Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia - E.L. Doctorow

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Blues Poem

I had my first poetry workshop the other day, and thought it would be a good idea to share the Blues Poem with you... Enjoy!

What Is It?

One of the most popular forms of American poetry, the blues poem stems from the African-American oral tradition and the musical tradition of the blues. The phrase ‘the blues’ is a synonym for having a fit of the blue devils, meaning down spirits, depression and sadness. A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex. African-American writer Ralph Ellison said that although the blues are often about struggle and depression, they are also full of determination to overcome difficulty ‘through sheer toughness of spirit.’ This resilience in the face of hardship is one of the hallmarks of the blues poem. But the blues is about more than hard times; it can be humorous and raunchy as well:

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,
Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,
It may be sending you baby, but it’s worrying the hell out of me.


There are few characteristics common to all blues, because the genre takes its shape from the idiosyncrasies of individual performances. The original lyrical form of the blues was probably a single line, repeated three times. It was only later that it evolved into the current, most common structure:

 a statement is made in the first line
 a variation is given in the second line
 and an ironic alternative is declared in the third line.

An example:
‘St. Louis Blues’ by WC Handy

I hate to see that evenin’ sun go down,
I hate to see that evenin’ sun go down,
’Cause my baby has left this town.

If I’m feelin’ tomorrow, just like I feel today,
If I’m feelin’ tomorrow, like I feel today,
I’ll pack my trunk and make my get-away.

St. Louis woman, with all her diamond rings,
Stole that man of mine, by her apron strings;
If it wasn’t for powder, and her store-bought hair,
That man I love wouldn’t’ve gone nowhere!

I’ve got the St. Louis blues, just as blue as I can be;
Lord, that man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea,
Or else he wouldn’t have gone so far from me!

Gee, I love that man like a school boy loves his pie,
Just like an old Kentucky colonel loves his rock & rye,
I guess I’ll love that man until the day I die.

And a song...

All credit goes to my poetics course at the University of Queensland for the great info.


  1. This was a fascinating post, I had no idea there existed a blues form of poetry - thank you for enlightening me. I really liked the WC Handy piece, I may even try out a blues poem myself :)

  2. I love Tom Waits so much it's borderline obsessive minus the borderline.

  3. I enjoyed reading and learning from this post, so thanks! :]

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    happy writing!

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  5. I hadn't heard of the blues form of poetry either. Thanks for sharing. Very nice:)

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  7. Wow, I had no idea about the structure of a blues poem either. Thanks for sharing it! ;)

  8. I'm hit and miss on Tom Waits but I did like your blog on the Blues. Creative and clever.

  9. A blues form of poetry? Fascinating. I'd never heard this. Now I wanna write one...

    Making Life a Work of Art!