Most poems express emotion, but lyric poetry expresses personal emotion. It may convey feelings of pain, fear, grief, love, anger, or joy. These emotions are communicated by using an economy of words worked into a number of possible patterns. The poet chooses the pattern that best fits his or her message. If the poet wants to write a love poem, for instance, he or she might opt to use the sonnet form, which contains fourteen lines divided into three quatrains (four line stanzas) and a couplet. An abab or abba end rhyme pattern may be used for each quatrain, and a cc end rhyme pattern for the couplet. Rules then dictate the progression from quatrain to quatrain.
All patterns have basic rules, which must be learned by the fledgling poet and should be appreciated by the reader. These patterns include the ode, the triolet, the pantoum, blank verse, terza rima, ballad form, eulogy, elegy, and so forth. The poet may choose one or another pattern because of specific meter (iambic for the sonnet), length of line, or particular end rhyme scheme.
In addition to pattern, the poet will utilize various forms of figurative language such as similes, metaphors, symbols, and images constructed from the five senses. A novice reader may wish to study these patterns to enhance the reading experience. On the other hand, one may simply enjoy particular poems without having knowledge of the various forms.
While the poetry forms discussed above have specific characteristics, some poems have no discernible form. Is such a poem still a lyric? Yes. We call it free verse. Free verse confuses many readers because there are no rules (at least there don’t seem to be). It was invented by poets who wrote “formed” verse (poems) because they wanted to express their ideas and emotions in different ways. Free verse may do away with line measurement and old rhyme schemes, but a poet who writes free verse should be able to justify line breaks, lack of punctuation, rhyme schemes that skip from line to line, and unusual blank spaces between words and lines. Poets who have successfully used this non-form include Whitman, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, Lowell, and many others.
It’s essential to realize that the first reading may not reveal a poem’s message. Often, the reader has to work at it, perhaps even copy it off the page and spend some time with it before it makes sense. Every good poem has a key to its message that will reveal a trajectory to meaning. The reader who loves poetry will search the words until that key is found and the hidden message unlocked. Then the time and effort spent is rewarded with understanding.
L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at http://www.lluislopez.com/.