A poem’s form consists of the structural “rules” concerning elements like meter, rhyme, alliteration, or repetition. Each poetic form is like a different shaped vase into which water (language) can be poured. Each form has its own particular way of shaping meaning and progressing through a thought. Each has a unique system of organization and a different approach to creating beauty.
But on top of all of that, I’ve also always felt like each poetic form has its own personality—something ineffable that comes off the page and interacts with the reader in a vivid, colorful way. To illustrate what I mean by “personality,” I thought it might be fun to render a sketch of a party populated by six of my favorite forms. So here you have it, without further ado—a party of forms, hanging out at some house chock-full of wine within the pages of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics:
The Villanelle keeps following you around telling you the same joke over and over again, the exact same way, but somehow it gets funnier every time. For some reason, by the end of the night, you actually can’t wait to hear it for the 10th time. And that makes you feel like you might be going a little crazy.
Every time you talk to the Sestina, you get the mystifying feeling that you’ve heard what she’s saying before already. Each sentence is new, but the whole conversation has some kind of déjà vu quality you can’t quite shake.
The Sonnet pins you into a corner and tells you a wandering, fairly non-sensical argument for 12 minutes, then soberly sums it all up with a perfect, mystical conclusion in two.
The Haiku sits silently all night long, until one moment she approaches you, crouches down, and whispers a tiny, beautiful statement directly into your ear. When you beg her to tell you more, she shakes her head solemnly, smiles, and points at a tree out the window.
The Pantoum doesn’t want to talk, he just wants to dance—preferably to pop, hip hop, or anything else with a strong hook and a repetitive chorus.
You haven’t seen the Erasure all night, but when you finally find him, he’s in your office re-painting the walls.
Now it’s time for you to join the party. Sign up for my four-night “Forms of Poetry” 49 Writers class, and I’ll introduce you to all of these forms and more. We’ll talk about the cultural history and traditions behind each form, current mutations and experimentations with each form, and the best techniques for success in each form. All levels are welcome—if you know none of these forms, great. If you know all of them, that’s great, too—I’ll help you fine-tune.
Alyse Knorr has taught creative writing to individuals ages 8 to 80, of all levels and all genres, and is passionate about bringing out the best in her students. As a poet, she extremely sound-focused and spent three years studying meter, rhyme, and syntax while earning her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree from George Mason University. She currently teaches English at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is finishing up her fifth book.