We can classify most poetry into two groups: form poetry and free verse. Free verse is a style of poetry that doesn’t adhere to any structure; the poet is free to write lines and stanzas of varying lengths and meter, with or without rhymes.
Form poetry, on the other hand, adheres to a specific structure, a formula that drives the entire poem based on a set of established rules and patterns.
Introduction to Form Poetry: Learning the Rules
There are various elements of a poem that can be specified by form poetry: meter, rhyme scheme, the number of lines in a stanza, and the total number of stanzas.
For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is composed of three quatrains with a couplet at the end. It is written in iambic pentameter with the following rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. This form is sometimes called the English sonnet.
Some forms go even further than structure. For example, traditional haiku deals with nature.
Additionally, some patterns can refer to a stanza within a poem or an entire poem. A quatrain is a stanza of four lines, usually with alternate rhymes. A quatrain can comprise an entire poem, or it can be used within the pattern of a larger poem, as is the case with sonnets.
Some other examples of form poetry include the cento, the double dactyl, and the pantoum, to name a few.
Benefits of Writing Form Poetry
Many young and new poets find form poetry constricting at first. Others enter the world of poetry believing that a poem must adhere to some kind of form in order for it to be legitimate poetry. That’s not true. Free verse and prose poems are perfectly legitimate types of poems. And form poetry is not as constricting as it may first appear.
The blank page can be intimidating. Sometimes guidelines, such as those that are provided by form poetry, can help us focus on the content and substance of our writing, especially when we’re learning the basics of various forms of writing.
Writing within a structure removes various problems from the process of making a poem. For example, if we’re writing a sonnet, we don’t need to worry about how many lines or stanzas it should contain, what kind of rhyme scheme we should use, or what meter to apply. These elements of the poem are already established. This frees up a poet to focus on other aspects of a poem, such as language and word choice, subject matter, and flow.
When I was studying poetry, I found form especially useful for studying and practicing rhyme. Novice poets often use forced rhymes, awkward word order, inaccurate or imprecise word choices, and stilted language to fit a poem’s meter or rhyme scheme. I found that working within an established structure allowed me to focus less on rhythm and meter and more on rearranging my words and searching for the best possible language for my poems.
Do You Write Form Poetry?
Have you ever written form poetry? Do you prefer to write poetry in form or in free verse? What are some of your favorite forms (I love haiku!)? Share your thoughts about form poetry by leaving a comment, and keep writing.