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Types of Poetry:
A World-Class
Virtual Encyclopedia

Has anyone ever asked you, "What types of poetry do you write?"

What people generally mean by “types of poetry” is “What particular poetic forms do you employ?” or “What is the subject matter you explore?” They may really be asking you to describe your poetry in some kind of terms they may understand from their high school English classes.

These questions are difficult to answer if you do not understand the different types of poetry on the market (and many people, particularly the uninitiated, don’t).

Nevertheless, learning different techniques can be a lot of fun. And the study of the different types of poetry is an excellent way to become familiar with the history of poetry, with individual poets with whom we may not be familiar - or that we admire - and a great way to improve on our own craft.

Of course, types of poetry are determined by several key factors. We’ll refer to them as elements:

The elements of poetry are form, style, tone, philosophy, school (aka movement) and subject matter.

The elements of poetry: Form, Style and Tone
Versus Philosophy, School and Subject Matter

The first element, form, is the particular genre of poetry, or category, the poem may fall into. For instance, sonnet, haiku, cinquain, sestina, villanelle and ballade are all different forms of poetry. However, there are many more.

Click one of the links below to learn more about that poetry form:

Ars Poetica

Style and tone have to do with the individual uniqueness of every poet and, many times, individual poems. Style refers to how poetry is written using such tools as capitalization, punctuation, line breaks and word choice. Tone has more to do with the overall feeling a poem arouses in its reader.

Is it a sad poem? Or is it funny? Does it evoke feelings of despair or joy? Love or hate? Does it inspire, criticize, have a sort of mystery to it? All of these questions are answered by the tone of the poem itself.

The elements of poetry vary by individual poem as much as they do by the poets who write them. William Shakespeare wrote in the sonnet form but each of his thousands of sonnets has an individual style and tone that sets it apart from all the others. You can even tell the difference between a Shakespearean Sonnet and the sonnets of other poets who used that form as well – two that come to mind are Petrarch and Edmund Spenser – simply because they each had their own unique style and tone. In other words, the elements set them apart.

Philosophy is another element of poetry that bears mentioning. Every poet, and every poem for that matter, has a particular philosophy underlying it. You may even call it a worldview. It can be religious, secular, romantic, puritan, nihilistic, esoteric or any number of other philosophical schools of thought. But every poet approaches the craft of poetry from a different point of view. Inevitably, that worldview is going to seep in, either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s good to be aware of your particular worldview and exploit it for all it’s worth.

What's more, entire schools or movements may have an underlying philosophy behind them, which makes certain types of poetry difficult to define.

The particular school of poetry, or class, is also important. It could just as well be called movement and is closely related to philosophy but is different from philosophy because poets from different, or even competing, worldviews may belong to the same poetic school or movement.

Follow one of the links below to learn more about each school or movement of poetry:

Harlem Renaissance Poetry
Symbolism Poetry
New Formalism

Finally, subject matter is of prime importance in influencing the type of poetry one writes. Are you writing about politics? Love? War? Vengeance? An epic tale of heroism? Or a trivial conversation?

While any form or style of poetry can theoretically be used to write about any subject matter, the type of poetry one does write is closely related to subject matter. The sonnet, for instance, is mostly used to write about love and romance. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," however, a political rant, addresses another subject altogether and is written in a completely different style and tone.

So, no matter what types of poetry you write, subject matter is at least of some consideration when discussing form, style and tone.

The Chicken or the Egg

        Or, Which Came First? Form, Style and Tone, or Subject Matter?

When writing a poem, where do you start?

That’s a good question. Theoretically, you can start anywhere, and different poets have started at different places, even when writing on similar themes. The same poet may even start two different poems from two different beginnings.

You may get an idea for a title first, or you may get the idea for the first line – or any line – and work off of that. You may decide you’d like to write about a feeling you have for a particular person or event, or maybe you want to write about what you witnessed on the way to school one morning.

It really doesn’t matter where you start, but it does matter how you incorporate all of the elements so they work together. Before you can do that, though, you need to study each poetic element on its own to understand how they all fit into the whole.

We invite you on a little journey. Take a step into the World-Class Poetry web universe and embark on a fascinating study of poetry, the types of poetry that have been written down through history and a philosophy of poetics as unique as your grandmother's apple pie.

Poetry Terms

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