Forum Thread: Whatever Happened to Form Poetry? (Discussion Revisited)

Back in 2005, as Bugzita, I started a Foetry thread: "Whatever Happened to Form Poetry?"

It was one of the liveliest threads on Foetry and lasted for over six months (15 pages, 218 comments).

In a July 2, 2005, post, Ed Dupree stated, "Nothing this good ever happened in the MFA lounge."

Boy, was he right! It just got better after that.

In order to bring this topic to this forum, I am reposting some of my 2005 thoughts on the subject on

I would love to post the entire thread, but, of course, the original writers own the copyright to their posts. Maybe some of you original posters will find THIS thread and revive this topic.

Opening Post:

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I love GOOD form poetry; nothing excites me more than a fantastic sestina, sonnet, villanelle, etc.

I don't mean sentimental doggerel or light verse, but important form poems that turn the world on its ear. Why do modern poets tend to shun forms in favor of free verse? Or when they do write them, why do they work so hard to "hide" the fact that their poems are form?

I have nothing against free verse, but it seems so overused.

Reply #3

I agree that a poet shouldn't trumpet the fact that he/she has written a form poem; half the surprise for the reader is "discovering" the form through reading and reciting the poem aloud. I do cringe when a poet announces, "Now I'm going to read a sestina."

Please. Just allow the poem to unfold--trust the reader/listener.

I also agree that content, not form, should drive the poem; if the form doesn't work for a particular poem, then abandon the form or try another form. And, sometimes, free verse works best.

I would just like to see more form poetry--well-written, of course. I do like free verse; I'm not advocating abolishing it--not at all. There's room for all types of poetry.

Reply #5

My students are shocked when I require them to try writing some form poetry--they think I'm a throwback to the ice age. By the end of the semester, however, most of them are pleasantly surprised at how rewarding form can be; some of their best poems are form poems.

Still, I have no wish to "impose" form on a young poet's style; I just want them to break from their old ways and try on different poetic styles.

To be honest, I'd rather see a weak form poem than just an okay free verse poem.

But that's just me.

Reply #24

Wow. I'm not sure how, in August, I'll be able to walk into my creative writing classroom. I won't be able to "teach" as usual--I just can't.

My worst nightmare will come true: walking into a classroom without a clue where to start.

I do know this: this website, particularly this thread, will definitely be required reading (Please, Alan, I hope this thread remains active or at least archived, yet accessible). For once in my academic life, I'm going to ask my students to consider the words and ideas of writers who are anonymous, who are NOT unfurling their credentials like a banner. That's a scary prospect.

But I don't care; on this site, I have read more intelligent and well-considered discourse on poetry (and other topics, too) than I have EVER read in the establishment textbooks. I wonder why? Why aren't academicians willing to ask the hard questions, take to task "the accepted"?

No wonder students hate forms--to them, it's like writing their grandparents' poetry. But it doesn't have to be. Why can't we present form as something "hip," something that can speak for their generation, a generation being sent to Iraq as cannon fodder?

Also who says that form has to be "fixed"? Why can't a poet violate a "rule" regarding a sestina, sonnet, or pantoum? Create NEW forms?

My husband and I have spent all morning arguing about these issues; I want him to create an ID and pop in on this conversation, but I don't know...

Okay, I'm going to return to this thread later--I have to run somewhere. But I'd like to hear from others, even other academicians.

Thanks, all.

Reply #35


I'm happy to hear that form may be making its well-needed comeback among the 20-something set; I hope some of your fellow poets end up in my class. :lol:

I, too, love sonnets, especially well-written ones that surprise. But I must admit a particular fondness for the sestina, a difficult form to pull off. And when I read a good one, it makes my day.

Anyway, I'm glad to see some young poets jumping in on this thread.

Reply #108

[I had been absent for a few weeks, at least on this thread, and I expressed some surprise at the quality of posts on form poetry].

Reply #184 (Addressed to "Matt"): My Last Post on This Thread

Matt, you have a way of zeroing in on what's wrong with modern poetry. "Pretentious" and "mind-numbingly boring" come to mind--modern poets tend to worship at the altar of self: "Look at me, I'm cute."

I want to puke.

No wonder average John and Jane Doe have turned up their noses at modern poetry and stick with Robert Frost and the schoolhouse poets; at least they offer something universal for the reader, the grand themes of love, relationships, death. Relateable stuff.

Aunt Jane or Uncle John from Podunk City are simply not going to read a "free verse" poem about a foet's nose hairs. If they read poetry at all, they'll go for inspirational, such as light verse from the likes of Good Housekeeping and Reader's Digest. The average American doesn't give a damn about what is going on in a foet's body, sexual or otherwise. It used to be that EVERYONE recited poetry, but when was the last time you heard anyone reciting a poem (other than a self-indulgent foet at a stuffy reading)?

The foetry enclave is insular and clicky, and they seem to write a lot poems about each other, and if one doesn't have a key to the club (earned by lapping the brown stuff from each others' butts), then forget about entry. Truthfully, Matt, we're better off on the fringes because we have our integrity intact, whether we write poems or not.

The average American no longer cares about serious poetry because it all looks like a fraud to them. Modern poetry doesn't speak to THEM, so when they do read poems, they resort to doggerel and "precious," but who can blame them? It used to be that EVERYONE recited poetry.

In our seminars, Bill Logan [one of my grad school professors at the University of Florida] didn't buy into that foet crap; he wanted us to pay more attention to craft, imagery, and language. At the time, I was lazy and didn't want to pay attention to those matters, but, in retrospect, he was trying to help us expand beyond the po-biz boundaries. In a sense, he, too, is somewhat an outsider in the po-biz world--maybe that's a good thing: a voice of reason. At least I hope so.

Maybe we need to start over, read Dr. Suess and work our way up to Shel Silverstein; kids are good at detecting BS. At least when they read about someone's nose hairs, they expect the poem to be FUNNY, and it should rhyme and contain a real meter.

I could go on, but I'll spare you; it's tired, and I'm late--and this isn't making much sense right now.

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What are your thoughts on form poetry?

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