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A Poetic Look At: Poetic Forms


(c) 2013 Windy Johansen

So what’s a poetic form?

A recipe of sorts. One like sugar cookies. Rad, sweet, sugar cookies. (That was my sweet tooth talking, sorry. :) ) It takes several ingredients, mixed in a certain way, giving you an expected result, but with room for variation.

Sounds fine, but what’s wrong with formless poetry?

Not one thing. I write in a style that doesn’t seem to fit a form. It seems like it fits free verse the most, but I don’t know for sure.

But it’s fun to know how to work in new forms. You can enjoy both an old friend and get to love a new one. No one was talking about replacing anything. I’d be sad if you did!

That’s okay, then. What are the parts of the recipe?

Structurally speaking: words, meter, line, and stanzas. (There’s also the idea of half-lines, but they’re not something I’ve heard too much about. We’ll probably talk about them in the midst of a form that makes use of them.)

Stylistically speaking: mood, subject, and degree of repetition. Repetition doesn’t have to be bad, by the way. It can make a given idea stick better, or it can really annoy the socks off people.

We’ll talk about structures today. Stylistic things are really best talked about in the context of a given form. (Repetition is the special one that will get its own post.)

*hands out cookies* (It seems like a good time to share those. :) )

(Cookie) Center of the Matter

Words – Eggs/Flavorings

They’re …well, what you’re reading here. Not too bad so far. They can carry quite a lot in themselves, without any intentional meter. A big plate of eggs, with a bit of salt and pepper is nice. But we wanted cookies, so on to the other ingredients.

Meter – Butter/Sugar

Oh, meter is a bit complex. But maybe..maybe not. In English, we think of qualitative meter. That means that each new stressed syllable appears in a certain interval of time. This is part of what drives the idea of feet within poetic meter. (The other is the way that English handles syllable stress.) These aren’t the feet you walk on. But to a poem, they can be very important, maybe as important as your feet.

Feet – Kinds of Sugar

Poetic feet, like I said, have to do with where stressed syllables fall. There are disyllabic feet, trisyllabic feet, and tetrasyllabic feet. I’ll pick one from each of these classes. These may not be the popular ones. They’re only the ones that caught my interest.

I’ll start to talk about lines here too, since lines are a part of meter.

  • Iambunstressed syllable, then a stressed one

    The iamb might remind you of your own feet. Mentioning it may have made you think of the phrase “iambic pentameter”. That’s something that uses iambs, five iambs to a line. An iamb’s rhythm is not unlike how you walk. You put some weight down, and then shift all weight. The word present (meaning to give or introduce) fits an iamb’s expected stress. If you said it five times, that’s iambic pentameter. Sonnets use these as well as iambic pentameter.

  • Amphibrachunstressed syllable, then a stressed one, then an unstressed one

    I favor these in my writing a lot, though I suspect they’re not common. Compassion is an amphibrachic word. Say it three times, and you’ll have amphibrachic trimeter (three amphibrachs to a line). Amphibrachic trimeter is used in limericks.

  • Ditrocheestressed syllable, unstressed syllable, stressed syllable, unstressed syllable

    I don’t know where I’ve used this one, but the name of this site (rootedphoenix) seems to fit it.

    This seems to be a doubling of a trochee, which is a disyllabic foot that has a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

Lines – Butter (as part of Meter)/Dry Ingredients (as own element)

I’d mentioned iambic pentameter and amphibrachic trimeter earlier. Feet, words, and lines add up to make meter, but lines have more than just meter to give to the final result. Possibly not much more, but in a villanelle, your refrain lines must be well crafted so as to carry the weight given to them.

Stanzas – Shapes/Cutouts

Lines are grouped into these. I guess they’re like poetic paragraphs…?

When you read about these, you might see terms like “couplet” and “quatrain”. They refer to the number of lines in the stanza. Couplets have two lines in them; quatrains have four. There are stanzas with more lines; there are stanzas with less. If you chose, you could write a poem with a single stanza that had 20 lines. You might want a stanza that only had one line in it.

This should be fun! Next time we go to Japan to look at the Haiku.

Did all the cookie metaphor make you hungry? Here’s a cookie recipe!


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About rootedphoenix

I am the owner and blogger on this site. Hi! :D I like sparkles, sweets, and being nice. But I also laugh at snarky things. So I'm a work in progress.

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