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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What happened to Poetry Renewal?
  2. Do you accept poems to publish?
  3. What if I have a form, tip, or other knowledge that I don't see listed?
  4. Why does this site have two names?
  5. How does somebody create a new poetic form?
  6. Sometimes you use capital letters in your form definitions mixed in with the lowercase letters. Why?
  7. What elements do define form structures?
  8. When you sit down in front of a blank page/screen and decide to write a villanelle, as an example, how do you approach it. I would assume, the theme comes first. Then what? Do you write down the rhyme scheme, find the first line and go from there?
  9. How does form influence creation?

Q. What happened to Poetry Renewal?

A. The Senior Editor/Publisher got tired of receiving free verse poems from people who couldn't be bothered to read the submissions guidelines, FAQ, or mission statement.

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Q. Do you accept poems to publish?

A. Not on this site.

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Q. What if I have a form, tip, or other knowledge that I don't see listed?

A. Please send your information to thegnosticpoet@poetrybase.info. If it is used, you can be credited for the submission, if you wish.

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Q. Why does this site have two names?

A. Because the publisher loves words, but also knows the value of communication. His preferred name for the site is Poetry Gnosis, with all of the ties to mystery schools, secret knowledge, discipline, and initiation rituals that this name suggests. However, he knows that most folks won't look for the word "gnosis" when seeking knowledge of poetry. So, he has also used and gotten the URL for a more modern and computerrific term, PoetryBase.

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Q. How does somebody create a new poetic form?

A. As poets, sometimes we conform to someone else’s standard, as when we write a sonnet. Other times we invent a new structure for a given situation and poem. If we codify the rules of the new form, find a name for it, reuse it, and share the form definition with other formalists who use it, it becomes a new form. If we only use the form once, don’t write down the rules, or if no other poets get excited by it, the form is just a nonce form, meaning used once.

In my own work, I’ve found at least three ways to create new poetry forms.

  1. Make something up for a specific poetic occasion. Form follows function, and sometimes I find I've created a form that is reusable when writing a specific poem.
  2. Variate on a theme. As an example, I have no rhythm, so have great difficulty with accentual-syllabic forms, such as the sonnet. Given this, I created my own form of sonnet, the sonondilla, that is purely syllabic by definition. Of course, I didn't have to do that given that the French also produce purely syllabic Petrarchan sonnets, but it seemed a great idea at the time. This brings up another point.
  3. Play to your handicaps and strengths. If there is something about a form that you can't do or don't like, consider changing the form rules for your own use. In developing the sonondilla, I actually used two existing forms. First was the Petrarchan sonnet; second was the redondilla, a purely syllabic Spanish quatrain with envelope rhyme scheme (abba). Based on this mixing, I came up with a fourteen line form that was syllabic, but was also tougher to rhyme than other sonnets. I'm much better at rhyming than a lot of people. (That isn't to say that I don't put out some real klinkers in my light verse.) So, the sonondilla's predominant rhyme scheme is abbaabbaccddcc, which is even more difficult than the Petrarchan sonnet.
  4. Analyze present forms for gaps. While writing a book on poetic forms that is still in progress, I came across an interesting fact about the ballade family. There is the ballade and the ballade supreme, a slightly longer variation. There are also a double ballade and double ballade supreme. Lastly, there is a double refrain ballade, but no double refrain ballade supreme. Well, being a poet with an engineer's soul, or vice versa, I thought it best to fill the gap. Now I have a definition for the double refrain ballade supreme: a 35 line isosyllabic form divided into three ten line verses and a five-line envoy. Each line is usually eight or ten syllables long. It has two refrains. The rhyming and repeating structure are thus: ababbCcdcD ababbCcdcD ababbCcdcD cCdcD.
Knowing what elements define the different existing structures helps to understand how to create new ones.

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Q. Sometimes you use capital letters in your form definitions mixed in with the lowercase letters. Why?

A. Uppercase is usually used for a refrain. That means that it isn't just rhymed, it's the exact same line. The lowercase is just a rhyme. So, a villanelle is A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2. There are two refrains: A1 and A2. Those lines repeat, as you can see in this villanelle:

Rage, Rage against the Dying Light

The torch has burned for all to see, <== A1
but now it gutters weakly lit, <== b
and all things die when they come free. <== A2

Sputtering, guttering feebly, <== a
fires of freedom spark and spit. <== b
The torch still burns for all to see. <== A1

Now they come to ride the trolley; <== a
they do not pay, but benefit. <== b
Watch all things die when they come free. <== A2

When no one pays, all pay dearly. <== a
This little truth they do omit. <== b
The torch burns down for all to see. <== A1

Free rides burthen us heavily, <== a
but short they’ll be I do submit, <== b
because things die when they come free. <== A2

All want what they can grab for free, <== a
but life is built on sweat and wit. <== b
The torch burns dark as all can see, <== A1
for all things die when they come free. <== A2

Copyright © 31 Mar 2004 by AKA Wordsmith. All rights reserved.

This also demonstrates some slight variations in the refrains.

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Q. What elements do define form structures?

A. There are several components that can define a form, among them: metrics, verse structure, rhyme scheme, repetition, and other odd requirements that can even encompass mood.

Metrics

Metrics constrain the way that the words are structured within the line. There are four major metric groups:

  1. Accentual - Anglo-Saxon poetry was accentual. The lines were tied together using the tool of alliteration to bind and accent the stresses: Her hair blazed with beauty in the balm of Baldur's beam. (Okay, it's not a perfect example.) In accentual poetry, the meter is based on stressed syllables only. You could have four stresses with no unstressed syllables or with twenty, and it would be valid.
  2. Podic - This form dropped the heavy alliteration and added rhyme. It seems accentual-syllabic, but is not quite. They still don't count the unstressed syllables.
  3. Accentual-Syllabic - This is probably the most common form of modern English verse. (Free verse is actually prose, as are prose poems, so they don't count as verse.) In accentual-syllabic all of the syllables are counted and matter. Although it is not as strict as Syllabic verse for an exact accounting of every line, A-S is likely to seem more regular than Accentual or Podic. A-S is where we meet terms like iambic pentameter and amphibrachic trimeter. A foot is defined as a rhythmic structure that composes the line. It may be relatively uniform, where we can say that the poem is iambic, or the form may specify a mix, as with Alcaics. The lines are then defined by the number of feet. Iambic pentameter means that there are five feet of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable for a total of ten syllables to the line.
  4. Syllabic - Most formal French poetry is syllabic. French doesn't have the rhythms of stresses that English inherited from it's Anglo-Saxon parent. What syllabic means is that the measure of a line is the total number of syllables. An alexandrine is a twelve-syllable line. In English verse, some experts define the alexandrine as iambic hexameter, but the French do not do so. For the French, it is strictly syllabic. Japanese poetry is translated into syllabic for the English versions. The Haiku is 5-7-5 syllables in the respective lines.

The Ballade is defined as isosyllabic, having the same number of syllables in every line. In this case, either eight or ten.

Verse Structure

Verses can vary in a number of ways. The numbers of lines helps define the verse, but it is also possible to have lines of different length or rhythm interwoven into a verse. The Ballade is based on an eight-line verse or octave. Alcaics are a four line form defined as: a quatrain form with the following meter-stress pattern (X = stressed, x = unstressed):

X Xx Xx Xxx Xxx
X Xx Xx Xxx Xxx
X Xx Xx Xx Xx
Xxx Xxx Xx Xx

Described in the technical terms of meter, the first two lines contain an acephelous iamb, two trochees, and two dactyls; the third line is an acephelous iamb and four trochees; and the last is two dactyls and two trochees.

The form is unrhymed.

Alcaics are pretty scary for a guy who rhymes well but has no rhythm, no?

Rhyme Scheme

Some forms, like Blank Verse or Alcaics are unrhymed. Some forms have very simple rhyme schemes, like the ballad stanza: abcb. Others are as complex as the interweaving of the Sestina:

123456
615243
364125
532614
451362
246531

With the envoy either 531 or 135. In the Sestina's case, it is the actual word reused or a homonym rather than just rhyming to it.

The bref double has a looser rhyme scheme defined where it has three rhymes, but they could show up in different lines, such as these three examples of possible rhyme schemes:

abxc abxc xxxc ab,
xaxc xbxc xbac ba,
xabc xaxc xbxc ab.

The ballade's verse rhyme scheme is ababbcbC, which leads us to the next point.

Repetition

A factor that defines some forms is repetition. Indeed, the pantoum is defined by only two things: the verses are quatrains and the repetition pattern reuses every line: 1234 2546 5768 ... y3z1. The Ballade has a refrain that is the last line of each of the three octaves and of the envoy. The villanelle has two refrains. The Terzanelle has both refrains and repetons. The Ghazal can use a refrain with each rhyme word. A repetition factor is involved in many form definitions.

Mood and Other Requirements

Almost anything can be a requirement in defining a form. The Sheshire has a requirement that the mood shift in each verse and that the poem should overall leave the poet laughing, maybe the audience, too. Many Welsh forms require a form of line binding. Haiku supposedly require a nature reference. The Sonnet has a pivot, or change of thought. Accentual poetry requires alliteration. An Acrostic is defined by what the first letters are, and the Double Acrostic, Compound Acrostic, and Telestich are related.

Some poems not only require specific structural elements, but subject matter or poetic devices. The Teddy Poem form not only defines that it be a certain line to start with three sextets of alexandine couplets followed by a single alexandrine couplet summary, but it also dictates that the subject be the adventures of a certain Theodore E. Bear.

In short, you can use your imagination to distinguish a new form from its brethren.

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Q. When you sit down in front of a blank page/screen and decide to write a villanelle, as an example, how do you approach it. I would assume, the theme comes first. Then what? Do you write down the rhyme scheme, find the first line and go from there?

A. Each form is different. For instance, with a Villanelle, it's best to start with the couplet, the two refrains. They appear throughout separately and together and have to function as a final couplet.

The same is true of the Triolet, which also has a couplet. It's scheme is ABaAabAB, so the first line (A) is a refrain that appears alone once, and with the repeton (B) twice. I start with that couplet.

A Sonnet I usually start with an idea and a twist. I find it easier to develop the whole if I have the pivot in mind from the start.

A Sestina is a difficult form where you need to find six very flexible words as the repetitive end words. That is often the first step.

A Tyburn is similar, requiring one to find the first four words/phrases that will work together. The hardest part is finding a rhyme that will allow the structure.

I guess summing it up, I would say that you find the most difficult part to make work, and tackle that as your starting point. Once you have that down, the rest flows relatively easily.

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Q. How does form influence creation?

A. Art is never done in freedom. All art, all creation, is done under constraints. There are several types of constraint in art: monetary, temporal, intentional, and artificial among them.

An architect will produce a different office building with a fifteen million dollar budget than with a one million dollar budget. If a sculptor gets a commission for a work, he may use different materials based on the cost of materials versus the amount of the commission. Maybe the sculpture will be marble instead of steel because of the cost of materials and price to work it. A painter who cannot afford a huge canvas may be able to afford a packet of smaller ones, so he'll paint six miniatures rather than a wall-spanning canvas. Those are monetary constraints. Unless you are taking poetic commissions, you are unlikely to run into this type of constraint. Poetry usually takes time rather than money to produce. For a poet, a monetary constraint might come with enough cash to get his book an ISBN.

A temporal constraint deals with time. Does the building have to be finished before October when the snow flies in Minnesota? Does the sculpture have to be done by April 16th for the degree show? Does the painting have to be done by tomorrow for a gallery opening? These are examples of temporal constraints. Again, unless you are taking commissions or publishing, time constraints are seldom a factor. You might have to put out a poem for your wife's birthday or write her one for your anniversary, but usually this isn't a factor for poets.

The other two constraints are the ones we deal with every day.

Intentional constraints deal with purpose. If the architect is building an apartment house rather than an office building, it changes the specific applications of the building code. It changes the plumbing capacity needed. It changes the parking lot to space ratio. It changes many other factors. If the sculptor is building a work based on a commission from the city fathers, it will probably be more sedate than something created for a student degree show. If the painter is doing a portrait of a lady, it will be different than an urban mural of sea mammals on the wall of an opera house. Intention is reflected in the why. For a poet, writer or speechifier, one set of intentional constraints is the communication goals. Are we trying to inform, persuade, query, entertain, or some combination? A limerick is entertaining, but seldom meets the other three goals. A haiku is informative. It is good for painting an image in a few words, but would be terrible for persuasion. This brings us to the next set of constraints.

Artificial constraints are those imposed by the environment, tools, and materials. A brick building has different qualities than a glass and steel construction, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. A sculptor using steel works differently than one using stone. Different tools are used for the different media. One is cut and chipped away; the other heated, bent, and welded. A painter with a 4" x 6" canvas and oils is going to produce a different landscape than an artist with a 3' x 4' canvas and acrylic paints. For a poet, form is the set of artificial constraints. Ideally, form follows function. In other words, the intentional constraints are imposed first, which directs the artist to the form. An architect doesn't look at a pile of bricks that he has laying around and think: "Gee, I can build something. I wonder what I should build?" Most of them have a commission or plan in their hands before they consider what materials will be used. With a poet, ideally you know what you are trying to accomplish, and you can pick the form that best meets that potential.

The truth is that there is interplay. If the best form to achieve the goals and subject of the poem is a ballade, but the poet has never heard of a ballade, he may use a villanelle instead. Maybe the poet is required to write a Shakespearean sonnet for a class, so he determines his purpose for the poem based on that constraint.

Getting then to the meat of the issue, form influences creation through the interplay of intent with the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the form. A diamante is not a narrative form. It is created out of sixteen discrete words that do not interact grammatically. Instead, there are two base words, antonyms, which the other words describe or relate to. The only way that the diamante conveys a story is through the choice of a title and the direction downward from one polar opposite to the other. A ballad is meant to tell a story. A haiku is meant to convey an image, perhaps a metaphor comparing a natural event with a human one. Haiku is not meant to tell tales in the same way as the ballad. You can't do with seventeen syllables what you can with hundreds of words.

Earlier I discussed finding the starting point of the poem. For each form it is different based on the hardest part of creating that form. For the haiku, it is in coming up with a fresh nature metaphor to describe something. After that, finding the words that convey that image in seventeen syllables is relatively easy. In writing a villanelle, creating the two refrains, which act both independently and as a couplet, is the most important factor in creating a successful villanelle. Of course, choosing the two rhymes is important, too. If you choose a rhyme ending that is hard to bring six or eight words on the topic to bear, things can get ugly. For instance, in my The Life and Times of Leaf the Red, the last word in the middle line of the first tercet is "travel." I wound up with difficult going on the rhyme, following with: unravel, gravel, gavel, unravels, and gravel. It's a good thing it is a bit of light verse, or I'd have to rewrite that with a new rhyme. Basically, you have to determine what the most important part of the form is and start there. This is another way that form interacts with the creative process.

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