Experimental Poetry Form: hierarchy

This experimental poetry form is called hierarchy.  In the form, a reader has choices.  When they get to a line, they have a choice of what line to read next.  This means that different readers could read the poem differently, and that the same reader could read it more than once in different ways.

The form has fifteen lines.  Here are the hierarchy choices written out:

Line 1: go to line 2 or 3

Line 2: go to line 4 or 5

Line 3: go to line 6 or 7

Line 4: go to line 8 or 9

Line 5: go to line 10 or 11

Line 6: go to line 12 or 13

Line 7: go to line 14 or 15


Visually, it would look something like this:

hierarchy experimental poetry form image

For example, a reader starting on line 1, has a choice after reading it, to go to line 2 or 3.  If they choose line 2, after reading it, they have a choice between lines 4 and 5.  If the choose line 5, after reading it, they have a choice between lines 10 and 11.  Once they choose one of the lines, for example 10, the poem is finished.  They could then go back and read it again making different choices.

In writing the poem, a poet would should number the lines and put the choice instructions for the reader.

One difficulty in writing a poem using this form, is that it would have to make sense in all choice combinations.

There are eight choice combinations.  They are:

1 – 2 – 4 – 8

1 – 2 – 4 – 9

1 – 2 – 5 – 10

1 – 2 – 5 – 11

1 – 3 – 6 – 12

1 – 3 – 6 – 13

1 – 3 – 7- 14

1 – 3 – 7- 15


In writing the poem, a poet should approach it methodically and check that the line combinations make sense as they go.  This is not that difficult, because the two branches from lines 2 and 3 are separate and don’t connect, and because only seven of the fifteen lines have a choice.

One way to write the poem is in the following line order: 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 5, 10, 11, 3, 6, 12, 13, 7, 14, 15.

Here is an example poem using the form:

Line 1: Outside on the porch the dog coughed. (Go to line 2 or 3)

Line 2: No one inside heard him, (Go to line 4 or 5)

Line 3: By his side a man wept, (Go to line 6 or 7)

Line 4: for they were absorbed in their own worlds, (Go to line 8 or 9)

Line 5: but in the yard, ears did listen (Go to line 10 or 11)

Line 6: understanding the pain the dog felt, (Go to line 12 or 13)

Line 7: thinking of the days when his father coughed (Go to line 14 or 15)

Line 8: and outside the dog was alone.

Line 9: but next to him his fellow dog showed compassion.

Line 10: and came to his aid.

Line 11: and a voice cried out for help.

Line 12: for in the smoke he too could not breathe.

Line 13: but unable to ease it.

Line 14: and knowing what had happened.

Line 15: and having hope through the tears that the dog too would get better.


In the explanation above the example of reading the poem lines 1, 2, 5, and 10 was given.  With this poem, that would result in:

Outside on the porch the dog coughed.

No one inside heard him,

but in the yard, ears did listen

and came to his aid.


The form can make for an interesting poem because a poet can present different outcomes based on the line choices.


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,