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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ballads: The Story Poem Form

Recently a poet asked if I could identify the form she had used in writing a story poem. I wasn’t sure! A first draft with no pattern in mind is not likely to plink onto a page and come out true to form, but that’s okay. That’s even to be expected because traditional poetry usually results, not from writing in form, but from revising lines to fit a particular pattern.

Ideally that form will shape up what’s there. So, the more forms or poetry patterns you become acquainted with, the more options you’ll have as you revise. (Like, why try to reinvent countless centuries of pattern choices?)

The story poem I just mentioned had end-line rhymes and roughly four beats per line. The poet had then divided those lines into groups of four, making her narrative poem a four-beat poem (accentual verse) set in quatrains (four lines per verse.)

Is that a problem? No! That intuitive pattern has frequently been employed by poets, who enjoy playing with words, images, and rhythm. Most often, the resulting quatrains have four beats per line, although some have three or five. But this poem had something more than a regular beat and specific line-breaks. It had story.

When we think of narrative or story poems, book-length epic poetry such as Beowolf might come to mind. However, far shorter narratives can introduce heroes, legends, Bible stories, or personal tales with which readers can relate.

With a little tweaking, quatrains with a 4/4/4/4- beat can be revised to fit a ballad form aka literary ballad aka folk ballad aka hymn ballad, each of which often has an alternating beat of 4/3/4/3 for each quatrain.

If you’d like to know more about the ballad or other form, type the one you want in the Search box on this page. For instance, searching for the word “ballad” should bring up the previous post “Writing a Ballad.

For more in-depth discussions and examples of poetry forms (and free verse tips too), consider the Christian Poet’s Guide to Poetry Writing e-book (formerly my poetry home study course.) Or, make learning super easy and lively with the e-book, the Poetry Dictionary For Children &For Fun -- for yourself and/or creative kids of any age!

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