There are a million different ways to write, especially when it comes to poetry. This is a running list of styles to advance your poetic experimentation!
(Also: ‘Stanzas’ are similar to paragraphs in stories, and are made up of ‘lines’ which are like sentences, but don’t have to be grammatically constructed as one.)
Though it is arguable that every poem is written to be read aloud, Spoken Word Poems are written with the specific intention to be read aloud by the poet who pens them. Oftentimes they focus on subjects that is meaningful or relevant to the poet, and also contain political or call-to-action messages that the poet wishes to impart upon the audience. These poems are read aloud in competitions called Poetry Slams, where poets recite their work out loud (without reading from a page!) and receive constructive criticism from the judges and positive or negative feedback from the audience. For examples of slam performances and spoken word poems, check out ‘Button Poetry’ on Youtube.
Free Verse, is a poem without specific rhyme or rhythm, and lets the words flow as the author intends them to. A super-long famous example of free verse is Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, found in his book Leaves of Grass. A shorter read is White Eyes by Mary Oliver.
Haiku poetry is short and sweet, but often very tricky to write to one’s satisfaction. The first line must contain only five syllables, the second line must have seven syllables, and the third and final line must have five syllables. Some famous examples such as In Kyoto were written by the Japanese poet Basho, but remember the English translations might not add up to the correct number of syllables!
Haibue: A modern spin on the traditional Haiku form, where a 3 line Haikou with various adjustments to the syllable structure is written at the end of a poetic paragraph.
Sonnets: Below are two classical sonnet versions, but modern poets have broken the rules of Petrarch and Shakespeare to make poems identifiable as sonnets with mixed up rhymes, less stanzas, fragmented lines- you name it.
Petrarchan = The first stanza (collection of lines) is called an 8-line octave, and the second stanza is called a 6-line sestet, making for 14 lines. These stanzas don’t have to be separate, it’s just fancy terminology. The octave usually poses a poetically phrased question, and the sestet usually answers it. The rhyme theme is either ABBA/ABBA/ABBA, CD/CD/CD, CD/EE/DE . Altered for exemplary purposes below is one of John Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnets,’ which has an ABBA/ABBA/ACCA/DD rhyme pattern.
If poisonous minerals, and if that tree- (A) Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us, - (B) If lecherous goats, if serpents envious- (B) Cannot be damn'd, alas, why should I be? -(A) Why should intent or reason, born in me, -(A) Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous? -(B) And mercy being easy, and glorious -(B) To God, in his stern wrath why threatens he? -(A) But who am I, that dare dispute with thee, -(A) O God? Oh, of thine only worthy blood -(C) And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood, -(C) And drown in it my sins' black memory. -(A) That thou remember them, some claim as debt; (D) I think it mercy, if thou wilt forget. (D)
Shakespearian = Shakespeare made things complicated! The sonnets and the poems modeled after them are composed with an ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG rhyme theme. For ABAB, the first two lines follow that CDCD theme discussed in the Petrarchan sonnet. Then instead of continuing that every-other-line-rhymes shtick, a new rhyme is picked up with CDCD. (Ex: if the ABAB rhymes were initially ending in ‘t’ and ‘ing,’ now they end with ‘ie’ and ‘ly.’) This change happens twice, making EFEF. Instead of ending on EFEF, the last two lines end the same way, like in Petrarch’s sestet, making GG. This all adds up to 14 lines. Below is John Keats’s untitled poem, written in 1818 and published after he died, altered to exemplify this poetic form.
When I have fears that I may cease to be (A) Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, (B) Before high-piled books, in charact'ry (A) Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain (B) When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, (C) Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance (D) And think that I may never live to trace, (C) Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance, (D) And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, (E) That I shall never look upon thee more, (F) Never have relish in the faery power (E) Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore (F) Of the wide world I stand alone, and think (G) Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink. (G)
Sonnet Sequences = Written a little like collaborative Haikou- one sonnet after another.
Limericks are comical poems that can have PG13 or very juvenile topics and usually follow a rhyme theme. Best exemplified by Shel Silverstein’s Boa Constrictor, or any kind of song you sing while jumping rope and playing handshake games.
A Pantoum is a repetitive poem made up of two or more stanzas with four lines each. The second line of the first stanza is repeated (with slight variations at the writer’s discretion) as the first line in the second stanza. The last line of the first stanza is also repeated as the third line of the second stanza. When adding a third stanza, use the second line of the second stanza as the first line of the third stanza, and the third line of the second stanza as the last line of the third stanza. It’s fun to try and make these rhyme, but rhyming is not required in a Pantoum. It’s hard to understand this without seeing it, so below is the first three stanzas of Sandra Lim’s ‘Pantoum,’ structured for explanatory purposes:
Taking on an aspect of the Orient, Skies full of hatchets and oranges Love, uninvited, hangs in the blood: But what is a kingdom to a dying emperor?
Skies full of hatchets and oranges Keep the birds singing, sorrows fresh— But what is a kingdom to a dying emperor, As the nights grow steadily into mountains.
Keep the birds singing, sorrows fresh— The princess braids these into a necklace As the nights grow steadily into mountains, Why, even regrets recede unexpectedly.
The Burmese Climbing Rhyme or Than- Bauk involves an internal rhyme scheme based upon the Burmese language, which does not pair well with last-word-in-the-line rhyming seen in English poetry. The only way to explain this one is with an example, shown in Jacquii Cooke’s ‘Free Thank-Bauk’ :
where the rain falls the wind calls for hail balls and rest and the zest of lights’ best lit way. some kind slave runs away from deep chains
Notice how this poem features no strict rhyme but still has a rhythmic presence.
Ghazal format originates from the Middle East, and it is constructed in two-line stanzas ending in the same word or phrase. This repetitive effect is said to pair well with mystical or metaphoric themes and Eastern musicians have used this style to write songs. The last few words of each stanza should be the same to establish rhythm. Take a look at Agha Shalid Ali’s poem ‘Even the Rain‘ for inspiration:
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house. For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.
Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say: Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.
How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire? He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.
Acrostic poetry is a style in which the first letter in every line spells out a word in direct relation to the topic of the poem. This can also be inverted so the last letter of every line spells out a word. The most challenging version is to alter the layout of the poem to make letters in the middle spell out a word. The first letter of each line in Marvin Brato Sr’s poem, A Family:
Being with family is best part, real world to spend meaningful life and it is when you feel at home... to mingle with people you love. Family is the basic unit and the foundation of society. making peace and unity at home, is the secret of a progressive community. life shall become worthwhile for all the people yearning for a happy family is to make it happened.
Golden Shovel poems are similar to acrostic poetry, however the last word of every line forms a phrase from a book or a quote from a song. The author of that sentence must be credited somewhere, either in the title or in the byline of the poem. Margaret Simmon’s Use Them, exemplifies this style by incorporating a line from Tyrone Bitting’s Truth:
We have the power to use words to put them down or raise them up, to make them cry, or find a new way to shout, Words have the power to whip, wise-up, or whisper, a weapon- whichever
Villanelle is a heavily structured poem (which means its rules are twice as much fun to break) with 19 lines that go: ABA / ABA / ABA / ABA / ABA / ABAA. None of these rhymes have to be perfect, the example shown below has many pairs that are written different, but have similar-sounding endings like ‘near’ and ‘stair.’ As seen in pantoums, there is systematic repetition, where Line 1 is seen in Lines 6, 12 and 18, and Line 3 is written again in Lines 9, 15 and 19. Just like in pantoums these repeated lines can be altered slightly, the effect remains the same so long as the reader can have that little deja-vu connection between the reiterated lines. Here is an example by Theodore Roethke:
1) I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 2) I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. 3) I learn by going where I have to go. 4)We think by feeling. What is there to know? 5) I hear my being dance from ear to ear. 6) I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 7)Of those so close beside me, which are you? 8) God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there, 9) And learn by going where I have to go. 10) Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how? 11) The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair; 12) I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 13) Great Nature has another thing to do 14) To you and me; so take the lively air, 15) And, lovely, learn by going where to go. 16) This shaking keeps me steady. I should know. 17) What falls away is always. And is near. 18) I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 19) I learn by going where I have to go.
Slant Rhyme: when two words sound like they rhyme but do not looks as though they rhyme. Often the last letter in each word are the same. Emily Dickinson and W.B. Yeats used this technique a lot, to continue the cadence of their poems. Below is W.B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium.”
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.”
Help extend this list!
Let us know if there’s a certain style of poetry added you’d like added, and send in your own poems for publication by emailing email@example.com