“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

Allan-Wolf-Promo-One-200x300Obviously 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.

AW, SHUCKS! You’d like to receive my weekly posts in your inbox, you say? Well, just sign up in the sidebar then!

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.

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  1. Thank you, Renee, for highlighting Allan, a generous genius and wonderful man. Full of humor and humanity, he’s a great soul on and off the stage.
    Thinking about you over there in Italy this week, Renee. Much love. xxxx

  2. I recently discovered and enjoyed Allan’s book “Immersed In Verse” at the used bookstore where I volunteer, and silly me, I’ve never connected that Allan is that same person who wrote The Watch That Ends The Night, which I loved. I remember when you had us write double-dactyls, Renee, much fun, and Allan’s is one I think I’ll keep as my own mentor text! Thanks Allan and Renee!

    1. Linda, it does seem odd that this funny juggling guy is the same one who wrote such a sober, intense, magnificent work of art as THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT. Just goes to show how immensely versatile Allan is. 🙂

  3. Love your post, Renee – Allan’s one-of-a-kind, and so versatile. So glad we have him promoting poetry in schools!

  4. Love the juggling-dactyl connection! This weekend we are planning on going through our endless bookcases and piles of books on the floor to do a little culling — I need to make room for more books, especially since you just gave me new ones to buy!!

  5. I have known – and loved – Allan – for many, many years. He is a unique individual. Thank you for highlighting him and his works.

  6. Great post – thanks to both of you!
    “Versatile” is definitely the right word.
    I was also blown away by THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT – what a feat. Love the last line of the PO-Philosophy.
    And I would NOT want to have to follow Allen in an assembly! :0!

  7. Wish. you in Italy & Allan (in the U.S.) can hear my chuckles, Renee.

    My intro in reading Allan Wolf was just in May, with his New Found Land about the L & C expedition, which is a fabulous visit with stark history for students. I am eager for the 2017 true crime novel he has written. And am writing down titles from your post.

    The videos are a hoot! Hugs for this poetry joy.

    (hope all your friends are okay from this week’s earthquake…)

  8. I never did absorb poetry meter information in my formative years. A dactyl is just another dinosaur name suffix. And, that counting and clapping business had me totally feeling like an un-rhythmic klutz. My brain put it in the same category as math torture (I forgot my times tables shortly after I started junior high). I bet if meter had been presented to me in the way “The Dactyl Poem” presents it, I might have learned and remembered it. I’m impressed. Thanks for sharing all the Allan Wolf info.

  9. How fun! I love the quotes. “The art of poem can be taught. The art of poetry must be experienced.” Absolutely!

  10. I was delighted to see this post about Allan Wolf. He is amazing. He used to teach at the University of North Carolina at Ashville. He’d teach workshops in presenting poetry for teachers each summer and then he and his colleagues would have a summer Poetry Festival. I met Jack Prelutsky, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and many other outstanding poets at the festival. Allen’ often showed up on stage at The Green Door, Ashville’s poetry club. His presentations are always fun, educational and thoroughly enjoyable.

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