Poetry essay: conforming to form or not

Some times when a poet writes poetry they will use a poetry form.  It might be a traditional form like a haiku or a sonnet.  It might an experimental form like the ones on this blog.  It might be a form the poet develops as they write the poem.

In using a poetry form, there might be a question of if a poet should conform to the restrictions of the form as they are writing a poem or not

For example, if a poet were writing a 5/7/5 haiku, and the third line sounded just the way the poet wanted, but only had four syllables, should the poet keep it that way, or should they find a way to change it to five syllables to keep with the form?

There are other situations as well where this issue might come up.  Maybe a poet is having difficulty with a form.  Should they work to keep the structure, or should they alter it so it is easier?  In another situation, a poet might like aspects of a form, but feel certain parts don’t fit their expression.  Should they keep those parts or change them?

As in many situations, there are benefits to both ways of working.

In terms of sticking to a form, they are benefits.

One benefit is that sticking to a form inspires creativity.  By having to conform a poem to a form, and have it sound good, a poet might have to be more creative than if they could alter the poem however they wanted.

A second benefit is the philosophical idea of maintaining fidelity to a form.  There is the somewhat philosophical question of is a form really a form if it can be changed at any time?  A poet might feel that it is important to maintain a sense of conformity to a form for the sake of the idea of what makes a form a form.

As a third benefit, some poetry forms are recognizable.  Think of an English sonnet.  If a poet conforms to the form, they can have the benefit that some readers will recognize the form they are using.  This might appeal to some readers.  On the other hand, if they change the form, a reader who knows the form might view it as a mistake.  They might think the poet made an error in using the form and see the poem as having reduced quality.

In terms of altering a form, there are benefits as well.

One benefit is that a poet gets to combine structure with free expression.  A poet can benefit from aspects of the structure of the form while at the same time changing the form to fit their expression.

A second benefit is that writing poetry can be easier.  It might be easier for a poet not to have to conform to certain poetry form restrictions at times.  It can make the flow of writing easier and save the poet time.

A third benefit might be the development of a new poetry form.  A poet might have a form that almost works for what they want, but by changing it some it works completely.  They might find those changes are good in the sense that they fit other situations as well.  The form with those changes might then be a new poetry form.

Trying to make the decision about whether to conform to a poetry form or not can be difficult.  Weighing the idea of sticking to a form vs. writing something simply as it flows isn’t always easy.  Sometimes a poet can feel it is more important to maintain the form and other times they might feel it is more important to have the expression they wanted.

There are a number of ways to make the decision.

One way might be to set some sort of time limit.  For example, assume a poet was writing a poem according to a form, but for some reason some aspects of the form were not working for them.  They might set some time limit for working with those aspects and trying to get the poem to work.  If they can do so in the time, they stick to the form, if not, they change it.

Another solution, might simply be to flip a coin.  A poet might equally be able to write a poem according to a form or with changes to the form.  To decide which to do, they might just flip a coin.  This makes the decision simple.

A third solution might be for the poet to write two poems.  They might write one poem with changes to form.  This might be the more natural poem.  After that they might try to write the poem to conform to the form.  They could then compare the two.  They could present them to people, get opinions, send both out for publication consideration, or something else.  They could let their own views and the views of others help them decide which approach was better.


Experimental Poetry Form: revolve

This experimental poetry form is called revolve.  It is a simple form, but could be complex if a poet wanted.

The form consists of five words that revolve in position.  In the first line, the words, represented by letters, are as such:


In the second line, the words revolve position:


In the third line, they revolve again:


Again in the fourth line:


Again in the fifth line:


And in the sixth line, the words return to their original positions:


As a poem, the form looks like:


If a poet wanted the form usage to be simple, they could simply have five words that rotate.  The words might relate to the same topic or connect in some way.

Alternatively, a poet could try to select words that make sense in all the orderings.  This would make the form usage more complex.  It might also require the use of punctuation to make the word orders make sense.

Additionally, a poet could take it a step further and have all the lines make sense as a unit, such that the poem felt like a paragraph.  This would be much more complex.

If a poet went with the simple usage, the idea would be to have a poem that doesn’t conform to the idea of sentences or phrases.  It would express ideas simply with individual words.

If a poet went with the complex usage, the idea would be to have a poem that demonstrated a poetic skill, in addition to getting a message across.

Below is an example poem that is somewhere between the simple and the complex use of the form:

Quickly lilies drinking spring sunlight.
Lilies drinking spring sunlight quickly.
Drinking spring sunlight, quickly lilies.
Spring sunlight, quickly lilies drinking.
Sunlight, quickly lilies drinking spring.
Quickly lilies drinking spring sunlight.

Artwork to inspire poetry: black and white strawberry

black and white strawberry

Above is a black and white artwork of a strawberry.  It can inspire poetry.  Here are some ideas.  A poet could write about:

  • The idea of the loss of color. As this strawberry is presented without its usual colors of red, green, and so forth, a poet could write about someone or something losing color.  They could write about furniture that has faded.  They could write about a person so scared they lost the color in their face.  They could apply the idea symbolically, and write about a thing or person losing something fundamental to it or themselves.

  • A person not wanting to be noticed. This strawberry has a muted appearance.  It does not stand out as much as a colorful strawberry would.  A poet could apply this idea to people.  They could write about a person who does not want to be noticed.  An example might be a person at a performance who hopes they don’t get called up on stage.

  • A person not being noticed. As a corollary to the idea above, a poet could write about a person who isn’t noticed.  An example might be a person at a party who no one talks to (although not because they don’t like the person, but rather, because they don’t notice them).


Here is an example poem:

The leaves were green,
but then they changed,
first red,
then yellow,
then brown.
And then one day,
in the wind,
they blew away,
and the tree was bare.
The drought was in,
its hundredth day.

A photograph to inspire poetry: green dragonfly on a banana leaf

green dragonfly on a banana leaf

Above is a photograph of a green dragonfly on a banana leaf.  It can inspire poetry.  A poet could write about:

  • The idea of a person matching their surrounds. This matching could mean in terms of culture, personality, appearance or something else.  The idea is that a poet could relate a person to a place in the same way that this dragonfly relates to the banana leaf.

  • The idea of appearance not matching reality. In this case, the dragonfly has thin translucent wings.  It almost seems as though they should not work for flying.  Despite this though, they do work.  A poet could translate this idea to people.  They could write about a person whose appearance, as perceived by others, does not match their abilities.

  • The idea of names. The dragonfly and the banana leaf both have descriptive names.  There is a dragon-fly and there is a banana-leaf.  A poet could write about names.  They could write about how a name describes a person, thing or place and how that name is perceived by others and by the person or thing (if aware) that has it.  A poet could write about the impact of names.

Here is a poem inspired by the photograph:

By choice,
or by chance,
in sunlight,
and shadows,

Poem with an explanation: hidden away

Four years passed
purposefully hidden


The sight
not using it

    with darkness filling.

passing by

    the vault.



This poem is about coping with death.  In the poem, a person in a family has died.  The family, after the death, kept the person’s room just as it was when they were alive.  They have kept the room closed and do not open it.

In the poem, the person has been dead for four years (Four years passed).  During that time, the person’s family has kept the person’s room closed (hidden away).  This was done with intention (purposefully).

The family had a fear, that if they looked at the room, that it would somehow change.  This change was perceived to mean that something of the person would be lost.  There was the idea that if they looked at the room (The sight), that it would somehow use the sight of the room up and that the memory of the person would be lost (with darkness filling).

This idea is almost like the notion that taking something fragile out of a protected case causes it to deteriorate some.  It can only be looked at so many times before it is gone.

Another analogy might be the idea that smelling a scent somehow uses up the scent.  The thing can only be smelled so many times before the scent of it will be gone.

In the poem, the family sometimes has times when they pass the room (Today passing by) which is sealed like a vault (the vault).

When they pass by, they have the overwhelming sense that the room needs to stay the way it is (Stay).  Again is the idea, that if the room changes, the person will be lost.

In terms of form, this poem used the Experimental Poetry Form: Twenty Words.

Poem: 37 lines

So the moon and sun,
and the spinning of the earth,
and here’s today,
with thirty seven.
There’s glimpses,
and glimmers,
and maybe,
and hope.
Off in the distance,
the trees are growing,
but here though,
out in the ocean,
almost a raft.
This isn’t the day,
but looking on,
it does feel strange,
to be at this point.
This isn’t the day,
but somehow,
the morning is seen.
In the positive,
there are positives,
in the negative,
it’s so far away.
Today though,
and for the seven,
there’s not doing,
there’s not focusing.
Today though,
and for the seven,
there is happiness.
Wrapped in the box,
with the card and cake,
with the show and sights,
and bright balloons.
there is happiness.

Poetry topic idea: scent

Today’s poetry topic idea is scent.  Scent makes a very good poetry topic idea because of the ways scents are described.

In some way, scents are described either by definition or indirectly.  What do pancakes smell like for example?  The “by definition” answer would be that pancakes smell like pancakes.  The thing itself defines its scent.  The “indirect” answer would be to say that pancakes smell warm, sweet, buttery, like breakfast, relaxing, and familiar.  They can be described by senses and other things.

These ways of describing something are very useful for poetry. 

A poet can describe something with itself (e.g. a lily has the scent of a lily).  This circular type of description can be poetic.

Alternatively, and even more useful, a poet can describe something indirectly.  A poet might write about fresh cut grass.  They could use many descriptive words such as fresh, green, spring, summer, earth, nature, dew, pollen, chlorophyll, light, and fields.  A poet could write about the scent, and get the idea across, without ever stating what the scent is.

Here are some scents you might try to use in poetry as ideas.  The scent of:

  • A person’s perfume or cologne. This scent can be familiar, heavy, light, good, bad, and many other things.  Depending on what a poet wants, many ideas could be explored.

  • Breakfast. A poet could write about familiarity, the different foods, and the mingling of scents.

  • A hospital. A poet could write about the scent of sterilization and disinfectant.  They could write about the scents associated with illness.

  • Dogs. Some ideas might be the scent of a puppy or the scent of a wet dog.  Another idea would be to focus on the sense of smell of a dog.

  • Cookies. Cookies can be a very familiar scent.  The scent of fresh baked cookies is even an idea in society.  Different types of cookies have different scents.  A poet could write about different types and use the scents to explore ideas.

Experimental Poetry Form: Twenty words

This experimental poetry form is called twenty words.  As the name implies, it has twenty words.  In addition to that, there are other form requirements.  Those requirements pertain to number of stanzas, lines per stanza, line indentions, line breaks and rhyming.  The idea was to add to the simple notion of a twenty word poem.

The structure is as follows:

A three word line
A two word line
A line break
A one word line, that is a rhyming word, indented two spaces
A line break
A two word line
A three word line
A line break
A three word line, indented four spaces
A line break
A one word line, that is a rhyming word, indented two spaces
A two word line
A line break
A two word line, indented four spaces
A line break
A one word line, that is a rhyming word.

Here is an example poem written in the form:

The clock ticks
seconds pass


Each moment
moves ever onward.

    Birds fly away

time passes

    onward never