The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Food for the Curious Mind – The Most Common Types of Poetry

Food for the Curious Mind – The Most Common Types of Poetry

Even if you fell in love with language during your school years, it is rare that anyone recalls much about the poems and poets discussed back then. Now that you are older and have a bit more appreciation for the intricacies of the written word, you might be curious about the technicalities behind writing a great piece. Knowing also empowers you to identify these technicalities in another poet’s work.

With an art form as varied as poetry, it will not come as a surprise to know that there are dozens of kinds of poems. While we do not have time to go through each one, there are a few popular forms about which everyone should know.

The Sonnet

Originating in Italy, a sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines. Sonnets come in two forms, namely the Petrarchan (with a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDE CDE) and the Shakespearean style (with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG). Sonnets are written in iambic pentameter – 5 metric feet per line – which describes the rhythm of the poem. While the definition might sound confusing, a well-known example of a Shakespearean sonnet is Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The sonnet is one of the fixed forms that is ever popular and truly timeless, renewed by each new generation.

Free Verse

Reading free verse poetry may seem as though the piece is improvised – this is deliberate. Free verse poems may not stick to any traditional forms or rhyme schemes, and instead of fixed metre it has a natural speech rhythm. Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” is a brilliant free verse piece that compares a spider’s life to that of his own soul and how it connects to the world. Free verse is not verse without form or rules; every poem has an organic form that develops along with the poem and it is any time as disciplined as traditional verse. It is more difficult to master than fixed forms though.

The Haiku

The haiku is a very popular form, enjoyed for its concise imagery. It consists of three – mostly unrhyming – lines, with 5 – 7 – 5 syllables. Matsuo Bashō, an ancient Japanese poet, has penned countless haikus still read worldwide today.


Known for their witty punchlines, and sometimes bawdy character, limericks are five-line poems that follow an AABBA rhyme scheme. Limericks are fun to recite, and shares many characteristics of nursery rhymes. Author Rudyard Kipling wrote “There Was a Small Boy of Quebec”, which is still considered a classic limerick today. An early master of the form is the British poet Edward Lear whose limericks can be found in many children’s books.

Epic Poetry

Epics are narrative poems which are traditionally long and serious in nature. Epics describe a legendary hero’s adventures and conquests, and pay particular attention to acts of bravery. “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, both by Homer, play a crucial role in ancient Greek literature as forms of epic poems. Not everyone has the patience to work through an epic, but if you put some effort into it it is richly rewarding.

Acrostic Poems

An acrostic poem is a poem written in such a way that the first letter of each line spells out a name, or the answer to a riddle. In “An Acrostic”, a 9-line poem that was discovered and published many years after the author’s death, Edgar Allan Poe spells out his cousin Elizabeth’s name. The poems don’t have to use only the first letter of a line; any letter/position can be chosen by the poet to hide his message.

Now that you have an idea of the formats of poetry – why not give some of them a try? Whether you enjoy the untamed writing behind free verses or the structure and rhythm of a sonnet, starting your piece is as simple as picking up a pen.