal form for the book’s size. In fact, there are additional handwritten Jaleens on the following pages. (Perhaps I thought I’d devote the entire book to the Jaleen form? I can’t remember, but that may have been the case. Sounds like something I might want to take up again!)
So here’s a Jaleen written about our younger daughter, Abigail. (She and her family were our house-guests this past weekend.) In all the years since I wrote this poem, she hasn’t changed. Her name means “Father’s joy” and that she is. I think I captured her big-hearted character in these eight short lines. This word picture describes the same person I know and love today.