Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Poetic Forms, Part II

Hello Writers!

As promised, I'm dedicating this post to discussing three more poetic forms you might find fun to try. These are the Limerick, the Ghazal, and the Pantoun. Once again, I'm using Robert McDowell's book, Poetry as Spiritual Practice as a reference.

The Limerick -

The Limerick is a poetic form that is known to have originated sometime after Chaucer's fourteenth century, but little else is known about the origins of the Limerick. It is a very popular form today, used in lighthearted, humorous poems. I shall paraphrase McDowell here, because he explains more succinctly than I am able to: the Limerick employs a five-line stanza and a specific rhyme scheme:  AABBA. Lines 1, 2, and 5 consist of an iambic foot (one unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable) and then two anapestic feet (two unstressed syllables, followed by a stressed syllable).. Lines 3 and 4 contain either two anapests or an iamb followed by an anapest.

My name is John Wellington Wells
I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
In blessings and curses
And ever-filled purses
In prophecies, witches, and knells.

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter named Nan
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

The Ghazal -

The Ghazal is characterized by it's simplicity, hearkening back to the Haiku. It often references the "beloved," and is a poetic form that is often used to write about spiritual matters, but it can also draw attention to an emphasis on the interrelation of worldly and spiritual levels. This form most often consists of five to fifteen couplets (but never less or more). No enjambment should occur between these couplets; in other words, each should be able to stand alone. Traditionally, most often ghazals are written entirely in one meter. More contemporary, American poets do not always follow this tradition. The poem always starts out with a rhyming couplet and then a refrain. The rhyme is always repeated at the end of the second line of each couplet that follows. Here's how it should look:  AA BA CA DA EA FA GA, and so forth. Another traditional mark of  the ghazal is that the author of poem signs his or her name within the poem, usually near the end.

Pale Hands I Loved Beside the Shalimar

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
Before you agonize him in farewell tonight

Pale hands that once loved me beside Shalimar
Whom else from rapture's road will you expel tonight?

Those "Fabrics of Cashmere--" "to make Me beautiful--"
"Trinket"--to gem--"Me to adorn--How--tell"--tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates--
A refugee from pity seeks a cell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don't let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee--
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishael tonight.
                                                          ~Agha Shahid Ali

The Pantoun -

The pantoun is comprised of several quatrains that are intertwined by repetition. Lines two and four are repeated in the first and third lines of the next stanza. This pattern stays the same until the last stanza, where the second and fourth lines repeat the first and third of the very first stanza. Here is what this should look like:

Line 1  A
Line 2  B
Line 3  C
Line 4  D

Line 5  B
Line 6  E
Line 7  D
Line 8  F

Line 9    E
Line 10  G
Line 11  F
Line 12  H

Line 13  G
Line 14  I
Line 15  H
Line 16  J

Baby's Pantoun

I lie in my crib midday this is
unusual I don't sleep really
Mamma's sweeping or else boiling water for tea
Other sounds are creak of chair & floor, water

dripping on heater from laundry, cat licking itself
Unusual I don't sleep really
unless it's dark night everyone in bed
Other sounds creak of chair & floor, water

dripping on heater from laundry, cat licking itself
& occasional peck on typewriter, peck on my cheek
Unless it's dark night everyone in bed
I'm wide awake hungry wet lonely thinking

occasional peck on typewriter, peck on my cheek
My brain cells grow, I get bigger
I'm wide awake wet lonely hungry thinking
Then Mamma pulls out breast, says "Milky?"

...(last stanza)

Not that long ago I was inside her
I lie in my crib midday this is
always changing, I am expanding toward you
Mamma's sweeping or else boiling water for tea.
                                                    ~Anne Waldman

We've now looked at six different poetic forms, the Haiku, Sonnet, Sestina, Limerick, Ghazal, and Pantoun. There are others we have not explored, such as the Epigram, Villanelle, and the Prose poem, also well worth experimenting with, as poets. The forms that have stood out most to me are the Sestina and the Pantoun, and I am currently trying to wrap my head and my pen around them. It's a satisfying endeavor, and I find that it infuses some new life into my poetry, simply because these forms are unfamiliar to me. Playing with new conventions can stretch creative muscles, for sure!


  1. Reading this was like attending English class. Only I never liked English class and this is brilliant!

  2. Oh my goodness, Thank you so much! That makes me VERY happy! Making writing fun and exciting is one of the goals I have for this site. Writing is so much more than grammar and conventions, it's true. But sometimes the conventions can be tools for transforming the thoughts and expressions of the poet, and that's a beautiful thing! Own the conventional techniques for yourself and make them work toward your own creative goals when writing!



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