Poetry Glossary

Abstract noun

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


An allegory is a story which the author tells in order to share a moral or idea, or speak about real-life events. Examples include Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (in which Plato imagines people living in a cave in order to talk about how we perceive the world around us), The Chronicle of Narnia (where the lion Aslan symbolises Jesus Christ) and Animal Farm (where the animals and the plot stand in for historical figures and events of the Russian Revolution of 1917).

Allegories use symbols a lot. The characters, places, and events in the narrative will all symbolise something other than themselves. Writers use allegories to convey something complex in an interesting and understandable way.


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


The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, sentences, or lines.
“Five years have passed;
Five summers, with the length of
Five long winters! and again I hear these waters…”
from ‘Tintern Abbey’, by William Wordsworth


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.


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


A ballad is traditionally an oral folk poem, meaning that originally it wasn’t written down but sung, often to tell a folk story handed down through generations by wandering minstrels. Therefore traditionally they didn’t have a single author, but were the work of a community. Ballads tend to rhyme (often ABAB or ABCB) and when written down are usually organised in stanzas of four lines. Some good examples include the medieval ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens‘ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


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.


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.


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


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. Some famous examples include ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning and ‘Mrs Midas’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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.


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.


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


Ekphrasis comes from a Greek word, meaning ‘description of a piece of art’. Ekphrastic poems are usually written in response to, or about, a piece of art – whether a painting or photograph, a film or a video, a sculpture or an installation, or any kind of visual art.

One of the most famous ekphrastic poems in the English language is John Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, in which the poet writes in response to an ancient Greek vase. Two ekphrastic poems by a living poet are ‘I Would Like To Be A Dot In A Painting By Miro’ and ‘Mermaid’ by Moniza Alvi.


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. Some examples of poetic forms are sonnets, acrostics and villanelles.


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.


The ghazal (pronounced “guzzle”) is a poetic form that was popularised in medieval Persian poetry. It is written in couplets – and in its original form, there must be at least five and not more than fifteen verses. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase, which appears twice in the first couplet. The final verse typically includes a reference to the poet, often using their own name. Traditionally, the lines are all the same length and metre.

Some examples include ‘Tonight’ by Agha Shahid Ali, who introduced the ghazal in its classical form to the English-speaking world. For a more unconventional ghazal, look at Heather McHugh’s ‘Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun’.

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”. 


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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. 


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.


Poetry is famously difficult to define! It is often contrasted with prose.

Some features of poetry include rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration and much more. These poetic devices all have something in common: they create patterns with language.

Poetry is sometimes thought of as more concentrated than prose. This means that in a poem, a writer might use fewer words to conjure an image or idea; in a prose piece they might just explain the idea outright.

You might like to read through some winning poems in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and think about what makes these poems poems, rather than prose.

You might also find it helpful to hear what other poets think poetry is. Here is an example list of quotations. We encourage you to do your own research, and create your own definition!

Prose poetry

Prose poetry is a hybrid between the two forms of prose and poetry.

Prose poems often look like prose. They do not normally use line-breaks and are written in paragraphs rather than stanzas, e.g. in this Charles Simic poem.

However, they use other poetic elements like rhythm, rhyme, repetition, associative language, contortions of the sentence structure, and more.

It is hard to define what exactly a prose poem is! We encourage you to do your own research and make up your mind.


Prose is language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure, poetic line-breaks etc. It can be fictional or non-fictional.

Examples of prose include (but are not restricted to): 

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • non-fiction, e.g. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • speeches, e.g. a speech by the Prime Minister
  • journalism, e.g. an article in a newspaper
  • most of the writing we see around us, from advertising to the back of a cereal packet!

Prose is often contrasted with poetry. A hybrid form, prose poetry, also exists.


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


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.


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.


Six lines of poetry, arranged together.


A thirty-nine line poem which follows a strict form made up of six six-line stanzas, followed by a closing tercet (a three-line stanza). 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. 


The use of humour, irony or exaggeration to ridicule and expose wrongdoing and absurdities, particularly in politics.


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


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. 


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.


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

For example, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘One Art’ is made up of six stanzas. Each stanza has three lines, until the final stanza, which has four lines. (This form is called a villanelle.)


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


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. 


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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