The Poet’s Toolbox: Form



Form may cover such aspects as the rhyme scheme or the number of syllables per line.

The Poet's Toolbox: Form

The Poet's Toolbox: Form

Some poems start out with a predetermined form. This form may cover such aspects as the rhyme scheme or the number of syllables per line.

The following is a glossary of some of the most common forms of poetry (terms describing rhyme, meter, and the like will be defined in subsequent posts):

  • ABC poem. Also called abecedarian. A poem in which each line starts with a different letter, progressing in order through the alphabet.
  • Acrostic. Typically a poem in which the first letters of each line spell out a word when read downward. In some poems, the word is spelled out with the last letters of each line.
  • Ballad. A narrative poem, often about love, typically in plainspoken language. Ballads are usually arranged in quatrains. While there is no hard-and-fast rule on rhyme, popular schemes include A-B-A-B and A-B-C-B.
  • Blank verse. Iambic pentameter without rhyme.
  • Cinquain. Also called a quintet. Five lines. There are many variations on this type of poem, with some using set rhyme schemes and others without any rhyme. Other types of cinquain have set parts of speech or numbers of words to use in each line.
  • Diamond poem. Also called a diamente. Consists of 7 lines formatted in a diamond shape. It may be used to describe a single topic or to connect two opposites. The first line is one noun naming the subject, the second two adjectives describing the first line, the third three words ending in -ing that relate to the first line, the fourth four nouns that bridge the gap between the subject and its synonym or antonym (second subject), the fifth three -ing words related to the second subject, the sixth two adjectives describing the second subject, and the seventh one noun naming the second subject.
  • Dramatic monologue. Also called a persona poem. A poem in which a person or character “speaks.”
  • Elegy. A poem expressing mourning, usually over the death of a person. The elegy is characterized more by mood than by any particular format.
  • Epic. A long narrative poem, usually about a heroic person or group of people. Often book-length.
  • Epigram. A short, pithy verse, often a couplet, expressing an aphorism. Often satirical.
  • Epistolary poem. A poem that reads like a letter.
  • Found poem. A poem created by combining portions of material previously written by others.
  • Free verse. A poem without a consistent meter or rhyme scheme. This form is the most spontaneous.
  • Haiku. A poetic import from Japan. It consists of three lines, the first and last having 5 syllables and the middle line having 7. Nature is a popular topic for haiku poems.
  • Limerick. A five-line poem with an A-A-B-B-A rhyme scheme. Note the distinctive rhythm. Limericks are usually humorous.
  • Lyric. An emotional or sentimental poem without a narrative. Lyrics are usually brief and have a melodic quality. Lyric poetry can often be subdivided into elegies and odes.
  • Ode. A formal address, usually written to celebrate a person, place, thing, or idea. Modern odes may or may not rhyme.
  • Parody. A comic imitation of another work.
  • Pastoral. Poetry idealizing rural life. Closely related is the georgic, which focuses on rural labor.
  • Prose poem. A poem formatted as a paragraph with sentences, like prose, rather than being broken up into lines and stanzas. (For a good example of prose poetry, take a look at some of Kansas poet Walt Mason’s work.)
  • Rondeau. A French form with 10 or 13 lines and two rhymes. The opening phrase is repeated twice in the poem as a refrain.
  • Shape poem. Also called a concrete poem. A poem formatted to take the shape of the object it describes. For example, a poem about fishing could have longer and shorter lines to create the appearance of a fish.
  • Sonnet. A 14-line poem, each line having 10 syllables. Traditionally, sonnets had a variable rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme Shakespeare used was three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet (this last couplet usually provided a conclusion to the rest of the poem). Many modern sonnets do not rhyme at all.
  • Tanka. Closely related to the haiku, but the tanka adds two more 7-syllable lines to the end for a total of five lines.
  • Tercet. Either a three-line stanza or a three-line poem.
  • Villanelle. This is a very strict type of poetry. It starts with 5 stanzas of 3 lines each using an A-B-A rhyme scheme. The final stanza has 4 lines and an A-B-A-A rhyme scheme. Line 1 is repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18, while Line 3 is repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19.

Obviously, knowing these terms has somewhat limited usefulness. The idea of writing poetry is to unleash your creativity.

However, if you are stuck in a rut or need a dose of fresh inspiration, trying out an unfamiliar poetic form can be a fun challenge for mixing things up.

Complete Series

The Poet's Toolbox: Introduction

The Poet’s Toolbox

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