A Master of all Forms

If I know one thing for certain it is this: not one person has ever woken up one morning, said they wanted to be a writer without ever having studied or practiced writing, and cranked out the best story ever (sorry Tom Hanks) or a decent poem.

Sorry again Tom Hanks.

No, my friends, writing takes practice. One way I suggest you practice is by writing poetry, whether or not you are a poet. Poetry gives a writer great practice in conciseness, simile and metaphor, rhythm, structure, and diction choices, just to name a few. Great writers of the past like William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Andrew Marvell wrote multiple forms of poetry as a way of mastering their craft. Why not do the same?

Here are two poetic forms to get you started on your journey to master different poetic forms.

The Haiku

Yes, I know, Shakespeare and the rest didn’t write any haikus (at least, not that I know of), but it is a poetic form we have today that is often used. The common features of a haiku are three lines with 5/7/5 syllabus in each line and do not rhyme. In classic or Japanese style haikus, the haiku should in one line make reference to nature or something natural. Modern or American haikus tend to very from that style and even play with the 5/7/5 syllable count with the notion that as long as there are 17 syllables at the end of the poem, it’s still a haiku.

Haikus are great for writers who want to be concise. It also makes one very aware of syllable counts which is not just helpful in haikus but in other forms of poetry as well. Think of this as a great starter form. I play with haikus all the time. Here’s an example of a few I wrote last month to my coworker, friend, and blogmate Laurene (note, these are American style for they do not have references to nature within their lines):

“I think I don’t like,”
She starts to say, “these carrots”
She eats the whole bag.

“This burrito is,
Like so big! I can’t believe
How much I’ve eaten.”

Ms. Lauren and I
Eat lunch together a lot
If you can’t yet tell.

Overrated rest
Cannot compete with the power
Of dirty chai tea.

The Villanelle

The villanelle is 19th century Italian in origin but two English-speaking 20th century poets, Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop. While the villanelle has no set meter (though many poets doing this form use pentameter), it’s structure is very specific. This poem has 6 stanzas with the first 5 stanzas having 3 lines and the last stanza having 4 lines. The first and last line of the first stanza alternate repeating throughout stanzas 2 through 5, and in stanza 6 both lines are repeated again. It’s easier to show with one of my poems than it is to describe, in this case:

Women at War

Apathy is no more; it’s time to fight, (refrain 1 A1)
The rights women have should not go awry, (B)
Rage, rage against the taking of our rights. (refrain 2 A2)

Foremothers fought from first dawn until night, (A)
Because no one would listen to their cry – (B)
Apathy is no more; it’s time to fight. (refrain 1 A1)

Grandmothers carried a beckon of light, (A)
The females before them died to stand by, (B)
Rage, rage against the taking of our rights. (refrain 2 A2)

Mothers sung songs of sovereignty in sight, (A)
Mute hearts listened and songs started to die, (B)
Apathy is no more; it’s time to fight. (refrain 1 A1)

Women across time have tried to unite, (A)
But their arms reached out to find no reply, (B)
Rage, rage against the taking of our rights. (refrain 2 A2)

And you, my sisters, watching our plight, (A)
Freedom and death are things we cannot deny, (B)
Apathy is no more; it’s time to fight, (refrain 1 A1)
Rage, rage against the taking of our rights. (refrain 2 A2)

This form is a great way of practicing rhyme, for it only has 2 rhymes throughout the whole piece. It’s also a great way of practice pentameter and using repetition to strengthen meaning without sounding like a broken record.

Once you’ve mastered the haiku and the villanelle, you can start to research and write the various different forms of poetry out there, including the oh-so-infamous Sonnet.

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