Poetry is a difficult genre of creative writing to define and, as a whole, lends itself to redefinition and experimentation. There are also many established forms of poetry and, much like learning a color wheel or new artistic approach with a paint medium or a musical scale or new genre of song on an instrument, learning to write in the different forms of poetry can help writers to hone their craft. Here’s a brief overview of what poetry is often understood to be and five types of poems you may want to try writing:
Poetry: What is it?
The word poetry comes from the Greek word ποιεω or poieo, meaning, “I create.” Poetry is sometimes considered to be a bridge or an ambiguous, overlapping space between traditional written works and oral and musical arts. In poetry, the sounds, patterns, and other aesthetic traits of the language used are considered important, as well as the meaning of the words and the piece as a whole. Within poetry, the writer is free to use descriptive, metaphorical (comparing one thing to another), fantastic, lyrical, discordant, repetitive, veiled, and opaque language. The length, meter (pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables) and communicative intent of a poem are at the writer’s discretion. A poem offer differs from fiction because a narrative structure is not always present in poems, though both narrative poetry and abstract, lyrical fiction and nonfiction also exist. Sometimes, the words of a poem only exist in a painting or in a live performance of Slam Poetry. Because poetry typically possesses multiple layers of meaning, it can be difficult to translate between languages. For more information on poetic terms, literary devices, structures, and tools, check out Literary Devices.net.
Early poetry likely arose during the oral era of human history, before written stories and records were invented and used. For example, ancient hymns, such as those sung out or recited by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna around the year 2200 B.C., are considered one of the earliest forms of poetry. Early oral poems are difficult to separate from early stories, songs, and prayers as they were used for spiritual purposes, to tell stories, pronounce love, and keep accounts of local history and tradition (much as they often are today). Poems have also been found engraved in ancient stones and monoliths and early written works that are considered poetic include “The Vedas” and “The Odyssey.”
Seven Kinds of Poetry to Read and Write
Epic poetry calls attention to grand adventures. They are usually long poems which tell intricate tales of a (typically contemporary) hero or heroine’s wonder and courage. Famous epic poems include “Gilgamesh” and “The Iliad.” Study.com explains that “Epic poems were particularly common in the ancient world because they were ideal for expressing stories orally.” You could write an epic poem about someone you consider to be a hero or write a humorous, satirical, or fantastical epic poem about a doubtful or imaginary hero.
Sonnets have a very strict structure and were a favorite of Dante, Petrarch (who created what is now known as the Petrarchan Sonnet), and Shakespeare. The word sonnet comes from the Italian term, sonetto, meaning “little song.” Sonnets have 14 lines. Each line ends with a rhyme and sonnets are written in a meter called iambic pentameter, in which each line of writing has five beats and the second syllable is always stressed (every other syllable is stressed). English-style sonnets typically use rhyme schemes of abab-cdcd-efef-gg (in which each letter pair represents a unique rhyme). Below is William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 16”–see if you can catch the rhyming and stressed syllable pattern and then try writing a sonnet of your own.
But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens, yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear you living flowers,
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time’s pencil, or my pupil pen,
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.
To give away yourself, keeps yourself still,
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.
If you need a break from the intensely regulated format of the sonnet, try writing a limerick, which are typically catchy but lighter types of poems with an upbeat rhythm. Limericks are five lines long and are usually intended to be witty, surprising, or humorous. The rhyme scheme is aa-bb-a. Limericks have a rolling, repetitive rhythm. Below is a representation of a limerick’s rhythm from Poets.org; “The pattern can be illustrated with dashes denoting weak syllables, and slashes for stresses:
1) – / – – / – – /
2) – / – – / – – /
3) – / – – /
4) – / – – /
5) – / – – / – – /”
One of the best ways to familiarize or re-familiarize yourself with simple limericks is to check out and read aloud Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Limericks often have a surprising ending, as in this example from Edward Lear:
There was a young lady of Niger
who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
with the lady inside,
and the smile on the face of the tiger.
A haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that is succinct and precise. Haikus were originally used in the thirteenth-century as an introduction to longer oral poems. Llater, in the sixteenth-century, the format was used on its own. A standard haiku in English has three lines; the first has five syllables, the second has seven syllables, and the third has five again. An example by Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki is below.
Toward those short trees
We saw a hawk descending
On a day in spring.
Haiku-poetry.org explains that “It is important to note that the original Japanese haiku was measured in sounds, or ‘breaths,’ not English syllables. The 5-7-5 approach was a rough approximation. Many traditional Japanese and English-language literary haiku are much shorter than the 5-7-5 format of the West.” So, you may come across haikus that vary in length.
Free Verse Poems
Free verse poems exist for the poets who prefer to be unencumbered by rules or traditions or to pick and choose which they want to use, follow, or redefine in their work. When you write a free verse poem, the sounds, length, and purpose are entirely up to you. Here’s an example of a short free verse poem by American poet William Carlos Williams:
A stand of people
by an open
the heavy leaves
the cut and fill
for the new road
an old man
on his knees
reaps a basket-
matted grasses for
John Adams, the second president of the United States, said that “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.” Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading and writing poetry and if you agree with Adams, check out the national Poem in Your Pocket Day, which occurs each April.
Written by Julia Travers
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