Key Terms

abecedarian: A poem in which the first letter of each line follows the alphabet down the page. There are no restrictions on meter or rhyme.

abstract words: Idea words such as “dream,” “love,” or “curiosity” that one cannot touch physically and experience directly through the five senses.

alliteration:  In a line of poetry, a series of sounds consonants make at the beginning of or in the middle of words.

allusion: An indirect reference made to something else.

anapest: ˘ ˘ ΄ Two light stresses followed by a heavy stress.

aubade: A poem about the morning or dawn.

ballad: A poem written in quatrains and A B C B rhyme. The first and third lines contain eight syllables, while the second and fourth lines contain six. According to Robin Skelton, the most common rhyme scheme is iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter.

blank verse: A form that lends itself well to a meditative voice, blank verse is written in iambic pentameter lines that do not rhyme.

catalectic: An incomplete line of metrical poetry in which the last syllable or foot is dropped.

Ch’i-Yen-Shih: In this Chinese pattern, each line contains seven monosyllabic words with a caesura after each fourth word. The rhyme scheme is comprised of the pattern A B C B.

cliché: A phrase that is so overused that its use results in unoriginal and unimaginative expression

cinquain: Adelaide Crapsey established this unrhymed iambic form, which consists of a five-line stanza with the syllable count 2 4 6 8 2.

concrete words: Words that refer to something with physical properties that can be experiences with the five senses such as “chair,” water,” or “cat.”

consonance: Edward Hirsch defines this as “the audible repetition of consonant sounds in words encountered near each other whose vowel sounds are different”—flower-fades-fruit: fow-fay-frew.

couplet: A stanza comprised of two lines.

dactyl: ΄ ˘ ˘ A heavy stress followed by two light stresses.

daina: This Latvian form consists of a quatrain of trochaic octometer lines with feminine endings. Although there are no end rhymes, alliteration and internal rhymes are common.

diction: Word choice.

dimeter: A two-foot line

Dodoitsu: This Japanese form is composed of four lines with the syllable count 7 7 7 5. There is no rhyme or set meter.

elegy: An elegy is a lament for the dead and contains the character of sadness and loss. It is considered a public poem that when done best, according Mark Strand and Evan Boland, sets the customs of death in a particular culture against the decorum and private feelings of the speaker.

end-rhyme: When two or more words that end lines rhyme.

end-stopped lines: A line of poetry that ends in punctuation.

enjambed lines: The running over of a sentence across multiple lines of poetry.

envoi: Also known as “tornada”: this is the final tercet of a sestina.

exclusive submissions: A term used to refer to poems in the submission process that are under consideration by only one publisher exclusively.

exquisite corpse: This form, invented by the Surrealists, is fun to write in a group. Each person writes two lines, then folds the paper so the next person writing can see only the second line; the next person writes two more lines and folds the paper so that only the second line is visible; and so on.

feminine end: A line of poetry that ends with an unstressed beat.

figurative language:  Words or phrases in which the meaning is not literal.

first person: A writing perspective that uses “I.”

foot: In metrical verse, lines can be divided into length and rhythm which we refer to as feet. Each foot is comprised of stressed and unstressed syllables.

ghazal: Typically dealing with subjects of love and separation, the ghazal is a form with Arabic roots consisting of rhyming couplets of the same syllabic length and a refrain.

genre: Categories used to describe types of writing such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.

haiku: This well-known Japanese form is three lines long and comprised of unrhymed, unmetered lines with a 5 7 5 syllable count. Traditionally, the haiku’s subject matter relates to nature or seasons.

hexameter: A six-foot line. Also called Alexandrine when purely iambic.

hyperbole: An exaggerated statement.

iamb:  ˘ ΄ A light stress followed by a heavy stress.

image: A metal image, what we see with the mind’s eye.

impure line: A line in a poem that breaks from an established pattern altogether.

internal rhyme: Lines of poetry in which words in the middle of a line rhyme with words at the end of other lines.

Italian quatrain: A poem consisting of four lines written in iambic pentameter and rhyme A B B A.

katauta: A three-line poem with the syllable count 5 7 7, the first line posing a question that the next two lines attempt to answer in an intuitive, immediate way.

masculine end: A line of poetry that ends with a stressed beat.

metaphor: A direct comparison between two things, as in Hope is the thing with feathers (Emily Dickinson, “Hope”).

metonymy: When one thing is represented by another thing associated with it, as in The pen is mightier than the sword (where pen stands in for writing, and sword stands in for warfare or violence)

monometer: A one-foot line.

octameter: An eight-foot line.

octave: A stanza containing eight lines.

pantoum: Originating in Malaysia, the pantoum was adapted by French poets. It consists of an unlimited number of quatrains in which the second and fourth lines of each are repeated in the first and third lines of the next. The first and third lines of the first stanza become the final stanza’s second and fourth lines. There can be some variation. For instance, the first line of the poem may be the last.

penultimate: Second to last.

pentameter: A five-foot line.

personification: Human characteristics being applied to non-human things, as in irises, all / funnel & hood, papery tongues whispering little / rumors in their mouths (Laura Kasischke, “Hostess”).

Petrarchan sonnet: This sonnet contains two stanzas: one octet that rhymes as A B B A–A B B A, and a remaining sextet with varying rhyme schemes. The volta occurs between the stanzas.

pregunta: This Spanish form was practiced by poets of the court in pairs during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. One poet asks a question or series of questions in one form and the second poet, matching the form, answers. The topics usually related to love, philosophy, or morality.

prose poem: The prose poem, which can be any length, isn’t broken into verse, but contains many of the elements of poetry: figures of speech, musical language, internal rhyme, repetition, condensed syntax, and imagery.

prosody: The musical patterns of language.

pure line: A line of poetry that adheres to a pattern the poem has undertaken.

quatrain: A stanza comprised of four lines.

rhyme scheme: Clear end-rhyming patterns in a poem.

roundel: The roundel is an English form consisting of eleven lines in three stanzas with no set meter. The first part of line one repeats at the end of the first stanza and again as the last line of poem. The half line also forms the rhyme pattern and is indicated here as R for “refrain”: A B A R–B A B–A B A R.

scansion: The process of scanning lines of poetry to mark stressed and unstressed beats and determine the poem’s pattern of meter and length.

sense: One of a human being’s five ways of interacting physically with the world around her: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

septameter: A seven-foot line.

septet: A stanza containing seven lines.

sestina: The sestina consists of five sestets culminating in a final tercet called an envoi, also called a tornada. The six words that end each of the lines in the first stanza repeat throughout the poem in the following pattern:

1. A B C D E F
2. F A E B D C
3. C F D A B E
4. E C B F A D
5. D E A C F B
6. B D F E C A
7. (envoi) E C A or A C E

In addition, the envoi also repeats the words that end lines B D F in the first stanza. These three words can go anywhere in interior of the final tercet’s lines.

sextet: A stanza containing six lines.

Shakespearian sonnet: Comprised of an octet and a sextet, this sonnet is composed in iambic pentameter and rhymes A B A B–C D C D–E F E F–G G. The volta appears either between lines eight and nine or between lines twelve and thirteen.

simile: A comparison that uses like or as, as in something inside me / rising explosive as my parakeet bursting / from its cage (Bruce Snider, “Chemistry”).

simultaneous submissions: A term used to refer to poems in the submission process that are under consideration by multiple publishers at one time.

sonnet: Although there are several versions of the sonnet, each has fourteen lines and contains a volta, or a turn in thought, which can sometimes be indicated with the words “but” or “yet.” In contemporary poetry it has become common for poets to compose sonnets with differing rhyme or meter, or with none at all.

spondee: ˉ ˉ Two equal stresses.

Spenserian sonnet: This sonnet modifies the Petrarchan to contain a rhyme scheme of A B A B–B C B C–C D C D–E E.

split couplet: Composed of two lines, the split couplet contains a first line in iambic tetrameter and a second in iambic dimeter; the two lines should rhyme. Another variation is to write the first line in iambic pentameter.

stanza: A unit of poetry consisting of lines and bordered by blank space; similar to a paragraph in prose.

stress: The syllables in a line of poetry that are emphasized.

synecdoche: When a part of something symbolizes the whole, or the whole of something symbolizes the part, as in All hands on deck (where hands stands in for men), or The whole world loves you (where whole world represents only a small number of its human population).

synonym: A word with a similar meaning.

tanka: This Japanese form, which focuses primarily on nature or strong emotions, consists of five unrhymed, non-metrical lines with the syllable count 5 7 5 7 7.

tercet: A stanza containing three lines.

tetrameter: A four-foot line.

Than-Bauk: Also known as “Climbing Rhyme,” this Burmese form consists of three four-syllable lines, with rhyme falling on the fourth syllable of the first line, the third syllable of the second line, and the second syllable of the third line.

third person: A writing perspective that uses “he/she/it.”

tone: An attitude the speaker of a poem has toward the subject. It is represented in its musical qualities: pitch, duration, and volume.

tornada: Also known as “envoi,” this is the final tercet of a sestina.

trimeter: A three-foot line

trochee: ΄ ˘ A heavy stress followed by a light stress.

verse: Lines of poetry.

villanelle: This French form consists of five tercets and a final quatrain. The first stanza’s first and third lines repeat in an alternating pattern as the last line in the subsequent stanzas. In the final quatrain, the two lines that have been repeating throughout the poem form the final two lines of the poem.

volta: A turn in thought in the sonnet form indicated sometimes by a “but” or “yet.”

volta: The turn that takes place in a sonnet in which there is a marked change in the speaker’s thought, emotion or rhetoric.

waka: This Japanese form, which focuses primarily on nature or strong emotions, consists of five unrhymed, non-metrical lines with the syllable count 5 7 5 7 7. Lines one and two, as well as three and four, form complete sentences, as does the last line.


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Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations Copyright © 2018 by Michelle Bonczek Evory is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.