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What Are the Different Types of Poems?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are many different types of poems, most of which are associated with specific time periods and cultures. When people talk about different types of poems, they typically are referring to various poetry forms. These include many different kinds of rhyming poems, poems with specific rhythms or syllables, or even those that eschew all traditional poetic order. In addition to the different structures of poems, there are also differences between themes and subjects of poems. Poetry categories intersect in a variety of ways, but in many cases, the form of a poem can be linked to a traditional subject matter or theme.

Some of the best-known types of poems are highly formulaic. Haiku, for example, is a type of poem originating in Japan that involves counting syllables or, more accurately, moras. Restrictions on form may be more or less exacting, and poems with similar basic restrictions on form include sijo, sonnets, and cinquains. Restrictions on form may cover the number of lines, pattern of beats, and even repetition of words. Sestinas, for example, use lines that end with the same six words across six stanzas and a tercet.

Free verse poetry has no restriction on form of any kind, but poets writing in this style sometimes use the qualities of sounds in order to add to the overall feel of the poem. A similar type of poetry called prose poetry rejects even the line-based form of many poems. These types of poems can address any subject matter and are perhaps some of the most widely written.

Some people think of types of poems in terms of the origins of the poems. The history of a country and traditional forms of poetry in certain areas can be useful categories when discussing specific poems. Poets in modern times have access to a wide variety of poems in languages other than their native tongue, which leads to many interesting crossovers, such as English haiku or Japanese sonnets. These unique types of poetry draw from numerous traditions as well as accidents of translation creating truly unique works.

The subjects of poems can sometimes be categorized in useful ways as well. For example, an elegy is a mournful or sorrowful poem, typically written for a funeral or more generally for the dead. Lyric poetry is any type of poem that describes emotions or personal feelings. Narrative poetry, on the other hand, is identified primarily as poems that have plots. These different categories may cross a number of other categories, and which category is most useful in a given situation depends on how the poem is being evaluated.

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Discussion Comments
By FirstBase — On May 17, 2011

There are so many types of poems to write but I love Haiku!

When my daughter was living abroad at age 17, we stayed in touch every day by writing a Haiku poem and then posting them on a website to share with each other. It kept me sane knowing she was okay another day. It also gave me the most incredible insights on how her daily life was going.

By sobeit — On May 16, 2011

Poetry is a great teacher -- I use it all the time when I'm teaching. For instance, last week I had my class look at a painting of three people in a boat. I asked them to write three short narrative poems, each one to be written from the viewpoint of a person in the painting.

This (hopefully) teaches the students that through poetry and the freedom to become someone else, they could become more empathetic and thus, more knowledgeable about differing viewpoints.

I'd definitely recommend exercises like this for students in middle school and above.

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