Kenning Poetry

In January, I had to pull my younger son, The Chef, out of school. It was a difficult decision and the boy I pulled out was a ghost of the child he had been in August. To rekindle his spark for learning, we focused on history and science. Staring at 500 AD, we delved deep into Vikings, Angles and Saxons. As one of our projects, we wrote Anglo-Saxon riddle poems.

An Anglo-Saxon riddle poem has no set rhythm or rhyme scheme. Instead it has 3 key characteristics:
1) Caesura – a natural break in the middle of the line
2) Alliteration – the stressed syllable after the caesura repeats the first or second stressed syllable of the poem
3) Kennings – a noun or combination of nouns that obliquely describes what a thing is or does or feels like. A couple of examples of kennings: mouse hunter (cat), whale road (sea), storm of swords (battle), sky vermin (bat).

Tolkein’s Lament for the Rohirim loosely follows this poetic form:

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

To see a couple of Anglo-Saxon riddle poems (and even hear them read in old English) visit the Swarthmore English Department where Riddle 45 is wonderfully bookish. Here’s an except from riddle 25:

I am man’s treasure, taken from the woods,
Cliff-sides, hill-slopes, valleys, downs;
By day wings bear me in the buzzing air,
Slip me under a sheltering roof–sweet craft.

Did you guess that the first part of Riddle 25 is about honey?
Try your hand at The Chef’s riddle poem:

I am fire serpent, the deadly light,
master of flame. Some call me
treasure hoarder, fire claws.
I’m myth but a legend.
I rise with the fire. I am
the air skier. Who am I?

While you are puzzling it out, please head on over and visit our Poetry Friday friends:

Worm-gatherers (Early Birds)

Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference shares her found poem experiment inspired by a Neil deGrasse Tyson speech.

Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be has an original poem about parenthood inspired by this week’s Teacher Poets workshop.

All early birds should definitely appreciate Violet Nesdoly’s bird-inspired original poem.

At Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme, Matt Forrest Esenwine shares some things worth saying. Also, be sure to visit his last National Poetry month post — it is a fascinating look at thinking like a poet.

Myra at Gathering Books shares her review of the MG novel Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and the book’s connection to William Carlos Williams’ “The Descent.”

Wrapping up National Poetry Month, Jone at Check It Out shares some wonderful student poetry.

At A Teaching Life, Tara commemorates her beautiful oak by sharing “Woodsman, Spare That Tree”.

Diane Mayr is off to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. If you don’t see her there, be sure to visit her at Random Noodling where she shares a history poem. You can also visit her at Kurious Kitty where she shares a poem by Sharon Olds or at KK’s Kwotes where she shares a quote by Sharon Olds.

At Author Amok, Laura Shovan has a guest post by Toby Speed. For Toby, who recently moved to New Hampshire, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has taken on new and special significance.

At Keri Recommends, enjoy a postcard from one of Jone’s poetry project participants.

Michelle Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty shines her spotlight on Laura Purdie Salas and challenges us to attempt a chinquapin.

At The Poem Farm, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater concludes her April Poetry Project with an original poem — “Thrift Store Goodbye”.

Mid-morning coffee break

Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town is at home recovering from dengue fever. Visit her blog to read a dengue-fever inspired poem. Ruth, we all hope you feels better soon!

At TeacherDance, Linda Baie is sharing one of Jone’s postcard project poems and an original poem about seeds.

If spring is bugging you and you need a haiku, visit Anastasia at Poet! Poet!

Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect has some rainy day poems by Eve Merriam to share. We’ve had rain for a week now so I can really relate to the first poem.

If you want more foul-weather rhymes, visit Liz Steinglass who shares her poem “Dark Skies” and another one of Jone’s postcard project poems.

Laura Purdie Salas shares a wonderful poem by Marilyn Singer about the rainforest.

At Reading to the Core, Catherine shares some writing advice in poetic from by Ron Koertge.

Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading shares another delightful postcard from Jone’s postcard project and an original poem, “Free”.

If you need a melancholy poem with a happy ending, visit Karen Edmisten’s blog.

Lorie Ann Grover has two original haiku to share.

At Bildungrsroman there’s a Carl Sandburg poem for your enjoyment.

Collette Bennett at Used Books in Class celebrates the end of National Poetry Month.

Midnight snack

Emily Jiang shares an original poem about the pipa – a Chinese lute.

At Teaching Authors, JoAnn wraps up National Poetry Month with links to all the read-alouds and Wednesday Writing Workouts. On her personalblog, JoAnn offers up an original poem, “Mittens in May”. If you’ve had a very cold spring, you will really appreciate her poem.

Cathy at Merely Day by Day shares a poem about how Ohio is beautifully colored with blossoming trees.

Please welcome newcomer, Kelly. At her blog Project Chameleon, she writes looking at poems and reimagining the titles into something new.

Ok. I’m now caught up as of 8am on Saturday. Have a lovely Derby Day, all.

And, yes, everyone guessed right. The Chef’s riddle poem is about a dragon.

Next week’s host is the lovely Jama Rattigan over at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

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25 Responses to Kenning Poetry

  1. Thanks for hosting–I love riddle poems and just finished a month of riddle-ku for National Poetry Month:>) I’m in with “Rain Forest,” by Marilyn Singer, a gorgeous poem from HOW TO CROSS A POND. It’s at

  2. Liz says:

    Thanks for sharing the riddle poems. It appears his spark has been rekindled. Wednesday I finished my National Poetry Month project of writing a daily poem about a backyard treasure. This week I wrote about rain, a traffic cone, city birds, and dandelions.

  3. Good Poetry Friday morning, Katya! Thank you for introducing me to this new-to-me form. I bet it’s the kind of poem my son would really like as well. I’ll be sure to show him today. Thanks!

    Here’s the direct link to my blog post this morning: Laura Purdie Salas is in the spotlight on Today’s Little Ditty with an interview and the unveiling of our new Ditty of the Month Club challenge.

  4. Heidi says:

    Good morning, Katya–it sounds like taking The Chef out of school to cook up his kennings was a good decision. I’ve been feeling like several of us in the family might benefit from a period of home-schooling! I’m not posting today–working on two projects, but I’ll try to get around and enjoy others’ posts.
    I was thinking phoenix, but looking back at “serpent” I think it must be dragon. Right?

  5. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “Things Worth Saying” | Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

  6. Tricia says:

    Hi Katya,
    I’m in today with some rainy day poems.

    I love the poems you’ve shared and will definitely look into them for my weekly poetry stretch.

    I’m sorry to hear about The Chef. Schooling decisions are difficult ones. It sounds like you’re doing wonderful things with him at home.

    Thanks for hosting,

  7. That’s my kind of poetry, Katya – love it! Thanks so much for sharing. I couldn’t help but feel a connection between your son and mine – he’s only 4, but he’s also “The Chef” around here! Sounds like you’ve sparked his interest in learning again – with a dragon-like flame, no less!

    • kczaja says:

      It’s amazing how even at 4 they have such distinct personalities, isn’t it. The Chef has definitely been interested in cooking and dragons his whole life.

  8. Love this poetry form, Katya! At Poet! Poet! today I have a spring haiku (with a fire ants picture – they’re baaaacccckkkk!) Go Away, Bugs!

  9. Linda Baie says:

    Katya, I hope everything is going well for your son. The work you’ve been studying is beautifully done, and a challenge, too. Thanks for hosting today. I’m sharing one of Jone’s postcard project poems and an original poem about seeds.

  10. Ruth says: Thanks for hosting, Katya! And it sounds as though you are doing a fabulous job of homeschooling! I am in bed with dengue fever, so I attempted to produce a dengue fever edition of a Poetry Friday post. I think I’ll be enjoying other people’s posts a lot more than my own today!

  11. Tabatha says:

    Just cruising back in to comment on how cool your post is — I enjoy a good riddle poem! Best of luck to you and the Chef :-)

  12. I love your son’s dragon poem!
    I hope your homeschooling goes beautifully. You certainly got off to a fun start. We’re relaxed homeschoolers at our house — combining history and lit, history and science, etc. — it’s so natural.

    Thanks for hosting this week, and my link is here.

  13. Wish I knew you were writing about Beowulf and kennings and the like…my sophomores love these riddle poems….I’ll share them!
    Here’s my “find” to conclude National Poetry Month:

  14. This was so interesting and inspiring. Thank you! At On Point, I had two haiku pop out this morning: At a Respectable Age and One Star Review.

  15. I don’t have a post today, but I wanted to tell the chef how much I enjoyed his riddle poem (and I’m seeing a dragon, right?) Hope the spark for learning and all good things keeps growing.

  16. Emily Jiang says:

    Thank you, Katya, for hosting Poetry Friday! This week my contribution is dedicated to the pipa, aka the Chinese lute. I talk about how formatting changes the flavor of a poem & I share a video of a girl playing the pipa at my first book launch party! I’m also delighted to share that I’ll be reading my poems at the Poetry Blast at ALA!!

  17. Emily Jiang says:

    And I’m sorry here’s the direct link to my blog post for this week’s Poetry Friday:

  18. I love the riddle poems and their tempting characteristics, especially the kennings!

    Today on the Teaching Authors blog (, I’ve posted a recap of our National Poetry Month posts with links to all of our read-alouds and Wednesday Writing Workouts.

    On my blog (, I’ve posted an original poem about this spring in Wisconsin, “Mittens in May!”

  19. Hi there Katya, very sad to hear about your son. I am sure he is in better hands now under your guidance. And I love that riddle poem, thanks for sharing! :)

  20. Cathy says:

    That form is new to me and quite fun to puzzle out. I must say, I’m not sure of the answer, but still pondering. Could it be a dragon? Hmmm. I enjoyed the rhythm and word choice of this poem.

    Today I’m returning after a 24 hour rest from National Poetry Month. I was happy to let a poem find me to day. Ohio is beautifully colored with blossoming trees. So I couldn’t resist….


    Thanks for hosting,

  21. @Kellylou says:

    What a great way to combine a spark in learning with poetry. Thanks for sharing the riddle poems. It sounds like your son is in very good care now. :)
    This is my first time to join in the Friday Poetry link-up. I’m excited to be here! I wrote about what we did with poetry in class this week — our professor had us look at some poems and reimagine the titles into something new.

  22. Thank you, Katya, for hosting this week’s roundup. I very much enjoyed reading about your work with your son and the specifics of Anglo-Saxon riddle poems. Your son is a lucky guy.