Friday, February 9, 2018

The Basic Forms of Poetry

Click here to begin: Where Do Poems Come From?

Walk by any playground and you will be instantly struck by how much children love rhythm and rhyme.

Listen to their games of jump rope, hopscotch, one-potato-two-potato, and Red Rover and you will hear a lyrical litany of joyful patterns of poetic rhythm and rhyme.

Those sounds are a natural part of a child’s world and of their early celebrations of life.

It is no wonder then, why children prefer poetry that contains those musical elements. From nursery rhymes to the longer ballads, patterns of rhythm, meter and rhyme are essential ingredients in poetry for kids ...and adults.

One of the most basic patterns of poetry is the couplet.
Couplets contain two lines that rhyme.
Here are five couplets from five different poems from

from Little Daddy Longlegs
Little Daddy Longlegs played in the sun,
Climbing up the front steps just for fun.

from Turtle Trouble
Tell me if you think you know
How to make a turtle go.

from Tomorrow's My Birthday
Tomorrow's my birthday and I'll be four
And I won't have to stay home anymore.

from Nature's Shows
Nature puts on little shows
Every time it rains or snows.

from It's Snow Wonder
It's snow wonder that we cheer
Snowflakes when they fall each year.

Here is a poem that has four couplets from
(Running Press/Scholastic).

Pumpkins On Guard
Look at all the pumpkin faces
Lighting up so many places.

On the porch and in the yard,
Pumpkin faces standing guard.

Looking friendly, looking mean,
With a smile or with a scream.

Orange faces burning bright
In the cool October night.

Tercets are another popular pattern. Tercets have three lines.
Here is a poem with two tercets from Halloween Night.

Witch Way
With warts on her nose
And sharp pointy toes,
She flies through the night on her broom.

With covers pulled tight
In the shadows of night,
I hide in the dark of my room.

The ballad stanza is also a popular form of poetry for children.
A ballad stanza is a group of four-lines.
That group of four lines is called a quatrain.
Lines two and four rhyme.
Here are three poems that contain ballad stanzas.
This poem from Tickle Day has three ballad stanzas.

The Bee Poem
A poem is a busy bee
Buzzing in your head.
His hive is full of hidden thoughts
Waiting to be said.

His honey comes from your ideas
That he makes into rhyme.
He flies around looking for
What goes on in your mind.

When it's time to let him out
To make some poetry,
He gathers up your secret thoughts
And then he sets them free.

This poem from Tickle Day has two ballad stanzas.

A Poem Is A Little Path
A poem is a little path
That leads you through the trees.
It takes you to the cliffs and shores,
To anywhere you please.

Follow it and trust your way
With mind and heart as one,
And when the journey's over,
You'll find you've just begun.

This poem from Halloween Night has two ballad stanzas.

Happy Halloween!
I'd rather be foolish than ghoulish,
I'd rather dress up as a clown;
I'd rather wear clothes with polka dot bows,
I'd much rather smile than frown.

I'd rather be kooky than spooky,
I'd rather be friendly than mean;
I'd rather go greeting than tricking and treating,
I'd rather have fun Halloween!

The If-You-Were Poem
I created the If-You-Were poem many years ago
to help introduce children to the magic of metaphor.
The If-You-Were poem is simple and fun.
It invites you to compare yourself to some thing
and to compare your friend to some thing else.
Here are three If-You-Were poems from
IF YOU WERE MY VALENTINE (Simon & Schuster).

If you were a shining star
And I were your midnight,
I'd let you shine above me,
You'd be my only light.

If you were a grand piano
And I were a sweet love song,
I’d let your keys tickle and tease
My melody all day long.

If you were the pages of a book
And I were reading you,
I'd read as slow as I could go
So I never would get through.

Riddle Rhymes
Kids love riddles and riddles love kids!
Riddle rhymes are poems that have a riddle.
The answer to the riddle is at the end of the poem.
These riddle poems are created by using the ballad stanza.
Here are three of riddle rhymes from
RIDDLE RHYMES (Disney/Hyperion).

High Flyer
I fly above the tallest trees.
I'm not a bird or plane.
I have no wings or feathered things.
I do not like the rain.

I play among the passing clouds.
I like to rise and sail.
I am a friend who loves the wind.
I'm big and have a tail.

I like the gusty month of March.
I soar way out of sight.
My shape is like a diamond.
I am a brand-new kite.

The Everlasting Light
I shine forever free.
I do not cost a cent.
I need no bulb or battery.
My light is permanent.

You'll find me way up in the sky,
When each new day's begun,
But do not look me in the eye --
I am the shining sun.

Your Highness
I am a free and open field
That's never out of bounds,
Where kites and planes and boomerangs
Can do their ups and downs.

I am the biggest yard of all,
Where birds begin their play
Of hide-n-seek among the clouds
At each new break of day.

I am the place called outer space,
Where nothing is too high.
I am the home of all the stars --
I am the endless sky.

Haiku contains three lines of five, seven, five syllables.
The haiku is often about nature, time and the seasons.

Shadows bow to the
setting sun, pray to the sky
for blessings of light.

Artist Autumn comes,
paints her blush across each tree,
drops palette, and leaves.

The clerihew is a clever, rhymed four-line poem about a famous person.
These three examples are from LIGHT: A QUARTERLY OF LIGHT VERSE

The water lilies of Monet
Drift upon a canvas bay.
A master of his profession,
He made a good Impression.

Thomas Alva Edison
Invented the bulb with discipline.
Without the Wizard of Menlo Park
We’d all be living in the dark.

Albert Einstein
Had a relatively brilliant mind.
If you doubt or even dared to
He could simply mc² you.

The cinquain is a simple five-line poem.
The first line is the subject (noun).
The second line contains two adjectives.
The third line contains three verbs.
The fourth line is a short phrase about the subject.
The last line renames the subject with a synonym.

Fun, Exciting
Reading, Writing, Playing
A society of seekers

Short, clever
Thinking, dreaming, rhyming
A package of well-placed words

The limerick is a humorous, five-line poem.
The rhyme scheme is aabba.

We should never take gravity for granted.
Without it we'd float off the planet.
Nothing would fall.
We couldn't play ball.
It's so cool I wish we could can it!

The diamonte is a seven-line poem that is shaped like a diamond.
It is similar to the cinquain.

Green, hairy
Crawling, eating, hiding
She crafts a cool cocoon
Emerging, stretching, flying
Delicate, ethereal

This diamonte begins with one subject and ends with its opposite!

Thick, heavy
Opening, reading, closing
Backpack full, backpack empty
Logging on, reading, logging off
Thin, light

The acrostic is an unrhymed poem
with the first letter of each line
spelling out the name of someone.

Friend to students
He performs
Exciting poems and

School visits

Pun Poem
The pun poem is an unrhymed poem of any number of lines.
It uses clever word play in the from of unexpected homonyms
like this silly Valentine that uses animals in the place of other
lovey dovey words. Here is an example from

Wild Romance
I love EWE.
I'm not LION.
I really GOPHER you.
I never GNU this would happen.
You are so DEER to me.
It's more than I can BEAR.
Let us SEAL our love with a kiss.
I will always BEE yours.
I will never have any EGRETS.
You are my one and only GULL.
OWL always love you.

Sonnets contain fourteen lines of iambic pentameter.
Each line is ten syllables long with every other syllable accented.
The two major kinds of sonnets each have a different rhyme scheme.
English Sonnet (Shakespearean) is abab cdce efef gg
Italian Sonnet (Petrarchan) is abba abba cde cde

Blank Verse
Blank verse poems are also written in iambic pentameter,
but they are unrhymed poems.
Here is an example of a blank verse sonnet from

(The University of West Alabama, Livingston Press.)

Hunting the Cotaco Creek
His hand in hold so trigger tight its blood
believes in ghosts. It clings with finger set
on steel and waits inside a dream of ducks.
The twilight burns into a rising arc
of eastern sky as sun reveals herself
too proud and instantly receives full-face
a splash of mallard flock. A shotgun blasts
the yellow into streaming pinks and gives
the creek its new-day taste of echoed blood.
Two green head ghosts fly through the pulse of dawn
upon a trigger’s touch. The creek empties
of sound. In silence human fingers find
wet feet of web and carry in each hand
a bird whose only cry comes in color.

The Villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines
consisting of five tercets and a concluding quatrain.
The rhyme scheme of the tercets is aba.
Line one is repeated as lines six, twelve and eighteen.
Line three is repeated as lines nine, fifteen and nineteen.
Here are two examples of the Villanelle.
The first is a poem about Van Gogh from
Speaking in Tongues: New and Selected Poems 1974-1994.
The other is an unpublished love poem for my wife.

A Villanelle for Van Gogh
You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye
And like a child lost in evening prayer,
You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

You spun nocturnal truths out of the sky
In waves of rolling flame upon the air.
You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.

Your steeple still transcends the hills that try
To touch the golden dreams that held you there.
You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

You searched the other side where shadows lie
In swirling pools of night upon your stare.
You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.

But Theo and Gachet could only try
To pull you from the depths of your own glare.
You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

Your final stroke fell on a canvas sky
Where dreams once prayed upon the evening air.
You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.
You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

Angel Hands
A villanelle for Debra

You make our morning bed with love each day.
A simple task, you ask for nothing more.
You are the only prayer I ever pray.

Your angel hands prepare a soft bouquet
Of pillows wrapped in handmade lace decor.
You make our morning bed with love each day.

This moment captures more than I can say
About all that I cherish and adore.
You are the only prayer I ever pray.

Out of a dream your gentle hands obey
A sunbeam spread across your daily chore.
You make our morning bed with love each day.

How could I ever turn and walk away?
My heart belongs to you forevermore.
You are the only prayer I ever pray.

Like lacy pillows side by side we stay
As evening shadows dance across the floor.
You make our morning bed with love each day.
You are the only prayer I ever pray.

Free Verse
Free Verse poems contain no set pattern of rhythm, meter or rhyme.
The poet designs the layout of the poem with as many (Whitman)
or as few (e.e. cummings) words per line as the poet desires.
Here are two examples from
Speaking in Tongues: New and Selected Poems 1974-1994

“The Alabama Wiregrassers” first appeared in
Harper’s Magazine, Sept., 1974.
The Alabama Wiregrassers
Dry-rooted in penny coated clay,
the wiregrassers come
suntan tamed in drawl
through the mire faster.
Machetes high-aimed for home,
they carry the clues of day
across their open, flying clothes.
Blade for blade,
steel for grass,
they flog the wire
with a hungry denim run.
Black shin hair stares
boar-bristled red out
from rips of hinged-tight jeans.
Tobacco spittin’ voices
seep coarse through gapped teeth
like hot wax from upside-down brown candles.
An evening shadow sinks itself
in the open field,
closing it for night.
The copper cold dust
from spun home trucks
relaxes into dew
and paints itself across the wiregrass
that sleeps in rust
beneath a hush of moon.

We were different when we returned to earth.
Too alone in our fall to forget,
we lost all trust in the touch of gentle hands.
The dropped baby in us grew.

We listened too long to a thinner wind,
climbed too close to a hollow sun,
stood one by one in the cockpit’s open door,
left our mothered souls in the fading steel
of a Cessna’s shaking belly,
stepped into a handless world,
stretched the corners of our eyes until they spit,
watched an anvil earth fly up at us,
took our own umbilical cord in hand and ripped,
and fell like frightened spiders
who spin out frantic silk that clings to only air.

Our jarred bodies lay on a sudden fist of clay,
unwound themselves from web and line
and carried the dead fish in our feet
away to dreams of distant seas.

Prose Poem
The prose poem is a poetic narrative similar to a very short story.
These two examples are about a fictional character named Howard
and are part of an unpublished episodic novella of prose poems titled
HOWARD BE THY NAME. Both of these examples are from
Speaking in Tongues: New and Selected Poems 1974-1994

Art Lesson
Summer vacation was over and soon
our third grade paintings hung in a parade
above Mrs. Barron’s blackboard,
each one with its house, its car,
its regulation tree that no one climbed.
By Christmas vacation our painted parade
had grown into a giant rainbow snake
whose art board body wrapped around
the upper edges of our room.
It was that paper snake,
those quickly chosen paints
that shaped our need for color,
that showed us how we felt
and why our sky was never simply blue.
Once during Friday’s time for art
when we all had dipped our brushes
into our separate jars,
it was Howard’s hand
that mixed two colors into one,
that learned to paint
with every shade and hue,
the pastel pinks of dawn,
the brighter skies of blue.
We needed him to show us how,
needed to sample with our brushes
his new colors that would not fit our jars,
needed him to fill our room
with all his painted people
who were already bright and climbing
beyond the subtle shade
of all our blackboard trees,
beyond the hand of color
to paint the summer breeze.

When Howard Became Jesus
No one in the huddle laughed
when Howard said he was Jesus,
that if we did not believe him
we were all sinners doomed to hell.
The next play was a hand-off to Howard.
Everyone, even our team, piled on,
grabbing for Howard, for the ball,
for the chance to cling to something solid.
When our boyhood heap had finally become still,
a pointed shadow drew our eyes way down the field
and there against the goal post leaned Howard,
the warm ball in his arms like a baby,
his eyes round and deep like the barrels of a gun.
Walking home, everyone was silent but Howard.
He said he had wanted to tell us about it before,
but was not sure we were ready to listen,
not sure we were ready to believe.
He said for the last year and a half
as he lay each night on his back,
his arms stretched out in a cross,
his feet so neatly together,
he was sure he had been chosen to lead us
in the path of righteousness for his namesake.
He said it was not luck that he had aced every test,
that the bookcase and birdhouse he built in shop class
won ribbons at the county fair.
He said that was just his way of being Jesus,
that we must learn to trust his perfect ways
and regard his saintly airs with adulation.
But we walked on in silence, each new step
so tight and full of fear we could not breathe,
could not break away and run on home alone.
At his house we stopped and watched him enter,
his eyes releasing us at last behind the door.
That night beside our beds we fell to prayer
and prayed that all that afternoon was just a dream,
that we would wake up in the morning and find Howard
in the huddle telling lies just like before.

©Charles Ghigna