5 Obscure Poetry Forms You’ve Never Heard of but Should Try

Are you looking for some new poetry forms to try? In this article, we will take a look at some uncommon and obscure poetry forms that you should take for a spin.

I’ve been writing poetry for over fifteen years now. I love to be able to share my thoughts and ideas in ways which I can’t do when writing prose. I feel that simple words and phrases don’t do them justice. This is why poetry is my favorite form of literature. It is powerful.

However, writing free verse does get tiring. I will sometimes look through a list of poetic forms and choose something different to try. At first, I’d write the common stuff–sonnets, haiku, odes–and then move to something less common–lyrics, cinquains, and limericks.

Nonetheless, I am always looking for something new. This is why today I’ll give you a list of poetic forms that are so uncommon and obscure that most people have never heard of them in modern poetry circles.

  1. Chant Royal

    The chant royals were once called “impractical” by William Caswell Jones due to its complexity. The poetic form originated in France during the 15th century. It was created by Christine de Pizan and exported to England towards the end of the 19th century by Charles d’Orleans.

    The form consists of 5 ABABCCDDEDE stanzas. ending with a 5 line DDEDE or seven-line CCDDEDE envoi (short stanza at the end of a poem to address the previous body of the poem or a real or imaginary person).

  2. Clerihew

    The clerihew was invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley when he was just 16 years old. He says that when he was a pupil at St. Paul’s School in London, the lines about Humphry Davy came to his head and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He and his friends then filled a notebook full of poems written in the same poetic form which is today known as the clerihew.

    Sir Humphry Davy
    Abominated gravy.
    He lived in the odium
    Of having discovered sodium.

    This poetic form consists of 4 whimsical lines about famous people. It is biographical and made up of irregular lines and meter for comedic effect. The rhyme structure is AABB with the subject and wording contrived humorously in order to achieve a rhyme, which may include phrases from other languages. The first line must end with the subjects name–most of the time only the subject’s name is the first line.

  3. Ghazal

    The ghazal is an ancient Arabian poetic form and has been written by famous poets like Rumi, Hafiz, and even Goethe.

    The ghazal consists of 5 or more couplets which share the same meter and the same word at the end of each stanza. The theme usually deals with the pain or loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. Nonetheless, the poem may be able simply about love–divine or earthly. However, the couplets may be unrelated and have nothing to do with one another except having the same rhythmic patterns and feel of writing.

  4. Tanaga

    The Tanaga is a traditional Tagalog verse known locally as “The Filipino Haiku”. However, there are now varying versions of the once strict form.

    Traditional Tanaga is 4 lines with seven syllables written in an AAAA rhyme scheme. It also did not have a title.

    Modern Tanaga sometimes has titles, 4 lines, seven syllables, and any or no rhyme scheme. All Tanaga includes the use of metaphors.

    The Tanaga is seen as a great way to test a poet’s poetic abilities due to the syllabic limits and line limits but unspecific meter form.

  5. Villanelle

    The Villanelle is a French poetic form dating back to the 16th century. However surprisingly, the majority of Villanelle has been written in English.

    The original Villanelle was simple ballad-like poems with no fixed form. It was seen as any ballad with a pastoral subject. Today, the form must use 5 stanzas of tercets (3 lines) followed by a quatrain (4 lines) and use a strict rhyming pattern and refrain: A1-b-A2, a-b-A1, a-b-A2, a-b-A1, a-b-A2, a-b-A1-A2 (“A1” or “A2” means it is used as a repeated line. “a” or “b” means it is simply rhymed). However, there is no strict meter. Today, this poem is quite uncommon among contemporary poets.

There you have it, five poetry forms you’ve never heard of, but you should try.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.