Poetry Form - The Tritina

Buy Strand
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.

The Tritina Verse Form
by Ariadne Unst

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

Do you have an obsession to explore? The length and repetition of found in the Tritina may be the form you need.

The Tritina is related to the Sestina.


Apparently a twentieth-century invention.


In a Tritina:

Your Composition.

The repetition of words in a Tritina makes this form a good match for a story that uses common speech, for in conversation the repetition of key words is common. The Tritina is a more "natural" form than the Villanelle (which is comparatively artificial in repeating whole lines) and the Sestina (which is significantly more challenging because it is longer (39 lines) and reuses six words in six six-line stanzas and a closing tercet).

As with other forms, try the traditional form first. Once you have mastered that, you are ready for your own variations.

Here are some steps to take in creating a Tritina:

  1. Decide upon three words that are your candidates for the words that will repeat. I recommend concrete nouns (e.g., chimney, lozenge) and active verbs (e.g., opens).

    Alternatively, begin by writing a 3-line poem that you want to expand into a Tritina. Reorganize that tercet if that helps put interesting words on the ends of lines.

  2. On a large blank sheet of paper (or, if you prefer, on a new computer text file) write the end words for the first stanza, leaving space to complete the line:


    Do the same for the second and third tercets:


    Then for the final line, write (spaced out) the three words from the first tercet:

            1                  2                  3         

    Be sure to follow the above guidelines for form. You will then have written 1 (or 3 words) in each of the 10 lines of the whole poem!

  3. Now write the stanzas, using the stepping stones provided by the chosen words.

  4. Sometimes a writer finds that a later stanza is a much stronger one than her first one, and she wants to move that later stanza to the start of the poem. That's fine! Simply move as a block your strong stanza to the beginning. Reorganize the other two tercets and the words in the final line, so that you preserve the sequence required by the tritina.

    Double-check the pattern of repeated words. You should find that the Tritina's pattern is still in order (even though a different word is now word "1", etc.) for all the tercets.

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

  6. Traditionally, one keeps the same line length: that gives the rhythmic repetition that the ear associates with music. It also gives a pleasant appearance on the page.

    Sometimes a writer wants to vary the line length in order to challenge the listener's or reader's expectations: that is fine if you do it deliberately. Just don't be lazy and cut lines short or run them on because you can't be bothered to fix your poem's problems.

  7. Traditionally, one keeps the same end words. Some poets modify them, such as by replacing a singular noun with a plural noun, or replacing one verb form with another. They might even replace a word with its synonym.

    Each such change deviates from the form. The less you follow the traditional form, the less you can claim to have written a Tritina.

    Again, only break the form's rules because you choose to, not because you lack the skills and devotion to make your poem work in the traditional form.


Marie Ponsot uses the tritina in her book, The Bird Catcher.

A Last Word.

Just because you start with the intention of writing a Tritina, you do not have to keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide that you choose to end up with a poem in a different form, perhaps even a prose poem.


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