9 Types Of Poems To Spark Your Creativity

On January 20, 2021, 22-year-old youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman inspired the country and made history when she read her poem "The Hill We Climb" at the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden. Gorman's free verse poem touched on themes of unity, hope, and progress; it encouraged Americans to continue working toward a "union with purpose." (If you don't know what "free verse" means, don't worry—we will cover that on the next slide.)

Gorman is the youngest known inaugural poet, and her moving reading of "The Hill We Climb" ignited a newfound interest in poetry, often considered an obscure form of writing. To many, poetry can seem daunting because it's so different from prose. But there is no wrong way to read a poem. If you find a poem that you connect with, even if you're not sure what it is "supposed to" mean, you're reading it right!

To help demystify poetry a bit, and in celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21), we are going to break down some of the different kinds or forms of poetry. Along the way, we are going to show you some classic examples of these poems and give you some guidance on how you can write poetry yourself—any day of the year.

 

Listening to Gorman's performance of her poem is just one way to garner curiosity in poetry. Learn some fantastic ways to get your child (and yourself) excited about poetry!

free verse

If you watched Amanda Gorman's performance, you may have noticed that it sounded very similar to typical speech patterns. That isn't so surprising for free verse poems, or "verse that does not follow a fixed metrical pattern." In other words, it doesn't have to follow any of the strict rules about syllables, rhyme, or cadence that we will see in other forms. But, that doesn't mean it doesn't use any of these elements. It just means that the writer can choose which of them they want to use. Basically, every free verse poem uses its own unique structure.

Free verse is a popular and common form of poetry. In addition to "The Hill We Climb," other famous free verse poems include "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot and "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath. Perhaps the most famous American free verse poem, though, is "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman (1892), which begins:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

As you can see from this excerpt, the lines here don't rhyme, and there isn't a pattern in the length of the lines or how many lines there are to a stanza (group of lines). Try reading it aloud (or listen to dulcet-toned Nate DiMeo read it to you here) and see how much it sounds like a conversation the narrator is having with himself.

slam poetry

Another poetry form that does not follow strict rules is slam poetry. Slam poetry is free-form poetry designed to be performed aloud. The name comes from poetry competitions known as "poetry slams." In this way, slam poetry is a kind of performance art. In fact, Amanda Gorman's recitation of "The Hill We Climb" had a lot of slam poetry elements, including hand gestures to punctuate and emphasize important moments in the text.

Slam poetry gets its inspiration from the beat poets and French-speaking Négritude poets who wanted their work to protest the conventional, European forms of poetry. Throughout its history, slam poetry has been associated with forms of activism and giving voice to those who have been historically marginalized.

Slam poetry is designed to be watched and listened to, not read. One classic example is "Falling in Like," by Big Poppa E. You can read a short excerpt of this poem about young love below, but we recommend you watch him perform it here instead.

you make me feel... goofy.

goofy like i blush when someone mentions your name.

goofy like i have a bzillion things i wanna tell you when you’re not around, but face-to-face i just stare at my toe making circles on the ground, like i’m all thumbs and no place to put them, like i just wanna write you a note that says:

do you like me? ? yes ? no ? maybe

You probably noticed that this poem doesn't use proper spelling, capitalization, or punctuation, and even has some unusual elements like checkboxes. That's the thing about slam poetry—you can be as creative as you want with it. If you're worried that you won't be able to follow the rules of the other forms (or simply don't want to), slam poetry is a great place to start writing. The only limit is your imagination!

Want to know more about slam poetry? Visit our article on getting a close look at the full experience of slam poetry.

ode

In a lot of ways, slam poetry is the modern incarnation of the ode. Originally, an ode was "a poem intended to be sung." Today, an ode is "a lyric poem typically of elaborate or irregular metrical form and expressive of exalted or enthusiastic emotion." A lyric poem is a poem that expresses personal feelings or emotion. (The name comes from the instrument the lyre, which was played to accompany these poems in their original form.)

Perhaps the most famous example of an ode is "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats (1819). In the poem, the narrator describes the images on an ancient Greek urn, which he uses as a way to express his feelings about art in general.

A more accessible ode might be "Ode on Solitude" by Alexander Pope (1700), in which the narrator talks about his desire to live the simple life, alone:

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

This ode happens to use a specific rhyming pattern and meter, but there are no requirements that your ode has to. In ancient Greek literature, odes were seven stanzas of five lines of 10 syllables. As you can see from our example from Pope here, that form is no longer a requirement. However, if you want to try writing your own ode, you might want to start with the ancient Greek format, because other ode structures can become quite complicated.

sonnet

We just talked about types of poetry that don't necessarily have any specific requirements when it comes to rhyme, meter, or anything else. So, let's pause for a moment and ask ourselves, "Why do some forms of poetry follow strict rules? Why not just write in whatever way we choose, like in free verse or slam poetry?"

Well, some poets actually find that the rules of certain forms of poetry inspire creativity. In a sense, having a structure gives you a place to start—staring at a blank page can be daunting for any writer! So ironically, having rules can give you more freedom to express yourself.

One classic form that has specific rules is the sonnet. A sonnet is a poem of 14 lines usually written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a line of 10 syllables, with every other syllable stressed. (An iamb is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, like "motion" or "I ate.")https://www.dictionary.com/e/united-states-diversity-slam-poetry/

The most famous sonnets are those written by Shakespeare, like the one that begins "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate."

One of our favorite sonnets is "Nuns Fret Not At Their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth. What is wonderful about this poem is that it explains how the strict rules of the sonnet give the narrator "solace" (comfort).

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

ballad

Another classic form of poetry is the ballad. Similar to the ode, ballads were originally designed to be sung. A ballad is "a simple narrative poem of folk origin, composed in short stanzas and adapted for singing." Usually, ballads tell a story or recount a series of events. They are often considered one of the easiest kinds of "formal" poetry to write.

A classic ballad is typically written in four-line stanzas (a quatrain) that follow some kind of rhyming pattern, although the specific pattern can depend on the poem. Generally, though, ballads use the rhyme scheme ABCB, meaning the second and final lines of each stanza rhyme, and the first and third lines of the stanza do not rhyme. Ballads also generally use iambic tetrameter, meaning a line of eight syllables, alternating with iambic trimeter, a line of six syllables.

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge (1834) is one of the best-known ballads. It doesn't follow the classic ballad form exactly, but you can get a sense of what ballads are all about from this excerpt:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May'st hear the merry din.'

As you might have noticed, the lines alternate between eight syllables and six syllables, so it is a little different from a classic ballad. But you could certainly imagine these lines being put to music, right?

 

An enthralling speech can be pure poetry as well, especially if it uses poetic devices. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is a prime example—find out why!

villanelle

Villanelle isn't just the name of the elusive hitwoman in the TV crime drama Killing Eve. It's also a poetic form. A villanelle is a fancy ballad that follows these rules:

 

  • Five stanzas of three lines each, followed by a single stanza of four lines.
  • The stanzas of three lines each use an ABA rhyme (the first and last line rhyme).
  • The final stanza uses an ABAA rhyme.
  • The first line of the poem is repeated at the end of the second and fourth stanzas.
  • The third line of the poem is repeated at the end of the third and fifth stanzas.

Likely the most famous villanelle of all time is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas (1951). You can get a sense of the rhyme scheme and the repeated lines from this excerpt here:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

As you can see from this example, the first line, "Do not go gentle into that good night," is repeated at the end of the second stanza.

Villanelles are a little more challenging to write than a typical ballad. If the rhyme schemes and repetition seem like altogether too many rules for you, you may be more interested in…

haiku

The haiku form comes from Japanese poetic traditions. It's closely associated with the 17th-century poet Matsuo Bash?. These short poems have a simple structure: the first and last line have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. Traditionally, these poems were "often on the subject of nature or one of the seasons," but you can write a haiku about anything!

The most famous Bash? haiku is:

an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water

Lovely, right? As you might have noticed, these lines don't have any kind of rhyme scheme; there is just a simple syllable pattern. (The 5-7-5 pattern is there in the original Japanese.)

If you're a total novice to writing poetry, haiku is a great place to start. Another relatively simple form of poetry to write is...

limerick

Limericks are funny, often raunchy, poems that follow the following form:

  • Five lines that follow the AABBA rhyming pattern (the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, and the third and fourth lines rhyme).
  • The third and fourth lines are typically shorter than the other lines.
  • On the third and fourth lines, the rhythm is two short syllables followed by a long one (anapest).
  • On the other lines, the rhythm is short syllable, long syllable, short syllable (amphibrach).

All those notes about rhythm might seem daunting, but don't worry about them too much. The most important thing is to stick to the AABBA rhyming pattern. Additionally, limericks often begin:

There was a [something] from [somewhere]...

One classic limerick that spawned countless (sometimes dirty) imitations was written by Dayton Voorhees (1902):

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.

If you're really feeling stuck with your limerick, you can take inspiration from this one—like many poets before you—and start with the same first line.

blackout poetry

If you're not interested in, or feel daunted by, the practice of writing poetry, you might find the contemporary and innovative form of blackout poetry (also known as found poetry) more appealing. It's one of the most accessible forms of poetry out there.

All you need to start is a piece of paper with writing on it—a newspaper, a recipe, a page from a book—and a black marker. Then, as the creator of blackout poetry, Austin Kleon, puts it, "cross out words, leaving behind the ones you like."

The result is a poem consisting of words that stand out on the page in contrast to the black of the marker. It's striking, both poetically and visually. Blackout poetry is especially appealing because people of all ages can easily try their hand at it, like in this example:

As we've seen, poetry can take many forms—it's just a matter of what you're looking for. Whether you feel inspired to write poetry yourself, or merely take the time to read a few poems every now again, don't worry about getting it "right." Just try to stay curious, be gentle with yourself, and remain open to multiple meanings. After all, as American poet Mary Oliver once wrote, "a poem on the page speaks to the listening mind."