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What is the difference between "closed form" poetry and "open form" poetry? Please explain.

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In terms of poetry, there are two kinds or forms, based upon the "structure or pattern of organization" that a poet adopts when writing his verse.

These are called "open" or "closed" forms. When looking at a poem's form, you can observe the following; with more than one of these in a poem, there is probably a set pattern. Look for the rhyme used: it may be end rhyme (where a word at the end of one line rhymes with the word at the end of another line). There may be a rhyme scheme (which is a specific pattern of rhyme, such as ABAB, where each letter represents a sound, and the pattern is followed in a stanza or an entire poem). The meter is the poem's beat (which is found in sonnets, where, for example, iambic pentameter is often used: ten syllables in a line, with emphasis on the second syllable). There may even be stanzas used (which are often groups of four lines, but not always). There are other elements as well: these are only a few examples.

When a poem has a closed form, the poet has adopted a pattern that the poem will follow in more than one area, such as those mentioned above. As an example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a fourteen-line poem. It has three quatrains (which are four-line stanzas), it ends with a rhyming couplet (a pair of lines that rhyme with each other), it follows a specific pattern of rhyme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG), and is written in iambic pentameter. In composing this kind of sonnet, the poet follows these parameters. Other examples of a closed form poem are the traditional haiku, the tanka, the limerick, the cinquain, and the villanelle.

Note the haiku below. It is about nature; it has three lines; and, the syllabic pattern (number of syllables) per line is 5-7-5; (note that this is the traditional Japanese format of the haiku):

“The Rose” by Donna Brock

The red blossom bends (5)

and drips its dew to the ground. (7)

Like a tear it falls (5)

In contrast, the open form poem does not follow set guidelines. There is no required rhyme scheme, rhyming pattern, or set number of lines in a stanza. One stanza, for instance may have four lines, as may the second, but a third stanza may have five lines. A concrete poem is one that is spaced out so that it creates a picture. As an example, a religious concrete poem might be shaped like an altar. However, for Halloween, a concrete poem might be written in the shape of a pumpkin or a bat. This may be the only guidelines present, and it is considered a poem with an open form.

Note the lack of form (or the "open" form) of the following poem:

“American History” by Michael S. Harper

Those four black girls blown up

in that Alabama church

remind me of five hundred

middle passage blacks,

in a net, under water

in a Charleston harbor

so redcoats wouldn't find them.

Can't find what you can't see

can you?


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