Poetry Definitions

In paying attention to small things, the haiku poet honors the sacredness of everyday life. -Margaret D. McGee

Peppermint Striped Purslane

Form: The “shape” or organizational mode of a particular poem. In most poems, the form consists of a set number of lines, a set rhyme scheme, and a set meter for each line. In concrete poetry, the form of a poem may reflect the theme, topic, or idea of the words in the actual shape of the text on a piece of paper. In the free verse or open-form poetry common to the modernist and postmodernist movements, the rigid constraints of form are often discarded in order to achieve a variety of effects.

Closed Poetic Form: Poetry written in a specific or traditional pattern according to the required rhyme, meter, line length, line groupings, and number of lines within a genre of poetry. Examples of a closed-form (fixed-form) poetry include limericks and sonnets, which have set numbers of syllables, lines, and traditional subject-matter.

Prose: Any material that is not written in a regular meter like poetry. Many modern genres such as short stories, novels, letters, essays, and treatises are typically written in prose.

Haiku: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. A short poem originating from Japan. The point of this type of poetry is to record a moment. They are usually about nature. You usually don’t see the word “I” in haiku and 2 or more haiku are still called ‘haiku’ not ‘haikus’.
An ideal haiku should be short/long/short. Modern haiku found in most of today’s journals are not 5/7/5.

Senryu:  A Japanese poem with the same structure as haiku, but more concerned with human nature, and is often humorous or satiric. Today most 3 line poems are referred to as haiku but there is a difference between haiku and senryu. EXAMPLE

Tanka: “The typical lyric poem of Japanese literature, composed of five  unrhymed metrical units of 5,7,5,7,7 ‘sound symbols’; tanka in English have  generally been in five lines with a total of thirty-one or fewer syllables,  often observing a short, long, short, long, long pattern. Tanka usually need no  titles, though in Japanese a ‘topic’ (dai) is often indicated where a  title would normally stand in Western poetry. In Japan, the tanka is well over  twelve hundred years old (haiku is about three hundred years old), and has gone  through many periods of change in style and content. But it has always been a poem of feelings, often involving metaphor and other figurative language (not generally used in haiku). While tanka praising nature have been written, and  seem to resemble “long haiku,” most tanka deal with human relationships or the  author’s situation. In the words of Sanford Goldstein, “behind the scene is the  autobiographical moment of the poet’ (‘Tanka Off the Back Burner,’ Frogpond,XV:2 Fall-Winter 1992). The best tanka harmonizes the writer’s emotional  life with the elements of the outer world used to portray it.”  Draft definition from the Haiku Society of America definitions committee led by William J. Higginson.  EXAMPLE

Renga: Long poems of alternating 5/7/5 and then 7/7 verses; often composed at social occasions by a group of people. A renga consists of at least two ku (句) or stanzas, usually many more. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku (発句), became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry.

Haiga: A combo of haiku (often in calligraphy) with a visual image. The key aspect of haiga is that the image is usually not an illustration of the poem, nor is the poem a caption for the image. There should be an artistic interplay between them, or some sort of unexplained but intuitive leap.

Haibun: A mixture of haiku and prose. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Some longer haibun may contain a few haiku interspersed between sections of prose. In haibun the connections between the prose and any included haiku may not be immediately obvious, or the haiku may deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction, recasting the meaning of the foregoing prose, much as a stanza in a linked-verse poem revises the meaning of the previous verse. Japanese haibun apparently developed from brief prefatory notes occasionally written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word “haibun” is sometimes applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets, though technically they are parts of the separate and much older genres of journal and travel literature (nikki and kikôbun).   EXAMPLE

Lanturne: The Lanturne is a five-line verse shaped like a Japanese lantern with a syllabic pattern of 1/2/3/4/1.  EXAMPLE

Sedoka: The Sedoka is an unrhymed poem made up of two three-line katauta with the following syllable counts: 5/7/7, 5/7/7. A Sedoka, pair of katauta as a single poem, may address the same subject from differing perspectives.

Cinquain: (also known as a quintain or quintet) A poem or stanza composed of five lines. Adelaide Crapsey, an early twentieth-century poet, used a form of 22 syllables distributed among the five lines in a 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 pattern, respectively. Her poems share a similarity with the Japanese tanka, another short form of poetry, in their focus on imagery and the natural world. 

Reverse Cinquain: A form with one 5-line stanza in a syllabic pattern of two, eight, six, four, two.

Mirror Cinquain: A form with two 5-line stanzas consisting of a cinquain followed by a reverse cinquain.

Butterfly Cinquain: A nine-line syllabic form with the pattern two, four, six, eight, two, eight, six, four, two.

Crown Cinquain: A sequence of five cinquain stanzas functioning to construct one larger poem.

Garland Cinquain: A series of six cinquains in which the last is formed of lines from the preceding five, typically line one from stanza one, line two from stanza two, and so on.

Blank Verse: Blank Verse is Poetry that is written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is often unobtrusive and the iambic pentameter form often resembles the rhythms of ordinary speech. William Shakespeare wrote most of his plays in blank verse.

Free Verse: Free Verse is an irregular form of poetry in which the content-free of traditional rules of versification, (freedom from fixed meter or rhyme). In moving from line to line, the poet’s main consideration is where to insert line breaks. Some ways of doing this include breaking the line where there is a natural pause or at a point of suspense for the reader. Following the direction of Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, many modern day poets use this particular form of expression. The early 20th-century poets were the first to write what they called “free verse” which allowed them to break from
the formula and rigidity of traditional poetry.  EXAMPLE

Sonnet: English (or Shakespearean) sonnets are lyric poems that are 14 lines long falling into three coordinate quatrains and a concluding couplet. Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnets are divided into two quatrains and a six-line sestet.  EXAMPLE

Refrain: The word ‘Refrain’ derives from the Old French word refraindre meaning to repeat. Refrain Poetry Term is a phrase, line, or group of lines that is repeated throughout a poem, usually after each stanza. A famous example of a refrain are the words “Nothing More” and “Nevermore” which are repeated in “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Epic: An Epic is a long narrative poem celebrating the adventures and achievements of a hero. Epics deal with the traditions, mythical or historical, of a nation. Usually, the epic has a vast setting, and covers a wide geographic area, it contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess, and gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action. The poem begins with the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet and, the narrative starts in medias res. The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.  Examples: Beowulf, The Iliad and the Odyssey.

Saga: The word comes from the Old Norse term for a “saw” or a “saying.” Sagas are Scandinavian and Icelandic prose narratives about famous historical heroes, notable families, or the exploits of kings and warriors. Until the 12th century, most sagas were folklore, and they passed from person to person by oral transmission. Thereafter, scribes wrote them down.

Ode: An Ode is a poem praising and glorifying a person, place or thing.

Epitaph: An epitaph is a brief poem inscribed on a tombstone praising a deceased person, usually with rhyming lines.  A commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument written in praise, or reflecting the life, of a deceased person.

Monody: A monody is a poem in which one person laments another’s death. (similar to Dirge, Elegy)

Eclogue: A short poem or short section of a longer poem in the form of a dialogue or soliloquy–especially one with pastoral elements. The term was first applied to Virgil’s pastoral poems, but the term covers Renaissance imitators as well. Examples include Spenser’s The Shepheard’s Calendar. After the 1700s, the term increasingly came to mean any poem having the structural form of the earlier eclogues–even works that were not pastoral. Example: Swift’s A Town Eclogue.

Eulogy: An eulogy is a speech given at a funeral, often written in formal prose.

Elegy: An Elegy is a sad and thoughtful poem lamenting the death of a person. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace. The elegy, much like the classical epic, typically begins with an invocation of the muse, and then continues with allusions to classical mythology. It is written in first person. In classical Greco-Roman literature, “elegy” refers to any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating hexameter and pentameter lines). More broadly, elegy came to mean any poem dealing with the subject-matter common to the early Greco-Roman elegies–complaints about love, sustained formal lamentation, or somber meditations. This poem tends to be longer than a lyric but not as long as an epic.

Acrostic Poetry: Acrostic or Name Poetry is where the first letter of each line spells a word, usually using the same words as in the title.  EXAMPLE

Etheree: The poetry form Etheree, consists of 10 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 syllables.

Etheree can also be reversed & written 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Example of a Double Etheree 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Nonet: A nonet has nine lines. The first line has nine syllables, the second line eight syllables, the third line seven syllables, etc. until line nine that finishes with one syllable. It can be on any subject and rhyming is optional.  9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  EXAMPLE

Monorhyme: A Monorhyme is a poem in which all the lines have the same end rhyme.

Shape Poetry: Shape is one of the main things that separate prose and poetry. Poetry can take on many formats, but one of the most inventive forms is for the poem to take on the shape of its subject. Therefore, if the subject of your poem were of a flower, then the poem would be shaped like a flower. If it were of a fish, then the poem would take on the shape of a fish.  ><<<*>

Shape and Concrete Poetry go hand-in-hand; however, Concrete or Visual Poetry don’t have to take on the particular shape of the poem’s subject, but rather the wording in the poem can enhance the effect of the words such as in this line:

an angel tumbling





to earth.

Palinode: A poem, song, or section of a poem or song in which the poet renounces or retracts his words in an earlier work. Usually this is meant to apologize or counterbalance earlier material. The first recorded use of the palinode is a lyric written by the Greek author Stesichorus, in which he retracts his earlier statement claiming that the Trojan War was entirely Helen’s fault. Ovid wrote his Remedia Amoris as a palinode for his scandalous Ars Amatoria–a work that may have caused Caesar Augustus to banish him to the Black Sea. As a theme, the palinode is especially common in religious poetry and love poetry.

For another list of poems by type go here.

For a list of poetic terms go here.


11 thoughts on “Poetry Definitions

  1. Pingback: Acrostic Poem for Jesus « Failing at Haiku

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