Types of Poems

Here you'll find explanations of different types of poems, with poetry ideas and creative writing prompts to try them yourself! At the bottom of the page, you'll find links to read about more poem types and techniques.

Types of poems - how to write an acrostic poem

An acrostic poem is one where the first letters of the lines spell out a word or words if you read them vertically. For example, here is an acrostic poem by Edgar Allan Poe. You can see that if you read the first letters of the lines from top to bottom, they spell out the name "Elizabeth."

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breathe it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.


Try it! Write your own acrostic poem.

Choose a word to be your poem's topic, and write it vertically, from top to bottom. Then turn each letter into a line of poetry about that topic.

Ideas:

  • Write an acrostic using your own name, or the name of someone you love.

  • Write an acrostic about a month of the year, with the lines spelling out that month.


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Types of poems - how to write blank verse

Blank verse is unrhymed poetry written in a regular meter, usually iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a rhythm that sounds like: bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH.

An iamb is a rhythmic unit made of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. An iamb has the rhythm bah-BAH, as in the words "forget," or "begin." Iambic pentameter is a line of poetry that consists of five iambs. Here are examples of two sentences written in iambic pentameter:

  • Forget the car, I'll take the train to work.

  • At school today, he caught a nasty cold.

Do you hear the rhythm? bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH bah-BAH.

Much of Shakespeare's dramatic work is written in blank verse. Here's an example, taken from Hamlet. (You will see that Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter is not mechanical -- he varies the rhythm for effect).

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?


Try it! Write your own blank verse.

Below are some lines written in iambic pentameter that you can use in your own poem, if you want, to start you off or give you ideas.

  • Last night I had a dream about a girl

  • Before today I didn't know your name

  • The leaves were dark against the glowing sky

  • My mother always lied about her age

Types of poems - how to write a sestina

A sestina is a poem with 39 lines. The final words of the first six lines are repeated in the other lines, in a specific pattern. For an example of a sestina, look for Elizabeth Bishop's famous poem called just "Sestina." Sestinas can be very haunting to read. The same words keep coming back like echoes. And they are a lot of fun to write, like working out a puzzle.

The easiest way to write your own sestina is to use the CWN Sestina Tool. You have to use it on your computer (it won't work if you print it). The way the tool works is that you choose the main words for your sestina, and the Excel sheet will tell you where you should use them in order to follow the sestina form.

But in case you prefer to read an explanation: here goes. A sestina is divided into six six-line stanzas, or sections, plus one final stanza of three lines. We'll call the last word of the first line a, the last word of the second line b, etc. The order of these words in the first six stanzas is like this: abcdef faebdc cfdabe ecbfad deacfb bdfeca. In other words, the last word in Line 1 is also the last word in Line 8. The last word in Line 2 is also the last word in Line 10. Etc. The final stanza, or section of the poem has three lines. Each of these uses two of the words, one somewhere in the middle of the line and one at the end. The pattern of this section is: be dc fa.

Try it! Write your own sestina.

Download the CWN Sestina Tool (Excel format) to start.

More types of poems:

Click on a link below for ideas on writing other types of poems:


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