Poetry essay: When to use certain poetry forms

As a reader or writer of poetry you may have encountered various poetry forms.  There are a number of them including: haiku, tanka, cinquain, sonnet, pantoum, rondeau and so forth.  A question that may come up for a poet, is when should they use which form?

Different poetry forms express ideas differently.  They can change how ideas are presented.  Some are better suited for certain ideas and tones and others are better suited for others.

Poetry forms vary in a number of ways.  They can vary by length, degree of complexity, degree of formality and degree of sound expectation, as well as in other ways.

A poet should think about what they want to express and how they want it to come across before deciding what form to use.

Things such as the seriousness of the idea, the impact of the expression, and the level of subtly desired can affect the decision of what form to use.

Here is a look at three poetry forms and how they can affect expression:

Free verse (including unstructured experimental)

A poet might not initially think of free verse as a form.  Its name implies that it is unstructured.  It might be thought of as the form without a form.

Despite this though, free verse does have form elements to it.  For example, a free verse poem might be left aligned with a jagged right side.  It might use elements of sentence structure such as periods at the ends of sentences and capital letters at the beginnings.  It might vary in its use of commas at the end of lines.

Additionally, form elements can be added to a free verse form.  This may be done so without the specific intention of adding form elements.  For example, a poet might write a free verse poem with line breaks, indentations, partial line repeats, a maximum number of syllables per line or other qualities.  It can sometimes be surprising to look over a free verse poem and see all the form elements it has.

At some point, if a free verse form has a number of form elements, it might be considered an unstructured experimental form.  It is unstructured because the form elements weren’t predetermined or put with an intention or pattern.  It is experimental because a poet could evaluate its effectiveness, see how the form elements impact the presentation, possibly modify the form elements, and use the form for latter poems.

Free verse and unstructured experimental can be thought of as one form group because the line between unstructured and structured can be blurry, and because both can be thought of as free, in the sense that they weren’t written with form elements in mind.

Free verse poetry can be useful in a number of situations and effect expression in a number of ways.

First, because the form is devoid of predetermined form elements, it can impart a sense of free expression to the work of the poet.  The poet can write what they feel, how they feel, without considering how that fits into a form.  This can give a work a sense of spontaneity and naturalness.

Second, the form works well for serious subjects.  Because it doesn’t have rhyme or meter or other certain elements it can come across as more serious in nature.  For example, a metered rhyming poem about death, might not have the same serious tone as a free verse poem about it.

Third, and similarly, free verse can work well for “heavy” or “harsh” tones.  Again, imagine a poet is writing about death.  Maybe they want to describe the death of someone in a hospital bed.  This can be a very heavy and harsh thing to describe.  A free verse poem might do this better than a sonnet would.  A very noticeably structured form might seem out of place in this situation.

Free verse does have some drawbacks for expression.

One drawback is a lack of melodic sound.  A poem with rhyme and meter can at times sound a like a song.  It can have flow and beat.  Depending on the idea, this can be beneficial to a poem.  A free verse poem lacks this quality.

Another drawback is that free verse forms don’t have built in elements that impact expression.  Think of a haiku.  The first two lines setting up the third, can have an impact on expression.  It can make the third line more meaningful.  This is built into the form (the form can actually vary in this quality depending on how the lines are divided).  A free verse form lacks this poetic element.

A third drawback is that a free verse form might not work well for light or upbeat topics.  It can be difficult to tell a joke, for instance, or to describe love in flowery language, with a free verse form.

Haiku/Senryū

There are a number of ways a haiku could be written and there is even debate on the subject.  For the purpose here, think of a haiku as a three line poem with a 5 7 5 syllable count and a structure where the first two lines set up the third.

Although haiku and senryū are different, poets sometimes use the term haiku for both and that will be the case here.  For this purpose, they can be thought of as one form.

A haiku is brief.  This can make it a good form when a poet wants to quickly get an idea across.  It can be a minimalist approach to expression.

Also, if a haiku is written in such a way as the first two lines set up the third, it can increase the impact of an idea.  A poet can describe something in the first two lines and then have a third line that makes a point about the first two, or a third line that gives the first two new meaning.

Although a haiku can be impactful, it can be used when a poet wants a sense of subtly.  Because there are only so many syllables available, a poet can’t say everything.  They can only say enough to get the idea across.  This can make the expression seem more subtle, albeit in some cases, more impactful.

A haiku has a quality that it can be used for both harsh and light tones.  A poet could have a third line that makes a very hard impact or they can have three lines that are humorous and light.

A haiku might not be the best form when a poet wants to describe a subject at length.  A haiku is a sound bite, not a speech.  It can work well for making a point, but not as well for explaining an idea.

Also, because of its brevity, a haiku might not work as well when a poet wants their work to have a sense of lasting weight.  All else being equal, there is more to look into, see, discuss and interpret with a ten line poem than with a three line one.  Because a haiku is so short, it might not be as impactful the tenth time it is read.

Also, a haiku might lack a “serious poetry” sound to some.  There are some who might think of “serious poetry” as being more free verse and a haiku as being simplistic.

English sonnet

Although the definition can vary, an English sonnet might be thought of as a poem with four stanzas.  The first three stanzas have four lines each and the last stanza has two lines.  The lines are written in iambic pentameter.  Within each of the first three stanzas, there is a rhyming pattern of lines one and three rhyming and lines two and four rhyming.  In the last stanza the two lines rhyme with each other.  There is no rhyming between stanzas.

An English sonnet is a very formal style of poetry.  It has meter, rhyme and stanza structure.  It can have an old or a classic sound to it.

An English sonnet is useful when a poet wants their work to sound “poetic”.  An English sonnet can “sound like a poem” even to those who don’t normally read poetry.  It can almost be thought of as quintessential.

It is a useful form when a poet wants to have flowery language.  It can be useful when a poet wants their words to flow and to possibly include things that are grammatically incorrect, but sound nice.

It is a good poem for talking about positive or light subjects.  It can work well as a classic love poem.  It can also be used for somber subjects if done properly.

It can be a good form to use when a poet wants to think about each word and phrase they use with the idea of having something that can sound like a lasting poem.  It can lead to a poem that reads well long after it was written or after it has been read before.

A downside to English sonnets, is that they don’t work as well for harsh subjects.  The meter, rhyme and structured quality can sound off when talking about heavy things.

Another downside, is that it very much affects how a poet expresses themselves.  It is not the form to use when a poet wants the words just to flow out of themselves.  It is a very thought through poetry form.

A third downside is that an English sonnet is a little long.  Being fourteen lines long and containing one hundred a forty syllables, it might not be the form to use when a poet wants to be brief and impactful.

 

There are a lot of poetry forms to use.  A poet can even think of their own.  Different forms have different qualities.  Depending on what a poet wants to accomplish, one form might be better than another for their expression.  A poet should think about what they want to express and how they want to express it, and choose a form that fits that purpose.

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Post Series: The Christmas Series: Experimental Poetry Form: Twelve days of Christmas

This experimental poetry form is inspired by the twelve days of Christmas.  The form has twelve lines, each line has twelve syllables, and all of the lines rhyme.  The lines rhyme to add an additional layer of cohesiveness.  While finding twelve words that rhyme can be difficult, it is possible.  For example, the following twelve words rhyme: bell cell del dell ell excel fell gel jell sell tell well.  There are presumably other examples.

Post Series: The Christmas Series: Experimental Poetry Form: Presents

Number of lines: 8

Syllables per line: 8

Meter: Trochaic

Repeats: 3rd and 5th lines

Special conditions:

  Line 1: one word must start with the letter P

  Line 2: one word must start with the letter R

  Line 3: one word must start with the letter E

  Line 4: one word must start with the letter S

  Line 5: one word must start with the letter E

  Line 6: one word must start with the letter N

  Line 7: one word must start with the letter T

  Line 8: one word must start with the letter S

 

This experimental poetry form is based off of Presents.

Presents has eight letters, and so the form has eight lines and eight syllables per line.

Presents (as pronounced in the context of a gift) is trochaic, and so the meter of the form is Trochaic.

In the word Presents, the third and fifth letters are the same, so in the form, the third and fifth lines are the same.

Presents are gifts.  One form of this, is a box with something in it. The poetry form reflects this by having something inside of it.  In each line of the poem, one word in the line of that number starts with the same letter as the letter of that number in the word Presents.  For example, the fourth letter is Presents is an S, and so in the fourth line of the poem, one word must start with S.

This idea is a play on the idea of an acrostic poem, but instead of the first word of each line starting with a significant letter, a word inside the line (although it could presumably be the first word) starts with the letter.  Again, the idea is like a present: there is something hidden inside.

Post Series: The Christmas Series: Experimental Poetry Form: Three gifts

Today’s experimental poetry form, is based off of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

First, since there are three gifts, the form will have three stanzas.

Second, since frankincense and myrrh have something in common, in that they have a scent, the second and third stanzas will each have a first line that starts with the letter S (as S is the first letter in scent).

Third, because gold is dense, the first stanza will have a relatively large number of syllables.

Fourth, because the words gold and myrrh are both one syllable words, and this is something they have in common, the first and third stanzas will have lines that rhyme within each stanza, which will be a trait that those stanzas have in common.

Fifth, because the word gold has four letters, the first stanza will have four lines.

Sixth, because frankincense and myrrh are not common today, the second and third stanzas will be right justified, which might be less commonly seen in poetry.

Seventh, because gold is an element, and is therefore something fundamental, each line in the first stanza will have ten syllables.  Ten, is in some way, a fundamental number.  This will mean, that with four lines, the first stanza will have forty syllables.  This also relates to the third item above of having the first stanza have a relatively large number of syllables.

Eight, since the first stanza has four lines (as per the fifth item above), and all of the items are gifts, the second and third stanzas will also have four lines each, as this will be something in common.

Nine, because frankincense and myrrh are not elements and are instead compounds of some sort, the second and third stanzas will be made of a combination of syllable count lines.  The stanzas will be made of lines that have 7, 6, 8, and 4 syllables.  This is a combination of syllable counts.  Also, as this totals 25 syllables, it helps with the idea of the first stanza having a relatively large number of syllables.

In summary, here is what the poetry form looks like:

Ten syllables, Rhyme A
Ten syllables, Rhyme A
Ten syllables, Rhyme A
Ten syllables, Rhyme A

First word starts with S, Seven syllables
Six syllables
Eight syllables
Four syllables

First word starts with S, Seven syllables, Rhyme B
Six syllables, Rhyme B
Eight syllables, Rhyme B
Four syllables, Rhyme B

 

Experimental Poetry Form: Hopping frog

This experimental poetry from is based off of the idea of a hopping frog.  It is meant to resemble a frog jumping down tree branches.

The form has six tercets.  The tercets represent the frog.  Each tercet has six, eight and then six syllables in their three lines.  The first tercet is on the left, the second is in the center, the third is on the right.  The fourth goes to the center, the fifth goes back to the right, and the sixth goes to the left side.  There is an extra space between the third and fourth and between the fourth and fifth tercets.  The position of the tercets, represent the frog moving down the tree.  The form looks like this:

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

 

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

 

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

Six syllable line
Eight syllable line
Six syllable line

P.S. Today on MSakran.com, there is a new set of photography, artwork, poetry and fiction.  Some recent posts on this blog, including this one, have been related to frogs, and the new set on MSakran.com is also frog related.

Experimental Poetry Form: Ham Sandwich

This experimental poetry form is based off of a ham sandwich.  The ham sandwich has the following layers from top to bottom:

  Bread
  Mayonnaise
  Mustard
  Lettuce (two pieces)
  Pickles (four slices)
  Tomato (three slices)
  Ham (three slices)
  Bread

The form reflects the ham sandwich in the following ways:

  There are eight lines (the eight layers of the sandwich)

  The first and last lines are the same (the bread of the sandwich)

  The first and eighth lines have five iambic feet (five letters in bread)

  The second and third lines rhyme (mayonnaise and mustard are both condiments)

  The second and third lines have two iambic feet (the layers of mayonnaise and mustard are thin)

  The fourth line has two iambic feet (two pieces of lettuce)

  The fourth and sixth lines rhyme (lettuce and tomato are produce)

  The fifth line has four iambic feet (four slices of pickle)

  The sixth line has three iambic feet (three slices of tomato)

  The seventh line has three iambic feet (three slices of ham)

In summary:

  Line 1: five iambic feet
  Line 2: two iambic feet, rhyme A
  Line 3: two iambic feet, rhyme A
  Line 4: two iambic feet, rhyme B
  Line 5: four iambic feet
  Line 6: three iambic feet, rhyme B
  Line 7: three iambic feet
  Line 8: same as line 1

This form combines meter, rhyming and a repeat.

Post Series: The Citrus Series: Experimental Poetry Form: Acrostic matching and rhyming

In the Citrus Series post on June 16th, it was mentioned in the explanation of the poem, that one reason a sonnet was chosen for part of the poem, was that a sonnet did not have repeating lines.  The idea was, that given that the poem was an acrostic poem using the phrase “Unripe Citrus Fruit”, that a poetry form, such as a triolet, would not fit, because the repeats would not match the acrostic characteristic of the poem.  It was mentioned that, to have a repeating poem match the acrostic nature of the poem, that an experimental poetry form would need to be used.  That is the basis of this experimental poetry form.

The general structure of the experimental poetry form consists of three aspects:

  1. It is an acrostic poem of a short phrase.
  2. The letters in the phrase that match, correspond to matching sets of lines in the poem.
  3. The group of letters that appear only once in the phrase, are rhyming lines in the poem.

As an illustration, here is how the form applies to the phrase “Unripe Citrus Fruit”:

  • The poem is an acrostic poem of the phrase “Unripe Citrus Fruit”
  • The first, eleventh, and fifteenth lines of the poem are the same
  • The fourth, eighth, and sixteenth lines of the poem are the same
  • The third, tenth, and fourteenth lines of the poem are the same
  • The ninth and seventeenth lines of the poem are the same
  • The second, fifth, sixth, seventh, twelve, and thirteenth lines of the poem rhyme

The matching sets of lines, match the matching letters in the phrase “Unripe Citrus Fruit”.  For example, the “U” lines match.  The letters in the phrase that only appear once, such as “N”, are the rhyming lines.

This is a specific example of the general experimental poetry form.  Its use would vary depending on the starting phrase.

Here is an example poem, in the form, using the phrase “Unripe Citrus Fruit” and inspired by the photograph of the series:

Underneath the sun,
next to leaves that are green,
reclining behind a leaf,
it seems to rest.

  Perhaps it seeks to glean,
  enchantment from what is seen,
  content as it does lean.

It seems to rest,
there where it is,
reclining behind a leaf,
underneath the sun.

Seeking what rest does mean,
finding no need to preen,
  reclining behind a leaf,
  underneath the sun,
it seems to rest,
there where it is.

 

P.S.  Today on MSakran.com, there is a new set of photography, artwork, poetry and fiction.  As mentioned before, the photograph, artwork and fiction can inspire poetry, and the poem there can be read.

Experimental Poetry Form: Alternating first and last rhymes

This form has one stanza with eight lines.  Each line has to have at least two words for the form to work, but there is no other restriction on the lines, such as meter or syllable count.

In this form, the first word of line 1, rhymes with the last word of line 2, which rhymes with the first word of line 3, which rhymes with the last word of line 4, etc.  Similarly, the last word of line 1, rhymes with the first word of line 2, which rhymes with the last word of line 3, etc.

Here is what the rhyming pattern looks like:

Rhyme A Word………………..Rhyme B Word
Rhyme B Word………………..Rhyme A Word
Rhyme A Word………………..Rhyme B Word
Rhyme B Word………………..Rhyme A Word
Rhyme A Word………………..Rhyme B Word
Rhyme B Word………………..Rhyme A Word
Rhyme A Word………………..Rhyme B Word
Rhyme B Word………………..Rhyme A Word

The dots (………………..) represent the other words in the lines of the poem if there are any in that line.

Here is an example poem written in the form:

Mosquitoes

About they fly,
high in a tangled route,
out above the rye,
by a home filled with those they did rout.
“Doubt stops another try.”
“Why did you enter the bout?”,
“Shout all day at the sky!”
“Vie with us again!” the mosquitoes do tout.

Experimental Poetry Form: Two coins

This experimental poetry form is based off of the idea of having two coins.  If there are two coins, assuming they can’t be distinguished from each other, they can be arranged in the following ways:

Heads Heads
Tails Tails
Heads Tails
Tails Heads

(Assuming the coins could be distinguished from each other, there would be different arrangements, for example instead of “Tails Tails” there would be “Tails (Coin 1) Tails (Coin 2)/ Tails (Coin 2) Tails (Coin 1)”)

Using these arrangements, a poetry form can be developed.  One idea would be to have four couplets using two types of lines.  The couplets could be arranged like above:

Line with characteristics A
Line with characteristics A

Line with characteristics B
Line with characteristics B

Line with characteristics A
Line with characteristics B

Line with characteristics B
Line with characteristics A

 

The characteristics could vary.  One idea would be to have the A characteristics be:

 eight syllables, iambic meter, rhyme one

and have the B characteristics be:

 eight syllables, trochaic meter, rhyme two

The idea is that each characteristic set represents one side of a coin.  They both have the same value (eight syllables), but they are opposite each other (iambic vs. trochaic meter) and they look different (rhyme one vs. rhyme two).

As a side note, M. Sakran would be interested to see any poems written and posted in this form today.  If any poet uses this form today, please use the tag “Two Coins” so M. Sakran has the opportunity to find and read the poems.