Poetry Form - The Self-created Form

The Self-created Verse Form

by Ariadne Unst

* History. * Form. * Your Composition. * References. * Example.

Buy Strand Strong Measures, Edited by Philip Dacey and David Jauss
Dacey and Jauss use the term "miscellaneous nonce forms" for "Stanzas or poems which employ rhyme, meter, or the repetition of terminal words in patterns invented 'for the nonce' (i.e., for the occasion)."

Their book include several examples, including poems by Louise Glück, Maxine Kumin, and James Tate.


Historically, poetry has developed on the one hand by using existing patterns, and on the other hand by adapting existing patterns into new patterns.

Sometimes an adapted pattern becomes a new form, adopted by other poets. But often a new form is useful for a few poems by a poet, but is not used more widely.

A poet who loves language will often explore and invent a form for the purpose of a single idea that does not fit into any of the pre-existing widely used forms.

Finding your own form that does its own justice to your unique ideas and words can be extremely satisfying. It can help you bring out more of the meaning of your poem.

Concrete poems are often a special case of this form.


Here are some considerations.

  1. You may have any number of stanzas and any lengths of lines.

  2. You may have any number of rhymes organized in any rhyme scheme.

  3. You may repeat any number of end-words or whole lines.

  4. You may decide that you want to use the layout on the page as in a concrete poem.

  5. In the example below, the pattern of rhyming shows an intertwining and echoing that is symbolic of the interwoven web of the world's life:

      a  b  b  b  c  a          - Rhymes in first quintet.
      d  e  e  e  c  d          - Rhymes in second quintet.  

Your Composition.

The repetition in a Villanelle made this form popular with audiences. The repetition allowed the listener to catch the poem more clearly at first hearing or first reading.

A writer of a Villanelle can use the repetition to delve more deeply into her material. Each stanza can revise, amplify, and show more facets of what the poet feels.

Here are some steps to take in creating your Villanelle:

  1. Draft a rhyming couplet with images that express your feeling or idea.

  2. Draft a dozen or more rhyming couplets that each help you express the heart of your concern.

  3. Pick the couplet that combines originality and expressiveness with some flexibility in the way those lines could be used in combination with others, and can be modified slightly upon repetition. Whether you work by hand or on your computer, place a copy of each line at every place that it (or its variant) will appear in your Villanelle. Be sure to follow the above guidelines for form. You will then have written 8 lines - almost half of the whole poem!

  4. Now work on the rest of the Villanelle.

  5. Use enjambment sometimes, so that your repeated lines are less obvious. Make the repeated lines an organic part of your poem, not just something pasted in.

  6. Feel free to modify the lines that you set up for your original couplet. Then, repeat this modification throughout the poem (if you are following the form of strict repetition), or use the modifications to reflect something (such as a progression of internal emotions).

  7. As with all formal poems nowadays, it is vital that the form does not "drive" your poem. If the rhyme scheme and form begin to feel forced, then the poem's content must be asserted.


Buy Strand The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms,
Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
Other Books of Poetry Form.

Calling the Council of Beings
by J. Zimmerman.

  "Beings," he said, "are anything that is."
      Rivers as well as fish were what he meant.
      Wind as well as the grass it bent.
      Rain, the clay it cooled, the worm that went
  through loamy earth.
  He touched all lives to his.

  "Counsel," he said, "is what they give."
      He meant that all beings will advise
      how tending to nature makes one wise.
      Taste granite. See through spider eyes.
  Watch an eagle's birth
  or swim where dolphins live.

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