Unfolding the Triptych

Last week I discussed the Collapsar, a poetry form that I’ve claimed as my own. This week, I’d like to introduce another poetry form that fits my own style: the Triptych.

Originally, a Triptych was a three-sectioned painting, the center panel usually being larger than the other two. Each panel had its own image, though the three fit together thematically.

There are two types of Triptych poetry forms:

  • A poem of three stanzas. The first stanza comments on the past, the second comments on the present, and the third comments on the future. The second stanza is twice as long as the first and third.
  • A poem consisting of three poems of equal length displayed side-by-side, like the panels of a triptych painting. Not only do the poems work together thematically, like the painting, they actually form a fourth poem. The fourth poem is read horizontally across the three poems. This fourth poem completes the theme of the Triptych.

I prefer the second version because, even though nailing that fourth poem requires some mental gymnastics, I believe it remains true to the original definition of a Triptych by tying all three together to the central theme.

2013 Dwarf StarsI agonized over the following Triptych for weeks before I made all the parts agree grammatically. Most difficult poem I’ve ever written (form-wise, that is). My efforts, however, paid off: I earned publication and nominations for the 2013 Rhysling Award and the Dwarf Stars Award. Now, if I only had the stamina to write more than a few Triptychs a year.


by Kurt MacPhearson

strange how       the aliens           open up
their                     third eye            like a window
perceiving          views                  with shades
can invoke         emotions            showing
revulsion            as                         proof
inside                  a spectrum        of lying

originally appeared in Star*Line, 35.4


4 thoughts on “Unfolding the Triptych

  1. Oh, I like this!!

    As a graphic artist I was familiar with triptych paintings but I have never heard of it as a poetry style. “Cognizance” is wonderfully entertaining and opens a whole new world for me. It’s got me thinking about how this can be applied to visual storytelling.

    Well done!!

    Very Best Regards,

    Liked by 1 person

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