I first "discovered" this Italian form years ago in Lewis Turco's The New Book of Forms, which included a short entry with the following rules:
- Couplet (or two-line) stanzas or poems
- Seven-syllable lines
- Internal rhymes
- A lot of "aphorisms, witticisms, and didacticisms"
Also, there was a variant rule for the seven-syllable lines. It was also possible to write them in blank verse in pentameter (five feet), heptameter (seven feet), or hendecasyllabics (or 11-syllable lines).
While there's some information available online, the only other print resource in which I could find an explanation was from my copy of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, which says the form is "a joke with didactic content." It also mentions the variable line lengths, though not the specific syllable counts.
That reference does mention that the "barzelletta" was adapted from a music form with eight syllables and an abba rhyme scheme. As such, I used that for my example below.
However, there are multiple ways to come at this one. So have fun playing around with the possibilities.
Play with poetic forms!
Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).
Here’s my attempt at a barzeletta:
Barzeletta or Whateva, by Robert Lee Brewer
All that glitters isn't goldfish,
and I don't think imitation
is flattering perspiration
for this one percent of genius.