Poetry Glossary

Abstract noun

A name for a concept, quality, or state of being, such as love, happiness, honesty, or friendship.

Alliteration

The repetition of the same consonant or consonant sound at the beginning of several words in a row: e.g the debonair, daredevil doctor.

Anthology

A book which combines poems by several different authors. Sometimes the poems chosen by the book’s editor are on a single theme, or represent poems of a particular style or time period.

Assonance

The repetition of similar vowel sounds within a line or a phrase: e.g. motor boat

Cinquain

Five unrhymed lines which follow a set syllabic pattern:

1st line – 2 syllables
2nd line – 4 syllables
3rd line – 6 syllables
4th line – 8 syllables
5th line – 2 syllables

Collected Poems

All the poems from an author’s previous publications, gathered together into one book.

Collection

A book of poems by a single author.

Concrete noun

A name for something we can see, touch, smell, hear, or taste, like an object.

Concrete poetry

Poetry where the arrangement of text on a page is designed to further the effect or meaning.

Consonance

The repetition of consonant sounds within a line or phrase: e.g. the ‘T’ sounds in ‘pitter patter’

Couplet

A couplet is two lines of poetry arranged as a pair. If the two lines rhyme, it is called a rhyming couplet. 

Dramatic Monologue

A poem written from the point of view of one person, who is definitely NOT the poet. The character speaks or thinks aloud, and often a whole story can be pieced together from the fragments they say.

Dub Poetry

A style of poetry that uses the rhythms of reggae music. It is often written to be performed live, over a music backing. Dub poetry emerged in the 1970s in Jamaica and England.

Editing

Making changes to your poem after you’ve written it. This might include changing a word, a piece of punctuation, breaking up a line, or cutting a whole line or verse.

Editor

A person at a magazine or publishing company who is responsible for choosing which writers or poems are selected for publication.

Form

A poetic form is a way of writing according to certain rules, which dictate the sound and flow of the poem. The rules might restrict the kinds of rhyme or metre you are allowed to use, whether you have to alliterate, whether you have to repeat certain lines, among other things.

Haiku

A type of short poem that originated in Japan. In English, a haiku usually consists of seventeen syllables, split into three unrhymed lines, opening with 5 syllables, then 7, then 5. Traditionally, Japanese haiku always feature a word known as a ‘kigo’, which is suggestive of one of the seasons.

Iambic Pentameter

An iamb consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. A line of iambic pentameter consists of five iambs, as in the line: “When I do count the clock that tells the time”. 

Metaphor

A phrase that describes something by stating that it is something else: e.g. the traffic jam is a snail moving down the road.

Metre

The rhythmic structure of a poem (WHICH of the WORDS in a SEN-tence you STRESS when you SPEAK).

National Poetry Day

Usually the first Thursday in October, National Poetry Day is an annual celebration in the UK. A different theme is set every year, and anyone can participate by staging their own poetry event.

New and Selected Poems

A book where a selection of an author’s best poems from previous publications are brought together in one book; and combined with some previously unpublished poems.

Octave

Eight lines of poetry, grouped together, often written in iambic pentameter.

Onomatopoeia

A word which, when read aloud, resembles the sound of the thing it is describing: e.g. gurgle

Oulipo

A poetry school from the 1960s that applies some mathematical rules or constraints when writing poetry.  One famous example would be the “S+7” method, where a poet replaces each noun in a poem by another noun found seven places away in a chosen dictionary.

Pamphlet

A slim publication, usually with fewer than 36 pages, often cheaply produced, and usually with a paper cover.

Pantoum

An originally Malaysian verse form made up of quatrains, in which the second and fourth lines of each quatrain are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. 

Personification

When objects and events are are describes as having the characteristics of human beings.

Poet Laureate

A special post to honour an important poet. Originally a royal appointment, there are now poet laureates in many different countries, as well as local laureates who represent a city or region. The present UK poet laureate is Carol Ann Duffy.

Quatrain

Four lines of poetry, arranged together. This can also be the name of an individual four-line poem.

Rhyme

Words ending with the same sound. eg cat and mat; cherry and berry; dance and chance. A short, simple rhyming poem is sometimes called a rhyme.

Rhythm

The pattern of sounds, words and phrases in poetry and prose, created by the arrangement of syllables in a line.

Selected Poems

A book where a selection of an author’s best poems from previous publications are brought together in one book.

Sestet

Six lines of poetry, arranged together.

Sestina

A thirty-nine line poem which follows a strict form made up of six six-line stanzas, followed by a closing tercet. The words used at the end of each line of the first stanza are used to end each line in the following stanzas throughout the poem, rotated in a fixed pattern. Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sestina‘ is (as the name implies!) an excellent example of this form. 

Simile

A phrase that describes something as being like something else: e.g. as slow as a snail

Slam

A kind of poetry competition in which multiple poets perform individually to a live audience, with a winner being chosen at the end of the competition. There may be multiple rounds in a slam competition, with the best performers left to battle it out against one another for the title of slam champion. 

Sonnet

A poem made up of fourteen lines. An English sonnet (sometimes called a Shakespearean sonnet) is a variation on the sonnet form traditionally made up of three quatrains and a couplet,  which usually follow the rhyme scheme ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. An Italian sonnet (sometimes called a Petrarchan sonnet) is made up of an octave and a sestet, which usually follow the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA, CDECDE or CDCDCD.

Spoken Word

Poetry that is intended primarily for live performance.

Stanza

From the Italian word for ‘room’, a stanza is a group of lines in a poem which are arranged together, forming the poem’s basic metrical unit.

Tercet

Three lines of poetry, arranged together. This can also be the name of an individual three-line poem.

Triolet

An eight-line poem which follows the rhyme scheme ABAAABAB. The poem’s first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines, and the second line is repeated in the final line, meaning that only five original lines are used in the poem as a whole. 

Villanelle

A nineteen-line poem which follows a strict form, traditionally made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain.  There are only two rhyme sounds used throughout the poem, with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated alternately throughout the poem, then coming together as the quatrain’s closing couplet. ‘Missing Dates‘ by William Empson is a good example of a strict-form villanelle, as is ‘Do not go gentle into that good night‘ by Dylan Thomas.

 

 

 

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