Amoebean verse has its roots in bucolic verse. This might mean every other stanza or every two stanzas. These voices are in conversation with one another. They could be sharing a memory, arguing, describing an experience, or anything else the writer can imagine.
Definition of Amoebean Verse
Amoebean verse is a type of poetry that alternates speakers. Traditionally it refers to poems that alternate speakers on a regular basis, with one speaker taking one stanza and the next speaker taking the next. It provides readers with two sides of a conversation, something that can be quite compelling. Usually, this type of verse results in a narrative poem with the two speakers having a conversation about a topic of some importance.
Examples of Amoebean Verse
‘The Ballad of the Landlord’ is one of Hughes’ best poems. In it, he depicts the conversation between a Black renter and his white landlord. The former is requesting a few much-needed repairs on his apartment. The landlord pushes back, asserting the dominance he knows his racial identity grants him. Here are a few lines of their conversation, the Black renter says:
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don’t you ’member I told you about it
Way last week?
The landlord argues with him and eventually grows hysterical, suggesting that the Black man means to commit violence. He uses these lines:
Come and get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!
The following lines break the pattern of the dialogue, but they do provide an interesting and troubling conclusion to the poem.
Discover more Langston Hughes poems.
‘The Forbidden Banns’ is another narrator amoebean poem. In it, the poet tells the tragic story of a doomed marriage, foreshadowed by the death of the groom’s father. The poem begins with a parson speaking. His words are clear and articulate. Then, the speaker changes. The father of the bridegroom jumps in, telling another speaker that he is planning on protesting his son’s wedding. He is going to stand up in church and make his opinion known. This first speaker asks the father what he thinks he’s going to gain by “stopping the banns to-day.” This goes on until the story is complete. Here are a few of the father’s words from stanza four:
Hearken to me, my son. No: no:
There’s madness in her blood!”
Those were his father’s words; and lo,
Now, now he understood.
These are some of the most important lines of the poem as they finally reveal what it is about the marriage the father is so opposed to.
Read more Thomas Hardy poems.
Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka
‘Telephone Conversation’ is an example of a contemporary amoebean poem. It exposes the presence of racial discrimination at the individual level in society even after the passing of laws against it. The poet uses a conversation between a white woman and a black man over the telephone. It uses both sides of the conversation. The first stanza contains the Black man’s words and his inquiry about a property. He knows the fact that he’s African might make a difference. The following stanza starts with:
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurised good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Then, the white landlady responds, asking how dark he is. She doesn’t use the word “black,” suggesting that she thinks she’s sensitive. Despite this, the fact that both sides of the conversation are used shows her prejudice clearly. The poem ends with these lines from the Black caller:
About my ears—‘Madam,’ I pleaded, ‘wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself ?’
Here, he suggests the central meaning of the poem, that a person can’t be judged by how they look, or in this case, how they describe themselves over the phone. There is far more to a person’s identity and whether they should get to rent a property than what they look like.
Explore Wole Soyinka’s poetry.
Why Do Writers Write Amoebean Verse?
Writers write this kind of verse in order to share two sides of a conversation. It provides them with the opportunity to fully define two speakers or characters through their dialogue. It may also give writers the creative freedom to use characterization and dialect in different ways. Consider, for example, a poem in which two speakers from different backgrounds (made clear through their use of language) are talking to one another about their beliefs. There is a great deal to explore in this format. Through amoebean verse, it’s easy to tell stories about characters’ different experiences and allow the reader to connect with whomever they want.
Amoebean verse is important because of its history in bucolic verse and the way that it allows poets to create conversations between characters. This is an aspect of narrative verse that isn’t always present in poetry.
Dialogue is an integral part of amoebean verse. It’s sometimes used as part of, or all of, the stanzas. Two speakers talk to one another throughout this kind of poetry, using words and sometimes actions to define and defend their individual points of view.
It’s easy to include dialogue in poetry by considering the narrative aspects of your work. What would the character say if they spoke, and what tone would they take? It’s important to consider the latter, especially when defining the two sides of a conversation.
Poets use dialogue to help define who the characters are in their work. Despite its ties to prose, poems often include dialogue as well. This is especially true in narrative verse, which tells a story, uses characterization, a plot, and more.
Related Literary Terms
- Dialogue: a literary technique that is concerned with conversations held between two or more characters
- Dichotomy: create conflict between characters, groups, states of being, ideas, and more.
- Exposition: the important background information that a writer includes in a story.
- Figure of Speech: created when a writer uses figurative language or that which has another meaning other than its basic definition.
- Flash Forward: provides readers and characters with knowledge about future events.
- Foil: a literary device used in narrative poems, novels, short stories, and plays. It is used to define a character’s traits.
- Inciting Incident: an event that starts the story’s main plot. It is whatever changes the protagonist’s life.