Term: Form


Form, in poetry, can be understood as the physical structure of the poem: the length of the lines, their rhythms, their system of rhymes and repetition. In this sense, it is normally reserved for the type of poem where these features have been shaped into a pattern, especially a familiar pattern.

Another sense of "form" is to refer to these familiar patterns - these can be simple and open-ended forms, such as blank verse, or can be a complex system of rhymes, rhythms and repeated lines within a fixed number of lines, as a sonnet or villanelle is. (This is similar to the word "shape"; asked to think about "a shape", you would expect a triangle or a circle, but Alaska too has a shape.) The difference is visible in Sebastian Barker's poem 'Holy The Heart On Which We Hang Our Hope': the form of this poem shares aspects with another form, the villanelle, but also differs from it in interesting ways, just as its content shares in some aspects of organised faith but not in others.

This glossary includes full definitions of the most usual forms (sonnet, sestina, villanelle, blank verse...), with others below; poets will also invent their own forms, as in James Fenton's 'Jerusalem'.

An acrostic poem is one that uses the first letters of each line to spell out a word or phrase. More uncommonly, you can find a word or phrase through the centre of a poem (when it is called a mesostich) or at the end of the lines (which makes it a telestich). If the poem is written so that the first letters and last letters both write out a message, it is known as a double acrostic.

A poem consisting only of lines from other poems. This, from the Italian word for patchwork, is almost a technique rather than a form, especially as it can be of any length, and any metre, and need not rhyme; however, as the finished poem is referred to as a cento, just as a sonnet is called a sonnet, it is a form.

Named after its inventor, this is a four-line poem rhymed aabb; its first line is the name of the subject of the poem, it often breaks into two sentences at the end of the second line, and the rhythm tends to be entertainingly irregular.

This one is normally reserved for nonsense verse. 8 lines, all consisting of two dactyls (hence the name). Line 1 is a nonsense word (such as "higgledy-piggledy"), line 2 is someone's name, line 6 is a single six-syllable word, and lines 4 and 8 rhyme.

A stanza form often used for longer poems, most famously in Byron's 'Don Juan', consisting of eight lines, usually in iambic pentameter, rhymed abababcc.

This can be of any length; it is a poem of four-line stanzas, in which the second and fourth lines of one stanza become the first and third of the next. The last stanza's second and fourth lines can be the first and third of the first stanza, either reversed or not, which locks the poem into a circle of repetitions or, as the poet Marilyn Hacker says, "until it ends up with its tail in its mouth".

8 lines of iambic pentameter, followed by 1 iambic hexameter (or alexandrine); rhyme scheme ababbcbccc. This is the stanza invented by Spenser in The Faerie Queene.

A poem in which each stanza is rhymed aba, with the inner rhyme from one stanza providing the outer rhymes for either the previous or subsequent stanza: aba bcb cdc... or aba cac dcd.... The form can end in a single-line stanza, a couplet, or by referring back to the as-yet-unused rhyme from the first stanza.

How to use this term

The form that Valerie Bloom has created for 'Granny Is' is built on rhyming quatrains with an added line to act as a refrain - only at the start of the stanza.

Pick a Letter...

Related Poems

Choosing a Name

Holy The Heart On Which We Hang Our Hope

Reading Stevens in the Bath

Translation Workshop: Grit and Blood

A Rose for Janet

A Subaltern's Love Song

For This

Geography Lesson

Miller's End

The Ride

The Yellow Palm

Ode to Didcot Power Station

Ave Atque Vale

Prelude to a New Fin-de-Siècle

Painting of a Bedroom with Cats

For Me

The Ice-Cream Man

Coming Home

Walking Wounded

Four Morbid Songs - an extract



Belfast Confetti

The Boneyard Rap


Song of the Death-Watch Beetle

Urban Lyric



Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

Between Hovers

For Meg

Sonnet for Dick

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love



On Going Deaf

The Living End

Life Is a Walk Across a Field

The Texas Swing Boys' Dadaist Manifesto


The Mulberry Tree

The Romans in Britain

Timothy Winters

Variation on an Old Rhyme

Granny Is

Holy The Heart On Which We Hang Our Hope

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Bloodlines - an extract

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love

The Lost Woman


Sea Wind


You Were Wearing Blue

You're Beautiful


What Is Poetry



Strugnell's Haiku

A Removal from Terry Street

Ruins of a Great House

Simple Poem

A Supermarket in California

In praise of vodka

Leaving the Tate


The Elwood Organic Fruit and Vegetable Shop

A Rose for Janet

Art Class

The Moon Upoon the Waters



Mum [Polly Peters]

Waterslain: Diz, Shuck, Beachcomber

Three Limericks

A Given Grace

Belfast Confetti


Simple Poem

The Yellow Palm

Catmint Tea


Life Is a Walk Across a Field

The Elwood Organic Fruit and Vegetable Shop



Nine to Five

The Annals of Sheer

The Grain of Things

A Minute's Silence


Simple Poem


At the Grave of Asa Benveniste

Ode to Didcot Power Station

Bats' Ultrasound

On the Ning Nang Nong

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade - an extract


For Me

Strugnell's Haiku

The Passionate Pupil Declaring Love

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love

Geography Lesson

Sonnet for Dick



Monologue in the Valley of the Kings

Preston North End

Self Employed

Siren Song

Strugnell's Haiku

For John Clare

In The Colonie (an extract: 34)

Use Your Rains

Apologia pro vita sua

In Paris with You

Lord Neptune

The Uncut Stone

You're Beautiful

At the British War Cemetery, Bayeux

Marriage - an extract


Perfection Isn't Like A Perfect Story

Preston North End

The River

Well, Francis, Where's the Sun?

Bloodlines - an extract


Jessica Learned to Kiss

Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant

Incident on a Holiday

The Conjuror

Two Lorries



Slow Reader


Catmint Tea

My Mammogram

Overblown Roses


Sonnet for Dick

The Happy Grass



Leaving the Tate

Prayer Before Birth

Reading Leaves

Parliament Hill Fields

The Articles of Prayer

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Considering the Snail

Incident on a Holiday

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Beyond Decoration

For This

A Barred Owl

A blade of grass

The Happy Grass

The Master of the Cast Shadow - an extract from the sequence Consequences

Missing Dates

Villanelle for the Middle of the Way

Daljit Nagra

Term 1

Each term a different poet is in residence here, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >