There are so many different forms of poetry that it’s hard to keep up.
This list contains the most common forms of poetry: ones you’re most likely to come across in collections, or have to study at school or university.
It also focuses on forms that are used in English.
If you spot any that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them in.
You can click on the links under each for more detailed explanations and examples.
I find the best way to learn about a new form is to read as much about it as possible, then attempt to write one as close to the rules as possible. What works for you may be different.
Lowercase letters represent repeated lines.
- Couplet – Two lines beside each other that usually rhyme
- Metre – Rhythmic structure of a poem
- Quatrain – A four line stanza or poem
- Refrain – A repeating line in a poem
Abstract poems are poems that are more visual than your average poem. An abstract poem can consist of one word repeated over in a particular shape. They’re the poetic version of modern art.
An acrostic poem is a poem that spells something using the first letter of each line.
Ballads are verses that are often set to music. They originally consisted of couplets and refrains in alternative lines. In most cases, only lines 2 and 4 rhyme. Modern ballads are often love songs.
A clerihew is a four-line biographical poem. It follows an AABB rhyming scheme, with the first word being a person’s name. It often puts the subject into a silly or unlikely situation.
A concrete poem is a poem that is designed in the shape of something, but contains more content than an abstract poem. (See example, where it’s designed to look like a glass.)
A haiku is a three line poem of Japanese origin. Traditionally, it follows a 5-7-5 syllable format, but this is not compulsory when writing in English as it is not a rhythmic language.
Haikus are popular on Twitter, as the tight constraints of both a haiku and Twitter work well together.
A limerick is a five line poem with a rhyming pattern of AABBA. It usually tells the tale of someone doing something or something happening to them. It is usually written in a humorous way, and the third and fourth lines are usually shorter than the first, second and fith.
A nonet is a poem of nine lines with each line having one syllable less. Line 9 has 9 syllables; line 8 has 8 syllables; line 7 has 7 syllables, etc.
An open form poem has no structure to it. No rhythm, no metre, no pattern. It can go in any direction at any time.
Rondels are a French poetic form from the 14th century consisting of 13 or 14 lines. It’s a variation of the rondeau. Its metre is open, but it usually has eight syllables. Its rhyming scheme is ABba abAB abbaA(B).
A roundel is an English repeating form from the 19th century. It is the English version of the rondeau. It consists of 11 lines, and its rhyming pattern is ABAa BAB ABAa.
A roundeau is a French repeating form poem. It has 13 or 14 lines and its rhyming pattern is ABAaABab.
A sestain is a six line poem.
A sestina is a fixed verse poem that is made up of six stanzas. Each stanza is six lines each. The stanzas are usually followed by a final, three-line stanza (envoi).
A sonnet is a traditional form of poetry that many people associate with Shakespeare. It is 14 lines long and written in iambic pentameter. Sonnets contain a ‘change’ or a ‘turn’ at line six, but this usually isn’t broken into a second stanza. There are several different versions of a sonnet, including the English (Shakespearean) sonnet, and the Italian sonnet. These have different rules based on the language they originate from.
English, or Shakesepearean sonnets, use rhyming couplets at the end of each line. This creates an ABAB format.
The Italian sonnet is more complicated and doesn’t work so well in the English language. The opening octave usually has a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA. The rhyme scheme of the sestet is usually CDECDE or CDCDCD, or a version of those rhymes.
A triolet is a repeating form poetry that has a bad reputation because it’s difficult to write and often focuses on nature. It is only seven lines long, with the first line repeated in lines 3 and 5. Line 2 is repeated in line 6, and it follows a ABaAabAb rhyme scheme. Because of these rules, it is very difficult to write.
Very Short Poem
A very short poem is exactly what it sounds like: a very short poem. It’s usually five lines or fewer.
A villanelle is a repeating form poem consisting of nineteen lines. There are five three line stanzas followed by a final quatrain. The first and third line are repeated alternately at the end of each stanza. The rhyme scheme is A1BA2 ABa1 ABa2 ABa1 ABa2 ABa1a2.