Saturday, April 9, 2016

5 kinds of poetry

In critiquing books and batches of poems, I often find some confusion about the type of poems a poet aims to write. That’s important to know, not as you write a poem, but as you revise since you need to keep a specific readership in mind – assuming you want your poems to be published in a journal, anthology, e-zine, or anywhere other than your own blog or website.

Even if you do self-publish, you’ll encounter far less disappointing responses from readers if you give them and your overall purpose some serious thought. For example, do you want to perform your poems on a stage, perhaps accompanied by music? Do you want your work included in a well-established poetry journal? Or do you hope your poems will uplift people spiritually or speak to them on an emotional level?

Your answers to the above questions should help you to narrow your focus on one of these common kinds of poems:

• Performance Poetry
• Greeting Card Verse
• Confessional Poems
• Contemporary Psalms
• Literary Poetry

Each of those types of poems has a different purpose and audience, but also a different style with differing techniques that make the poem work - or not! For example:

Performance Poetry – As the name suggests, this type of poetry is meant to be performed in front of a live audience, typically with music to accompany your recitation since success often rests on the rhythm. Such poems may be chanted or semi-sung as you would do in performing rap lyrics, though the beat might not be quite as strong.

Regardless, if you aspire to performing the poems you write, your subject matter must interest your intended audience. For a couple of extreme examples, a nightclub setting will require a totally different topic for each poem than, say, a Bible-based or liturgical poem performed in a church or synagogue.

In either case – or somewhere in-between – the poem can rhyme or not, but too much rhyme can be deafening while too little might not be heard without a strong beat to accentuate the rhyming words.

If you have someone to video tape your performance ahead of time, great! Without that feedback to learn from, however, you do well to grab your hairbrush and perform in front of a mirror until what you see and hear gives you a performance you’d welcome from someone else!

Greeting Card Verse – Short, rhyming poems with two to ten lines that acknowledge grief or celebrate a happy special occasion fall into this category. The key here is to be sincere in saying what you wish someone would say to you in similar circumstances. If the results speak to or for most people in a fresh way, you might approach the publisher of greeting cards with some samples of your work.

Confessional Poems – Because of the unique circumstances or people involved in this type of poem, a confessional poem nicely flows into conversational free verse but needs fresh insights or comparisons to lift the lines out of a diary and into a poem others will identify with and want to read. Honesty prevails as does language appropriate for your intended readers.

These poems can become psalms if they seek and speak to God instead of yourself or someone else.

Contemporary Psalms – Laments, praise poems, prayer-poems, cries, and thanksgiving to God form the heart, soul, and spirit of psalms written for readers today. These poems can be any length and work best in a sincere, conversational tone with little or no rhyme. In other words, the poem needs to be what you truly think and feel before closing on the remembrance that God is with you and aware of you and your concern.

Since I felt a need to count blessings and focus on the diverse causes of praise in my life, I’ve been writing and blogging Praise Poems, some of which began as laments or confessionals, but all of which end on an uplifting note – for me and, Lord willing, for you.

Literary Poetry – All of the above have the potential to be of literary quality! But how does that happen? One way is to use a traditional form of metered or syllabic verse, both of which you can search out in previous posts on this blog.

No matter what form you use, though, the inclusion of such traits as imagery, alliteration, internal rhyme, or other technique is vital to the success of a poem. Each of those factors and many other options are discussed in the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry – the e-book version of the reader-friendly poetry home study course I revised with Christians in mind to assure you that the examples used to illustrate various poetic traits or forms will consistently be G-rated.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016



  1. Excellent Tips and Advice. Thanks Mary!

  2. Glad to hear it, Shira. Thanks for reading and responding.

  3. I find this very helpful, thank you Mary

    1. So glad to hear it, Deboran! Thanks and blessings.

  4. Interesting categories, most of which I never thought of, even though I've written poems for over 40 years. I think of categories such as free verse and sonnets. Guess most of mine fall into confessional or contemporary psalms. Nice to learn this perspective.

  5. Thanks for taking time to respond. Contemporary psalms are my favorites now too. God bless.

  6. Thanks Mary, very informative.

  7. I would say that many of mine are Contemporary psalms. I love writing.

    1. Me too, Anne. May God continue to bless your writing life in Christ.