Poetry essay: Using stanzas in poetry – A new category

In yesterday’s milestone post, as well as in at least one previously, there was a mention of expanding the basic categories of this blog.  The basic categories now are: artwork inspiration, bilingual poem, experimental poetry form, photo inspiration, poem, poem with explanation, and poetry topic ideas.  There was some thought of expanding this list, as something felt missing from the blog.

Today’s post is the start of a new category.  The category is called Poetry essays.  As the name implies, it will consist of essays related to poetry.

The title of this blog is M. Sakran’s blog of and about poetry and poetry related things.  During the time of this blog, some aspect of the “about poetry” part felt missing.  This is an attempt to fill in that piece.

As it stands now, there will be ten posts in this category.  They will be worked into the general rotation of posts.  After the ten posts, the category will be evaluated, and there will be a determination of whether or not it will continue.  Hopefully things will go well, readers will like the posts, and it will be a new addition to the blog.

The idea of the poetry essays, will be to examine different aspects of poetry.

In the first poetry essay below, the idea of using stanzas in poetry is examined.  Please enjoy the essay and let M. Sakran know what you thought of it by using the form on the Contact page.

Using stanzas in poetry

For the purposes of this essay, a stanza is segment of a poem separated from other segments of a poem by one or more line breaks.  This may differ from other definitions.

To illustrate, the following is an example of the look of a poem with stanzas, with each line represented by an *.  Each stanza is labeled with a letter.










Stanzas, in conjunction with line breaks, have many uses in poetry.

One use, is to impart “the look of poetry” to a poem.  Some readers of poetry might expect poetry to have a certain “look”.  They might expect poetry to be written in stanzas, like the example above.  This might seem traditional to some.

Writing poetry with a stanza structure, can signal to a reader that they are reading poetry.  If a poet wrote a prose poem, or, depending on structure, a free verse poem, the poem might not at first glance appear to be a poem to some readers.  Additionally, shorter poetry forms without stanzas, might not have that “standard” poetry look that some readers expect.

Having a poem, that “looks like a poem” can help a poem be more effective for some readers.

Another use of stanzas, is to contain ideas.  Stanzas can be used like sentences (or maybe paragraphs) in prose writing.  They give a convenient place to talk about an aspect of a subject, before switching to another subject or aspect.

Stanzas can also help provide a sense of separation in a poem.  As mentioned above, they can be used to separate subjects and aspects of subjects.  Additionally, they can provide separation within a subject or aspect.  The idea might be to provide a pause, set apart an idea, to change a perspective, or accomplish some other goal of a poet.

Stanzas are also usefully integrated with other poetic elements.  For example, stanzas can be used with poetic meter or repeats.  They provide a structure that other poetic elements can be applied to.

Stanzas can also help with brevity in a poem.  If a poet decided to write a poem with four, four line stanzas, for example, that structure would force the poet to contain their ideas within that form.  This might help the poet to be more concise.

Another aspect of stanzas is that they help when a poem is being discussed or examined.  Like is often done in the poems with explanations on this blog, they give points of reference for a poem.  When a poem has stanzas, whoever is discussing the poem, has places to refer readers to.

When using stanzas, there are a number of variables to consider which can have an impact on the presentation of ideas.  There are the number of stanzas, the number of lines per stanza (and whether that number will vary between stanzas), the indention of stanzas and lines within stanzas, and the number of line breaks between stanzas (and again, whether that will vary between stanzas).  Also, as mentioned above, other poetic elements can be added to a stanza structure.

The variation in the variables can have an impact on presentation.  For example, a poem with stanzas with the same number of lines, no indentions, and one line break between stanzas, might seem more formal than a poem where those variables varied.

As another example, increasing line breaks or indentions can cause a separation and a pause for the part of the poem they are applied to.

There are some cautions when using stanzas in poetry.

First, whether a poet decides to start with a strict stanza structure, or they simply use the idea of stanzas in their poem, the containment of text within specific structures might not work well if the ideas seem fitted to the form or if the ideas disregard the form.

For example, imagine a poet was using a stanza with four lines, but one of their ideas naturally fit better in three.  A poet might extend the idea to have a fourth line, to fit the form, and that might take away from the expression.

On the other side, a poet might again be using stanzas with four lines, but might have some idea that naturally fits in five lines.  Because of the form, they might carry one line over from one stanza to the next.  If this is done in a way that feels awkward for the form, it can take away from the expression.

Secondly, stanzas, in some configurations, impart a sense of “traditional poetry” to a poem, as mentioned above.  Depending on the expression though, this might not be desired.  A poet might not want their poem to come across with a traditional sense, for the given subject they are talking about.

Third, depending on the expression, stanzas might not be the most effective way for a poet to communicate their idea.  Depending on what a poet wanted to accomplish, a prose poem, a short single stanza poem, a long single stanza poem or a pictorial poem might work better than a poem separated into stanzas.