Jan, taking you up on your offer to jump in with stuff, here are a few thoughts. I’m glad you mentioned meter because it is very important for quatrains since it is rare (but not unheard of) to see free verse quatrains. All other quatrains (blank or rhymed) must—by definition—be written in meter.
Here are a few things about that that I’ve noticed in things that people have posted.
First, regarding the point (from the haiku lesson) that certain words can be one pronounced more than one way, resulting in a different number of syllables. In metered poetry sometimes reader is “supposed” to read it the way it fits the meter (every: ev-er-y vs. ev-ry) EVEN IF that is not the normal way that reader (or anyone) would read it. This is very important when reading certain types of poetry from certain eras. Here are two examples from Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell (one of THE “bibles” on poetry):
1. In the poem “Paradise Lost,” in the line “Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit” the word “disobedience” is supposed to be read dis-o-bed-yence, not dis-o-bed-i-ence since the syllable count is very important in this poetic form. (If anybody cares, that is called synaieresis or synaloepha.) As far as I know, there is no way to indicate that to your readers.
2. In the poem “The Deserted Village,” in the lie “ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,” the word “hastening” is supposed to be read “hast’ning,” again because the syllable count is so important in this poetic form. This CAN be indicated to the reader (as I’ve just shown) so why not do it if that’s what you want? (If anybody cares, that is called syncope.)
Second, I would have “scanned” (marked the stressed and unstressed syllables) the last line of Jer’s poem slightly differently than Jan did. This raises several points. 1) It is often true that a line CAN be scanned more than one way—different readers will read a line differently. 2) Sometimes the meter/rhythm can be so powerful that it “forces” the reader to emphasize the syllables of a word differently than normal. Again stealing an example from Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, the meter could “force” the reader to pronounce the word “detail” as DE-tail or de-TAIL. 3) Even though a reader, when not forced, may often read a line differently, the poet should still PLAN the poem the way he wants it to be read so that he can be deliberate about the meter.
I always found scanning my poems rather difficult, but I am better at it now (I hope!). One thing I did to try to get better at this was to scan famous poems and then compare my results to other people’s results. Of course, this can be frustrating due to differences in reading (per item 1 in the previous paragraph) and because sometimes people are just wrong. An example of wrong scanning is the almost (but praise the Lord, not quite) universal scanning of the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” That is claimed to be an example of STRICT iambic pentameter, that is, a series of unstressed-stressed syllables repeated 5 times. I don’t think so, Tim! (Anybody disagree?) And since it is the opening line, the rhythm is not established enough to “force” us to read it that way.
All of that to say, scanning and being deliberate about meter is hard to master and hard to do even then, BUT we need to if we want to make progress with our poetry. There are many different established meters which all have fancy names, but we usually don’t have to know the names to be deliberate. We can just decide, for example, I want a meter of stressed-unstressed-stressed repeated four times. (I say “usually” because some poems are defined in terms of the fancy names, for example a sonnet is composed of 14 lines of iambic pentameter.)
Third, once we have gotten deliberate about having a consistent meter—and that is what Jan is teaching here—we should include variations on purpose. The variation should normally always have a specific purpose. There are innumerable examples, but I only have time for one: switching from unstressed-stressed to stressed-unstressed can add a feeling of urgency. There is no end of material on the internet or in books on “substitution” or “variation.” Here is a poem I wrote for the Challenge in which the basic meter was iambic tetrameter (unstressed-stressed repeated four times for each line) and in which EVERY variation was deliberate. There are a couple of the variations that I’m not fully satisfied with now, but at least they were all chosen for a reason. (All stanzas are quatrains, except for the sestet in the middle): The Humiliation and Exultation of Our Lord
Fourth, there is also the issue of pauses or “caesuras.” They can serve two different purposes. First, in certain styles they should be planned to be in the middle; this is virtually a “rule” for these styles and adds another dimension as much as meter and rhyming scheme. In styles in which caesuras are not required to be in the middle, placing them there makes the poem feel more formal. Second, in most styles caesuras are deliberately moved around and contribute to the overall rhythm and emotional impact of the poem. One poem in which I think we can clearly see the impact of censura is this one posted by Vonnie on page 1 of this thread:
It will not stop; it does not wait-
Pushing, pulsing, ticking forward,
I want to sit, to rest, to breathe,
Let the world keep marching onward.
OK, enough poetry. Back to defending the Illinois moment of silence law!