Word Nerd: 5 forms of poetry that you must explore

28 Jan

There is no question that Amanda Gorman, with her elegant and measured performance of ‘The Hill We Climb’, headlined the Presidential inauguration. We were all moved by her words & mesmerised by her rhythmic gestures. And, one of the sections that cheered the loudest were those who are interested in reading, practicing, and publishing poetry.

Not only did Amanda’s books shoot up the bestseller lists but her popularity proved again how poetry could again be a huge part of the conversation.

So, in honour of the performance and poetry, this Word Nerd focuses on obscure poetry forms. They might prove to be a fun challenge for you, and maybe even a much-needed dose of inspiration to limber up those mental muscles. You’ve done all the crosswords and Sudoku  so why not syllables?

1. Anacreontics: This form was born in Greece. It consists of 20-30 lines with 3-5 syllables in each. Think of it as a long haiku. The poet after whom the form is named was Anacreon. He is said to have lived and written in the 6th century BCE. His poems are on the themes of festivals, revelry, and everyday life in ancient Greece, and often offer homage to the Greek god of parties and wine – Dionysius. You can read a modern interpretation of the form by Robert Yiehling here.

2. Triolet: This one is French. Triolets are said to have originated in medieval France. It has eight lines that ought to rhyme: aba aab ab. While this is not one of the most popular forms, it was used by Thomas Hardy (the Victorian novelist). You can read one of his triolets here.

While many triolets are lightly humorous, Hardy used it for serious themes as well. Think you might give it a try? Go on then!

3. Canzone: We know! This is making us hungry too. But a canzone, which originated in Renaissance Italy, is a long poem with one to seven stanzas. The stanzas must be of equal length, with 8-20 lines. Each line has 11 syllables.

The canzones have been used by poets to talk about love, longing, nature, or important events. Literary masters such as Dante and Petrarch used this form the talk about love.

Expressing your feelings is better than eating them. So, let’s choose canzone over calzone.

4. Tanka: Older than most of the poetic forms that are practised today (sonnet, sestina, and so on), this form originated in the 8th century (Encyclopaedia Britannica). A tanka is a syllabic form – so its formal qualities are based on how many syllables there are in a line, not on the rhyme scheme. Classically, there are 5 lines with 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. Like the sonnet, the tanka has often been used to express love.

5. Ghazal: The ghazal originated at approximately the same time as the tanka, although in a different part of the world. Traditionally, it was dedicated to the themes of love, spirituality, and sadness. Rumi and Hafiz are mainly responsible for the currency of the form along with Ghalib and music maestros such as Begum Akhtar.

A ghazal is composed of 5-15 couplets. Each line should be of the same length. There are rules of rhyming and refrain which make this form both popular and challenging.

If trying your hands at one of these forms seems challenging, you can always read them. There are great anthologies of ghazals and tankas, works by Dante and Petrarch, as well as Hardy’s triolets from which you can choose. Don’t hesitate while the muse waits !

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