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Poetry is a wonderful way to communicate thought and feeling. With its structure, rhyme, and meter, you create a kind of music that emphasizes your message. You motivate readers to laugh or to cry. Whatever you do, your lines must stir emotion. The challenge of writing poetry with rhyme and meter has been likened to crafting a crossword puzzle using only words that flow from the heart.

For a four-stanza limerick by Frank Ball, Click Here.

  • The Beat of Little Feet

Readers tap their mental feet in rhythm in response to a pattern of light and hard stresses. The beat is set in measures, called feet. Adjacent syllables of the same stress must be separated by a space or hyphen. An iambic pentameter has a light stress followed by a heavy one, like this:
| I thought | you said | you marched | your feet | in time |.

  • The Beat Goes On.

Combinations of light and hard stresses define the type of meter.

  1. Iamb (ī-am) is one light followed by one hard stress as in: | to day |.
  2. Trochee (trō-kē) reverses the iamb sequence, hard followed by light: | dai ly |.
  3. Anapest (an’-a-pest) uses two light stresses and a hard, forming a tripping sound that quickens the pace: | on my way |.
  4. Dactyl (dak’-til) in repetitive use, creates a somewhat grotesque, incantation effect. It reverses the anapest sequence, a hard followed by two light stresses: | march ing in | cess ant ly | rap id ly | pressing on |.
  5. Pyrrhic (pir’-ik), with two light stresses, often appears at the end of a line: | I hear | my dear | an ech | o ing |.
  6. Spondee (spon’-dē) are two hard sounds that often follow a pyrrhic: | She shed | a tear | for a | lov er |.
  7. Amphimacer (am-fim’-e-ser) contains hard/light/hard stress: | cap i tal |.
  8. Amphibrach (am’-fe-brak) is the reverse of amphimacer, light/hard/light: | re place ment |.
  • Counting the Steps

Every sound group, such as iamb, anapest, or dactyl, counts as a foot. In music, we would count the measures. Line types are defined by the number of feet, beginning at two: dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, heptameter, octometer.

  • Free Verse

Some have said free verse is writing without pay, which may be true in many cases. Actually, the term refers to non-rhyming poetry with irregular cadence. Structured free verse is written to a preconceived format. For a story written by Frank Ball, Click Here.

  • The Sonnet

In England, Shakespeare helped promote the sonnet, a fixed verse form of Italian origin, consisting of fourteen lines that are typically five-foot iambics rhyming according to a prescribed scheme. The common rhyming patterns are Shakespearean abab cdcd efef gg, Italian abbaabbacdecde, and Spenserian abab bcbc cdcd ee.

  • The Villanelle

Next to the sonnet, the most common poem format, using two rhymes in five three-line and one four-line stanza, ending with two repeating lines. For example: A1 b A2 a b A1 a b A2 a b A1 a b A2 a b A1 A2 where the capitals indicate a repeated word and the letter values, a rhyme. A four or five-foot line works best, because shorter lengths call too much attention to the pattern.

  • The Sestina

Generally regarded as the most difficult form, made popular by French poets called troubadours. It uses only six ending words in six six-line stanzas, with three more lines at the end. Adding to the difficulty, in that three-line conclusion you must use the three unused words of the six somewhere else within the line. Here’s how the pattern looks, if we designate A-F as the ending words of the first stanza: ABCDEF FAEBDC CFDABE ECBFAD DEACFB BDFECA concluded with ECA or ACE with BDF within the line. To be pleasant reading, the topic must be inherently repetitious.

  • The Pantoum

Composed of any number of four-verse stanzas in a repeating form 1234 2546 5768 … with the beginning lines one and three repeated in the concluding stanza’s lines four and two. Meter or rhyme are not required.

  • The Ballade

Three eight-line stanzas rhyming ababbcbC with a four-line conclusion bcbC where lines C repeat and rhymes with the ending word in line c.

  • The Triolet

Four two-line stanzas rhyming AB aA ab AB where capitals indicate repeating lines and the same letters rhyme.

  • Rondeau

A three-stanza, thirteen-line poem with a wrap-around rhyme in the form aabba aabR aabR where the beginning word or phrase is repeated at the end of the last two stanzas.

  • The Limerick

A five-line humorous poem in the form aabba where the first, second and fifth lines have three stresses, and the third and fourth have two.