“The Dactyl Poem” by Allan Wolf

“The way I see it, there are two kinds of people in the world:

PO-folk and No-POs.”


Hello, PO-folk! Have you met Allan Wolf? If so: lucky ducks! If not, step right up ’cause we’ve got a show for you!

The many faces of Allan Wolf

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows how I feel about poetry performance. And if you don’t know … well, I love it! And one of my po-performance idols has long been the sly Mr. Wolf, who not only knows how to excite a room full of five-year-olds with his witty words, but he can do it WHILE JUGGLING!

But wait — there’s more! This guy is not just a double threat … he’s at least a septuple threat, for Mr. Wolf …

writes poetry
performs poetry
plays guitar
tells jokes (he’s a seriously funny guy!)
twangs (you know, like Snoopy!)

So today is all about celebrating poetry performance and Allan’s significant contribution and dedication to doing just that for over 25 years.

To start us off, Allan sent a video of “The Dactyl Poem.” For those in the cheap seats, a dactyl is a type of metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in the word MAN-ne-quin. A double dactyl is simply two of these feet put together, as in the phrase TER-ri-ble PAR-a-bles.

Here are a few words from Allan about the whole shebang:

“I have written a book of Double Dactyls about people who have double dactyl names. I call it History Twistory: A Higgledy Piggledy Hall of Fame. I have yet to find a publisher who loves it as much as I do. For ‘The Dactyl Poem’ itself, I was inspired by Paul Fleischman’s dactylic poems such as ‘Whirligig Beetles’ from Joyful Noise, or ‘Seventh Grade Soap Opera’ from Big Talk. And like Paul’s poems, mine was intended to be spoken by two voices, overlapping somewhat. When I recite it alone I have to modify it or else I run out of air and pass out on the floor.

I make my living, in part, by putting on poetry shows, and I’m always looking for a new shtick. And for years I’ve had the idea of combining juggling with recitation. As you watch this video you can actually ‘see’ the poem’s rhythm as you watch the movement of the three balls. It is a 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 rhythm like a waltz. Essentially I am juggling syllables as I juggle the balls!”


Luckily, Allan isn’t leaving two-syllable metrical feet in the lurch. As he told me:

“I am slowly working on a two-ball ‘PO-ggl’ that showcases the two-syllable foot (iambs, trochees, and spondees). Oh, and a PO-ggle is a mash-up of poetry and juggling. PO-ggling would be the verb form, I guess. 

The idea for all of this is to demonstrate the wonderful world of syllables and the concept of meter and feet. And make it fun. I’ve got another iambic demonstration that involves a shocking and memorable prop: a human heart that I can squeeze and, that’s right, juggle as it ‘beats.'”

SHUDDER! And also: neat-o.



More PO-formance!

I could not resist adding these two videos that give a glimpse of Allan in action in schools and libraries. This first one is a short promo of his performance programs…

…and this is a slightly longer one of various snippets of Allan’s many performances. I love seeing how the kids react to his enthusiasm and shenanigans and, of course, to the POETRY he shares!

Ain’t that the truth?

Allan’s Books

Lest ye think you can only get a dose of Allan live, here’s a little reminder that he has a bunch of books to peruse, from his collection of body-part poems The Blood-Hungry Spleen to his poetic novel Zane’s Trace. He also has a YA novel coming out (Candlewick Press, March 2017-ish) titled Who Killed Christopher Goodman? based on a true crime.


But I have to give a special shout-out to Allan’s tour-de-force novels in verse: The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic and New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery. I am only part way into New Found Land (it’s fab!), but I read Titanic a few years ago, and when I finished all I could say was, “But the…what did…he just…I mean…how? HOW?!” Because this book BLEW MY MIND in terms of CRAFT. (I mean, really, Allan, HOW DID YOU DO THAT?)


And there’s more exciting news for us poetic history buffs! Allan is already deep into the first draft of the final book in this trilogy of historical journey/disaster tales, and the subject is the doomed Donner Party who find themselves trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1848. This story fascinates me as much as the previous two, so thanks, Allan!


More about Allan Wolf


Obviously you are going to want to book Allan for your school, library, conference, or event, and everything you need to know about how to do that is conveniently located on his website:


Thanks for joining us, fellow PO-folk.
Now get out there and perform the pants off a poem!


Head over to my juicy little universe where Heidi is hosting Poetry Friday!

See more poems in my poetry video library.
“The Dactyl Poem” and video content © Allan Wolf. All rights reserved. Quotes, photos, and other content from the author is used by permission.
Post content © 2016 Renée M. LaTulippe. All rights reserved.