How to Write a Good Poem: Picking the Right Poetic Form for your Message

Just like writing a novel, there is more that contributes to the success of a poem than the idea.

For example, certain rhyme schemes (the pattern of rhyme at the end of each verse or line) evoke certain emotions.

A particular meter (i.e. syllabic pattern) can better pace the story.

So, once you have a great idea for a poem, it’s important to select the right poetic style.

There are 12 main types of poetic form:

1.) Ballad

A ballad is a narrative verse (a poem which tells a story) that can either act as a poem or a song.

The word ballad derives from French and was used to describe dance songs.

Note: Not all ballads are songs.

Traditionally, ballads were used for dramatic performances.

In ancient times, this was one of the main sources of entertainment, and so legends or historical events were often narrated in this style.

Think of it like a musical rendition of History Channel.

So, if your poem is telling a story that is similar to a legend or myth, you might consider writing your poem as a ballad.

2.) Blank Verse

Blank verse is a style of poetry which uses precise meter (usually iambic pentameter), but not rhyme.

This style of poetry resembles normal speech in English, so the poet makes use of meter and syllabic patterns to create a musical quality.

Because blank verse resembles everyday speech, you can tackle almost any theme using this style.

3.) Elegies

An elegy is a poem that reflects on death and loss.

Derived form the Greek word elegus (meaning a song of bereavement), elegies can be in the form of a poem or a song.

Elegies also have similar characteristics with epics.

Traditionally these works focused on mourning, but the style has evolved to include themes of redemption and solace.

So, if your idea focuses on loss (lost love, death, loss of the self, etc.), you might consider writing an elegy.

4.) Epics

Coming from the Greek word epikos (meaning a poetic story), epic poems are another type of narrative poem.

Like ballads, epic poems tell the story of legends and myths with a hyper focus on the hero:

how he/she develops

how he/she fails

how he/she will triumph in the end

However, epics are intended to be narrated (not sung) and makes more use of literary devices like metaphor and allusions than ballads (which again, use more common, day-to-day language).

Epics are also far longer than ballads and are designed to tell the underlying story of a specific society.

So, if you are looking to write a poem with heavy social commentary or a large focus on the hero’s journey, an epic poem might be the project to undertake.

5.) Free Verse

Free verse poetry is that which lacks a consistent rhyme scheme, metrical pattern, or musical form.

While free verse poems are not devoid of structure, they leave great leeway for the poet to give his/her shape to the poem.

This style of poetry still makes use of literary devices like rhyme and alliteration (the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words).

The poet just has the liberty to employ such devices as the poet sees fit.

So, if you find poetic rules to be daunting and smothering, free verse might be something worth considering.

6.) Haiku

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry made of short, unrhymed lines.

While there are numerous forms of haiku, the most common form is composed of 3 lines:

5 syllable line

then 7 in the second

then 5 in the last

Not my best poem, but you get the idea.

Haikus use a syllabic pattern of 5-7-5

This form of poetry typically focuses on nature imagery (specifically nature imagery that contrasts) and does NOT make use of rhyme.

So, if you like juxtaposing imagery and nature and are looking for a style of poetry with rigid rules, haiku might be for you.

7.) Limerick

Limericks are short, comedic, and descriptive poems that are usually only 1 stanza (the poetic form of a paragraph) in length.

Because limericks make heavy use of comedy, the last line is usually the punchline.

So, if you are looking for a bawdy, crude and funny poetic outlet, a limerick is your cup of tea.

8.) Lyric

A lyric poem is a poem in which the author expresses his feelings.

Because of the focus on emotions, the poet usually uses a first person narrator.

Like a ballad, lyric poems can also be put to music. However, lyric poems are traditionally much shorter.

This style of poetry is great for the expressive poet. The “poetic rules” are flexible in this style and can be a great starting point for beginners.

9.) Narrative

As the name suggests a narrative poem tells a story.

Unlike the other types of poetry, narrative poems make use of all of the elements of a traditional story.

Narrative poetry could make a wonderful start for a novelist or short story writer who wants to take a swing at poetry.

10.) Ode

Odes are short but lyrical sounding poems.

The word is derived from the Greek word aeidein (to chant or sing).

Like elegies, odes typically focus on serious and solemn topics while also being broad and universal.

So, if you are looking to create a solemn poem, but do not want it to focus on a single person, an ode might be right up your alley.

11.) Pastoral

Pastoral poems are those which focus on the natural world and how humans interact with nature.

These poems often focus on the pleasantness of withdrawing from the modern world, so their stories typically take place in a rural area.

If you are inspired by nature and daydream about a more simple life on a farm, pastoral poetry might be the way to go.

12.) Villanelle

Similar to pastoral poetry, villanelle poetry traditionally focused on life’s simplicity (though it has evolved to include more complicated subject matter like obsessions, love, loss and internal challenges).

The name is derived from the Italian word for peasant, villano.

Aside from the theme, villanelle poetry is also characterized by a lack of organized meter or set amount of syllables.

If you are drawn in by the concept of nature in pastoral poetry, but are looking to incorporate darker themes into your poetry, villanelle could be your next poetic experiment.

General poetry writing tips:

1.) Pick your style of poetry

As much as we all hate to be put into a box, selecting a style of poetry can help guide you as you write your poem.

2.) Experiment

One of the best ways to grow is to try new things.

Scared to take that leap? Try a poetic form that is similar to the one you are most comfortable using.

Great at writing ballads? Try stepping into epics?

Are you a novelist? Try writing a narrative poem.

3.) Write on

None of us are perfect.

Mistakes will be made.

Bad poems will be written.

Just don’t stop writing!

You will learn from your failures over time and you will be stronger for it.

4.) Have fun!

Photo by Andre Furtado 

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