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How to Write a Formula Poem


Formula poems include haiku, cinquain, quatrain and sonnet. Each of these poetry forms has a specific number of lines and syllables. Sonnets also have a set rhyme scheme and meter, the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables that give a poem its cadence. Haiku originated in Japan, while cinquains and sonnets are associated with British literature. Blake's quatrain "The Tyger," and many of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets are required reading in many literature classes.

Choose haiku, cinquain, quatrain or sonnet, or any other poetry form that requires a set number of lines and syllables, a fixed rhyme scheme or set meter.

Read poems 8, 46 and 109 by Basho Matsuo from "The Complete Haiku," or from his 111 poems available at Poem Hunter.com. Write down one sentence of your own, with five syllables, that reflects the season, weather or time of day.

Add a second sentence with seven syllables that calls the reader's attention to some feature of the natural environment. Finish with five syllables that help the reader see beauty or feel strong emotions associated with the scene set by the first two sentences.

Read any five poems by Adelaide Crapsey, the inventor of the cinquain and note the 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllable pattern. Write down a two-syllable word that reflects a season, mood or your current state of mind. Center one four-syllable word or two additional two-syllable words under that first line.

Center one six-syllable word or two three-syllable words on the third line. Center three two-syllable words, two four-syllable words or any other combination of words with eight syllables on the fourth line. Finish your poem with a single, two-syllable word that sums up the message of your cinquain. The poem should have a triangle or pine-tree shape when done correctly.

Finish with a single, two-syllable word that sums up the message of your cinquain. Your poem should have a triangle or pine-tree shape when written according to form.

Read "The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake," paying particular attention to his quatrain, "The Tyger." Write two seven-syllable lines that end in rhyming words, a third seven-syllable line that does not rhyme with the first two, and an eight-syllable line that rhymes with the last word in the third line.

Read "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," by William Shakespeare, from the Riverside Shakespeare, second edition. Follow that with "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments." Select three additional sonnets and read them out loud, noting the ten alternating stressed and unstressed syllables in each line.

Note that each poem consists of eight, six and two lines. Notice that the first eight lines, called an octet, follow the rhyme scheme, "a b b a a b b a," states Nelson Miller of Cayuse Press.

Choose one of the following six rhyme schemes for the next three lines: "c d c d c d," "c d d c d c," "c d e c d e," "c d e c e d" or "c d c e d c." Each letter stands for a word that ends in a different sound.

Write eight lines in iambic pentameter that introduce a topic and state a problem, using the "a b b a a b b a" rhyme scheme. Add four more lines that expand on the problem, with the solution or recommended action in the remaining two lines.

Tip
  • Adelaide Crapsey's cinquains often explored themes of death. Nostradamus wrote his prophecies in quatrains, in French. According to Linda K. Alchin, author and site owner of William Shakespeare.info, the sonnet was introduced to England from Italy by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Sonnet purists do not end them in a couplet, although Shakespeare himself often did. Petrarch, the Italian creator of the sonnet, did not end his sonnets in couplets.
Items you will need
Unabridged dictionary
Thesaurus
Rhyming dictionary
The following books:
Basho: The Complete Haiku
Verse: Adelaide Crapsey
The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake
The Riverside Shakespeare, second edition
Your poetry journal and favorite pen or pencil
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