Poetic Forms To Try in Your Writing, Volume 2
Previously, we’ve explored how tools like the haiku, the palindrome, and the epigram can help us rethink the way we approach our writing sessions. Let’s continue that exploration with a few more poetic forms to add to your toolbox and refresh your poetry.
Poetic form characterizes a piece of poetry by its structure and unique stylings. Focusing on the type of poetic form we want to use before we start writing can engage our creativity in a whole new way and help us give new shape to our poetry.
Made famous by Shakespeare, a sonnet is a poem that is usually made up of 14 lines, has a specific rhyming scheme, and uses iambic pentameter. When writing in iambic pentameter, writers create an “unstressed/stressed” syllable pattern for all ten syllables in the line. When I was in high school, I remember using iambic pentameter and clapping out the syllables—“da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM”—to make sure the structure was correct. A great place to start is to take a classic Shakespearean sonnet and read it aloud, focusing on stressing the right syllables (and maybe even clapping along). This will get your mind in the right headspace to create a similarly paced sonnet of your own!
Here’s a great example from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 where the stressed syllables are capitalized:
Shall I / com PARE/ thee TO / a SUM / mer’s DAY?
Thou ART / more LOVE / ly AND / more TEM / per ATE
Getting the hang of it? Now give it a try! Be warned, once you start thinking in “iambic pentameter” mode, it can be hard to turn it off. This poetic form is fun, interactive, and classic.
An acrostic poem is one that usually uses the first letter of each line to spell out a word, name, or phrase. Other letters in the acrostic message can also be capitalized so they stand out as the letters meant to convey the dual meaning. There is a lot of room for creativity here. The message can be extraneous, or it can pull other elements of the poem together for more impact. It is up to the poet.
Here is an example from classic poet Edgar Allan Poe:
“Elizabeth it is in vain you say
‘Love not’ — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.”
Invented by Adelaide Crapsey, this five-line poem provides the following framework: line one has two syllables, line two has four, line three has six, line four has eight, and line five goes back to two syllables. However, there have been many variations of this poetic form over the years which tweak these rules. One example is a didactic cinquain, which focuses on words instead of syllables. This poetic form is also a great way to get kids involved, as they are simple poems that pack a powerful, creative punch.
Here’s an example of a traditional cinquain poem by Adelaide Crapsey:
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
I hope that these examples have gotten you excited about the beautifully diverse poetic forms we have to choose from as writers. Happy writing!