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Poetry in Detail: Classifying Poetry Forms

Written by: MOSES KISIANG'ANI MAKHAKHA

A poet writes and recites poems. Poets not only write for pleasure but they as well take it as an occupation. Poetry is what they feel and enjoy doing. Poets make meaning out of the apparently meaningless environment. It is, therefore, true that they manipulate their immediate environment artistically for the benefit of others as well. A poem is usually a long chain which includes the poet, his ideas, and the environment in which such ideas are drawn. It doesn’t just stop at that, the chain extends to the people who read, sing or recite the poem as well as what is elicited in them emotionally by such pieces. A poem is therefore what remains after a given piece has suffered all the manipulations including a source language deprivation and change of the persona or the performers. In our case here then, what remains of the poems KUMOYO KWITUKHA and YAYA NE LIKHASI after translation from Lubukusu to English is what we call a poem.

A poet impressively tries with words in a playful manner using his/ her special skills beauty in sentences and impressions even at a time when others cannot.

We can therefore easily be convinced that; a poem conveys a complete thought incompletely. It is best for teaching abstract linguistic concepts since it calls for a critical mind and it often nurtures rhetoric in the lovers of poetry.

Poets come up with the words of choice in a skillful manner whose aesthetic nature achieves a desired emotional effect. (Matterson, 2011) posts that, it is impossible to discuss poetry, or even to understand it, without some knowledge of poetic form. According to him, the form should be the starting point of any analysis of poetry.

It is however not easy for everybody to understand the form and content of a given poem since some are seen as absolutely abstract concepts. For instance, different people understand different poems more easily than others. More so, poetry critics may post divergent views on given poetry depending on their points of interpretation.

The power of poetry is seen in Marianne Moore (1821) argued that poets are acknowledged as legislators of the world. He thus showed how relevant and important is a poet and poetry in addressing issues of concern to the public and in addressing certain discourses.

Written poems appear in various forms just in the same way they discuss different subjects and other concerns. Two poems can, however, address the same subject but in totally different ways in terms of style, varying authorial intrusions, and language.

Given written poems, you can classify them under the following forms:

Acrostic-A poem in which certain letters i.e. the first in each line form a word vertically or whichever way it is formed. A good example, in this case, is a poem, THE MOON’S FORTUNE.

ABC- A poem whereby every word begins in a successful letter of the alphabet. For example; if the first line began with A, then the second line will begin with B and so forth. Consider studying THE MORNING PRAYER.

Concrete poem- This is a shaped poem. It is written in a given pattern whose visual appearance elicits a given subject matter just as it portrays a shape of a given object. For instance; a love poem shaped like a human heart. Look at the LOVER.

Didactic poem- The one which is primarily written to teach or entertain. It carries moral lessons of religious, philosophical or aesthetical nature. A good example of such a poem is Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Epic poems- They are long narrative forms of poetry. They are based on historical heroic deeds or adventure. Good examples are derived from the Odyssey and the Iliad of Homer.

Free Verse- These are poems that are not written with special regard to meter or rhyme. However, their complicatedness and other features of style still render them to be perceived as poems.

Verse poem- This poem has a single recurring line with a specific pattern.

Imagism- In such poems, clear and direct forward statements are used in order to create mental images. Such poems do not employ abstract wordings.

Parallelismus membrorum-This kind of a poem owes its roots to the scriptures of Hebrew origin. Such poems exhibit parallels and contrary syntactic components in the conveyance of thoughts. In this case, two sections of a sentence or more are given incomparable in order to communicate some explicit thoughts.

The length of the poem should not be looked at as a confusing element since even more brief poems have had complete theses in efforts to analyze them. For instance, a renowned poet Robert Frost wrote short poems which have been subjected to scholarly analysis and criticism. Hannibul, Immigrants, Lodged and Devotion; all by Robert Frost have equally been looked at as important just like The Road Not Taken.

MORE EXAMPLES (TRADITIONAL FORMS OF POETRY)

Narrative poem-may have features of a short story. Here, a story is being told

Ballad-a story in song; this poem tells a story. Like a song, it exhibits rhyme, repetition, rhythm, and stanzas

Haiku-Japanese poem whereby 17 syllables are arranged in three non-rhythmic lines of 5,7 and 5 syllables. Haiku are meant to evoke emotional responses from their readers.

Blank verse-this is unrhythmic poetry which has a meter and whose lines have ten syllables in length.

Cinquains are poems which have five lines in length

Couplets have two rhyming lines in the verse and which state one complete idea

An Elegy states a poet’s sadness due to the death of an important person.

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem that states a poet’s personal feelings.

Ode is a long lyric that is deep in feeling and having sufficient poetic devices.

A Limerick is a verse of five lines. It is humorous.

ORAL POETRY

Some poems, however, need not be written down. These ones are referred to as Oral poems. (Okumba, 2008) espouses that, Oral poetry refers to the verbal expression of feelings, ideas, and thoughts using versified language (words arranged in the best possible order). It is a genre of oral literature. Amongst the features of this kind of poetry are:

  • It is created and delivered verbally
  • It makes use of prosodic features such as tone and pitch in the variation of mood
  • The same poem can be done differently based on the state of the mind, mood, attitude, age, gender, environment, situation, season and occasion of the performance.

Oral poetry can be classified into the following:

  • Religious poetry- one which is performed during religious occasions or for spiritual purposes based on the communities owning the poem.
  • Dirges-These are funeral poems/songs
  • Work poetry/songs-They accompany work e.g. during harvesting or planting seasons.
  • Initiation poems-Accompanies rites of passage especially Circumcision.
  • War poems/songs-Sang to praise heroes of war or during times of war.
  • Epic poems- They are long and elaborate. They are meant for heroes of a given community. The famous world epics include the ILIAD and the ODDESSEY of Homer.
  • Panegyrics-These are poems that are meant to praise.
  • Children's songs/poems-Meant for children for entertainment purposes, play, lullabies, etc. Consider WHEN I GROW UP, by Makhakha.

STYLE AND STYLISTIC DEVICES IN POETRY

Special focus should be put on the manner in which poets employ language in poetry. The special method or manner in which a poet presents his/her ideas, mood, atmosphere and tone is what we call style in poetry. This includes the manner in which lines are arranged in a given poem or even the way words in a particular line are arranged. Below are some common poetic devices:

Alliteration which involves the repetition of consonant sounds at word initials in a poem. E.g. freshly fresh fish.

Allusion whereby the poem (poet) chooses to refer either directly or indirectly to a known event, place or object. It could be a biblical, Koranic or even a Historical allusion.

Assonance is a repetition of similar vowel sounds and especially in stressed syllables.

Imagery is a situation whereby a poem creates some mental pictures which appeal to any of the five senses. Similes, metaphors, and symbols serve this purpose.

An Irony which is composed of a contradiction of expectations or meaning.

Juxtaposition whereby opposite situations appear to be mixed e.g.  Suspense and humor.

Juxtaposition is somehow related to contrast which is simply a comparison of different things (opposite).

Hyperbole is an exaggeration that may appear as either an overstatement or an understatement. For instance, a child could be presented with beards or thirty-two teeth.

A metaphor is a directly stated comparison. e.g.  Mango is a lion.

A Simile is an indirectly stated comparison e.g.  As brave as a lion or brave like a lion.

A paradox is a statement that contradicts the obvious state of affairs.

In enjambment, thoughts or a line sneaks to the next line without a clear break.

Symbolisms whereby statements (objects) represent something else in the real world apart from their appearance in the literary world.

Consonance is a closely repeated consonant sounds before and after different vowels.

Onomatopoeia is the use of words to imitate sound produced by creatures or objects e.g. a buzz of bees.

Idiophone evokes a vivid impression of ideas and this could be sound, smell or even color. It should not be confused with onomatopoeia since this is an actual quality of a given description. e.g Churrr  (gush) and ndo ndo ndo(drop drop drop)

Point of view refers to the teller’s point of view. This could be the first person, the second person or the third-person narrator.

Repetition is a situation where lines, words, and phrases recur in a poem.

Rhyme is the similar endings in sounds exhibited at the end of lines.

Anaphora- repetition of certain words at the beginning of each sentence for emphasis or prominence.

Cataphora- mentioning something further within a given discourse. Pronouns serve such purposes mostly. e.g  Enoch went to heaven. He was lucky.

Internal rhyme occurs within one line e.g. a bird sings flapping wings

Parallelism entails the use of sentences which have grammatically similar features e.g. structure or meter

Personification is the giving of human attributes to inanimate objects e.g. the crying stone.

NOTE: Similes, metaphors, personification, idiom, and hyperbole, are referred to as figurative features. They are used for description beyond the impression. We are thus made to think and draw conclusions beyond the said literal meaning.

Assonance, consonance, alliteration, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and onomatopoeia are sound devices. They are words with sounds suggestive of meaning. Figurative language is achieved using figures of speech. Communication in a language other than the normal one.

SUBJECT MATTER AND THE PERSONA

SUBJECT MATTER OF A POEM-This is the idea that the poem is concerned about. It is the message which a poem is meant to deliver. A subject at times might be concealed and so there is a need for a critical look at a poem in order to identify it. Some poems have more than one concern,

PERSONA-This is the character who speaks in a poem. The voice of the poem is the persona’s voice and not the poet’s.

MOOD, TONE, AND ATMOSPHERE

TONE-Tone is the attitude portrayed by the poet towards the poem, its subject; persona as the reader interprets admiring, adoring, bemused, benevolent, blithe, calm, casual, cheerful, comic, compassionate, contented, delightful, excited, empathetic, flippant, funny, forthright, happy, friendly, embarrassed, evasive, frantic, disliking, desperate, detached, cynical, blunt, bitter, apathetic, abhorring, acerbic, ambitious, indirect, impartial etc.

MOOD-Mood is defined as the atmosphere of a poem. It is the emotional feeling elicited by the poem in the reader. It is just concerned with the emotional feelings of individuals Moods may include fear, love, peace, pride, serenity, amused, awed, calm, contemplative, determined, excited, satiated, silly, surprised, thoughtful, sympathetic, trustful, enraged, restless, scared, envious, frustrated, futile, foreboding, gloomy, tense, vivacious, warm, joyous, thankful, satisfied, relaxed, relieved, desolate, loving, peaceful, barren, jubilant, nostalgic, optimistic, lighthearted, mellow, pleased, dreamy, dignified, irate, insidious, merciless, giddy, flatty, morose, numb, sick, serious, somber, scared, hopeless, hostile, heartbroken, haunting, grumpy, welcoming etc.

ATMOSPHERE-Type of feelings that readers get in a poem. Words that describe atmosphere include:

Scary, uncanny, uneasy, alarming, garrish, grim, lonely, barren, terrifying, merciless, desolate, threatening, painful, hostile, hopeless, cold, pessimistic, insidious, confining, tense, violent, gloomy, admiring, happy, delightful, bewildered, direct, relaxed, comic, placid, flippant, annoyed, detached, fervent, comforting, passionate, reverent, tranquil, harsh, angry, intelligent, earnest, biting, desperate, grim, dry, greedy, elated, upbeat, gushy, disliking, belligerent, interested, cynical, fatalistic, effusive, cold, objective, cheerful, facetious, conciliatory, proud, funny, lively, euphoric, serene, apathetic, animated, evasive, curt, excited, silly, blithe, political, mirthful, optimistic, hopeless, exhilarated, disappointing, diabolic, romantic etc.

GOD AND ART

Above all, God is the best artist. His creativeness is depicted in the mysteries surrounding the creation and the perfect portrayal of creation. Art is initiated by God himself and so the bible is a masterpiece of aesthetics. The widely read and interesting novel which ever touched the hearts is the bible. Despite just touching the hearts, it has showcased its capacity to intrigue the souls. Best poets, storytellers, and men of wisdom were ordained by God to write. My first reading of Song of Songs made me put Solomon, an inspired writer of God at the helm of love poets by rank. Reading the proverbs, I was forced to make an own declaration that he was a master of oral traditions. Another interesting book is the psalms and the manner in which people sing and recite them with a creative ambiance. As such then, I credit God in both quantity and enduring merit as the initiator of creative wisdom and the nourishing father of knowledge.

If we may consult the Bible, (Gen 1:26;we are created in the beautiful image of God, Psalm 19:1;think of the pictures and galaxies and try to imagine how perfect is the drawer/artist,Gen 1:31;Gods creation is pronounced as very good, Ezekiel 28:17; you can see that even Satan was created beautifully.