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On Poetic Forms

October 7, 2013
tags:  poetryhaikuethereelune

Recently I've been thinking a lot about structured syllabic poetry, which is rank among my favorite media for expression. I have written haiku, etc, before, but never did so with any strict adherence to the form. I thought I'd do a quick comparison of the various forms I've come across that tickled my fancy, and perhaps include some examples. It's an excuse to write a bit more...

Most of this post is informed by these two links:


The most well known structured syllabic style, by far. English Haiku are known for being three lines long, structured with five/seven/five syllables. But that isn't a complete definition... no, haiku also need a seasonal word to ground them in nature, and a conceptual break after either the first or second line. That second bit is much less known, but makes Haiku well formed -- a haiku is presented as two individual thoughts, around a common nature-tied theme. Lets see if I can pull it off:

rustling leaves flit
passively down to wet soil;
wind beckons my grin


Haiku which do not have a seasonal word but follow the other conventions of the haiku form are called senryu. Here's a shot at one of those:

"Be careful!" cried Shen,
watching the boy run through cars,
far too late to save.


An extended form of the senryu, the tanka is a syllabic poem split into lines of five/seven/five/seven/seven syllables. The important idea is that the tanka encompasses a micro/macro structure, where each line has its own concept that builds within the larger piece as a whole. Might as well give it a whack:

I am gunslinger,
terror of the dusty plains,
my weapon is law
ushered in with red hot lead.
Under the sun, I am truth.


A lune is a shortened version of a haiku, such that the three lines have five/three/five syllables. Very short, very succinct. Let's give it a go:

somehow I got here,
the coming
remains confounding


Sijo is a Korean form of poetry that is somewhat like a more complex and longer form of senryu. Sijo poems are three lines long, with each line serving a distinct purpose: line one introduces a theme, line two develops the theme presented in line one, and line three provides a twist on the theme, and then resolves it within the context of the rest of the poem. Each of these lines is between fourteen and sixteen syllables, broken into smaller phrases of between three to five syllables each, lending the full poem fourty-four to fourty-six syllables to work with. Sijo offer much more room to work with, so they are seen as more flexible than haiku or senryu. I just discovered this form today, so here's an attempt at it that will probably leave a lot to be desired:

Cool calculation, the machine rumbles doing its thing.
Crunching numbers for a grand purpose among the chaos, 
but wait! A bug shows, slowing us down to observe the code and fix.


Etheree poems are composed of ten lines, each with one more syllable than the last, with the first line starting with one syllable. They're fun to write, and really give you something to think about with your syllable budget. Variations on the etheree are the reversed form, where you start with ten syllables and work your way down to one, the double etheree, where you start with one, work up to ten, and then work back down to one, and the triple, quadruple, etc. etheree which just build on that theme. Here's a standard, one-to-ten etheree I wrote a few weeks ago:

were small
yet potent
back when we, in
no uncertain terms,
believed that dragons breathed
fire and ice; dancing warmth
over our well-worn sheets, blankets
and pillows aligned in perfect walls
to keep the world tucked away from our hearts.

Why do all of this?

Poetry is fun, and a great way to unravel the mind. We all need a break, and poetry reminds us of that. It is a deeply human experience, and one that I feel everyone should give a passing try at.

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