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Form Poetry
Challenge yourself to craft a poem using a specific form. Fitting your thoughts into a strict format can unleash unexpected creativity.

1. Shakespearean sonnet:
• A Shakespearean sonnet follows a certain rhyme scheme and is also written in iambic pentameter.
• The rhyme scheme is: a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.
• Iambic pentameter refers to the syllable count and syllable stress in each line. Pentameter means that each line has 5 feet. A metrical foot is a group of 2 or 3 syllables forming the basic unit of poetic rhythm. In a Shakespearean sonnet, each foot is made up of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

Here's an example of a sonnet by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Notice the rhyme scheme and the syllable stress. You can analyze the meter by reading the line aloud, counting syllables, and noting which syllables are stressed.


Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds (a)
Admit impediments. Love is not love (b)
Which alters when it alteration finds, (a)
Or bends with the remover to remove. (b)

O no, it is an ever fixed mark (c)
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; (d)
It is the star to every wand'ring barque, (c)
Whose worth's unknown although his height be taken. (d)

Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks (e)
Within his bending sickle's compass come; (f)
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, (e)
But bears it out even to the edge of doom. (f)

If this be error and upon me proved, (g)
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (g)

2. Haiku

• Haiku is a traditional form that challenges poets to convey a vivid impression in only 17 Japanese characters.
• Many English-speaking poets have used this form, translating the structure from characters to 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each.
• Each line shows an image. The images in each line should have a relationship to one another -- either in comparison or contrast.

Here are some examples of haikus by the Japanese poet Basho Matsuo (1644-1694)


Waterjar cracks:
I lie awake
This icy night.

Heron's cry
Stabs the darkness

Sick on a journey:
Over parched fields
Dreams wander on.

3. Limerick

• The rhyme scheme is usually a-a-b-b-a, with a rigid meter.
• The first, second, and fifth lines are three metrical feet; the third and fourth are two metrical feet. The rhythm is usually considered an anapestic foot, which is two short syllables and then a long syllable.
• The first line traditionally introduces a person and a location, and usually ends with the name of the location. A true limerick is supposed to have a twist to it. This may lie in the final line, or it may lie in the way the rhymes are often intentionally tortured, or in both.

Here are some examples of limericks:


Our novels get longa and longa
Their language gets stronga and stronga
There’s much to be said
For a life that is led
In illiterate places like Bonga
-- H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

To Miss Vera Beringer
There was a young lady of station
"I love man" was her sole exclamation
But when men cried, "You flatter"
She replied, "Oh! no matter
Isle of Man is the true explanation"
-- Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

4. Cinquain

• Under the influence of Japanese poetry, the American poet Adelaide Crapsey developed a poetic form she called "a cinquain."
• This is a short, unrhymed poem of 22 syllables, written in 5 lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables, respectively.

Here are some examples of cinquains by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914)



I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.


Just now,
Out of the strange
Still dusk...as strange, as still...
A white moth flew. Why am I grown
So cold?


Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead.

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