Poet’s Bookshelf: Forms and Poetry

Making of a PoemI am a lover of poetic forms. Language is music and magic and poetry. Fitting language and meaning together into a set form is like working a puzzle, creating a work of art from scattered thoughts. This is not to say that free verse has no place in poetry – it is very much in favor in most academic circles at the moment – and with good reason. But poetry written in form, using meter or rhyme or end-words or slant rhyme – using whatever poetic devices there may be available – is a poetic discipline well worth pursuing, despite the beliefs of many that clinging to a form results in stilted, awkward poetry.

Part of this belief, I think, is in the fact that so much of the “formed” poetry that we read is in the form of rhyming couplets or abab four-line stanzas – which is a true shame when there is such a wide variety of poetic forms from which to draw. Most people – even those who don”t write, or even read, poetry often can name a few – sonnet, haiku, limerick, ballad. As popular as those four are, they barely scratch the surface of the myriad forms that poetry has taken over the ages – villanelle, sestina, pantoum, ghazal, tercet, cinquain, tanka – even the names have a poetic sound to them.

If you have never considered writing in form, have never studied poetic forms, then I would highly recommend adding a few interesting books on the forms of poetry to your bookshelf. My own personal favorites include:

The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (Lewis Turco)

Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (Paul Fusell)

Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms (Babette Deutsch)

Rhyme”s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (John Hollander)

Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Form (Dacey & Jauss)

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (Mark Strand)

No one of these is, in and of itself, a complete guide to all the myriad forms of poetry – but any one is an excellent introduction to the notion of writing in meter and rhyme, and taken together, they will give any poet a comprehensive grounding in the art. And honestly? Flipping through to a random form and fitting a poem to it is just plain fun!


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