5 Forms to Experiment With at Your Next Writing Session

Exercises in Poetic Form.

Holly Cian
6 min readJan 15, 2021


Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Poets of all professional levels turn to writing prompts to practice and to explore new ideas. There are dozens of books available that can suggest writing prompts, and these can be valuable to turn to whenever you find yourself in a writing slump, or when you are looking to write about a new topic or idea.

Personally, I have never been great at “write about x topic,” which is why a lot of prompts don’t generally work well for me. Focusing on the sound of language and enjoyment of words, and then working on revising to uncover the truth behind the language, has more often been my approach.

Experimenting with different types of poetic form can not only serve as a writing prompt; these exercises force the writer to focus on rhythm and rules in ways he or she may not have considered before. I often apply a poetic form not just in the drafting process, but in the revision process when a poem needs direction. I am always delighted by the ways applying a particular form can open a poem to new ideas.

I first started using form seriously in graduate school. During my undergraduate education and the years following, I wrote exclusively in free verse. Having to focus on different forms forced me to place constraints on my poetry that inevitably forced me to make better use of what I was “allowed” to do than I had with all of the “freedom” of free verse.

Some of the example poems here are my versions of poems I did in a “form exercise” session. They are unpolished, first drafts that I may revise and do something with later. Sometimes, I stay true to the original forms; other times. I do not. It’s up to you.

Here are just a few poetic forms that are fun to work with, and that you may not have tried before:

Cascade Poem:

I love a good exercise in repetition. Cascade poems deal with repeating lines throughout the poem. They are very flexible in that they can be any length that you want, with no rhyme scheme or other “rules” required. The repeating lines create a haunting effect throughout the poem.

In a cascade poem, the length of the poem is dependent on how many lines are in each stanza. A poem with three-line stanzas will be four stanzas long. A poem with four-line stanzas will be five stanzas long, and so forth. Each line in the first stanza is repeated one by one in the subsequent stanzas.

Here is how that repetition would look in a cascade poem with four tercets:






Here is my attempt at a cascade poem:

how many seconds tripped over our throats,
in how many ways, did we each pack our longing?
tornadoes of seconds have gobbled us whole.

out in the driveway, that is no longer ours,
we reverse ourselves in separate cars.
how many seconds tripped over our throats,

out on the highway, the lumber all around —
we chose different highways —
in how many ways, did we each pack our longing?

I go down, down deep away.
mileage is a bitter thing swallowed.
tornadoes of seconds have gobbled us whole.

Luc Bat

The luc bat poem is a complex form that forces the poet to focus on rhyme and the number of syllables in each line. This form is great to try when you want restrictions to force you to think creatively to finish your poem. Although this concept may seem counterintuitive to some writers, working with form can open a poem to new ideas and directions that may not have been discovered in a free-for-all free verse poem.

Luc bat is a Vietnamese form of poetry and means “six-eight” because it consists of alternating lines of six and eight syllables. The poem itself can be as long or as short as you wish. Here is where it gets complex though: it involves a rhyme on the sixth syllable of each line and a new rhyme at the end of every eight-syllable line. For example:



As you can see, I love partial rhymes. You can do this with “perfect” rhymes though. I just love matching sounds and finding partial rhymes that aren’t always obvious, and you can definitely do that too. Here is my attempt at a luc bat poem:

Stars dipped below the clouds
each of us in our hours of night
each of us, a habit
and each warm hand that slips inside
the cool touch of night sky
the jarring stroke of rain
the deep throated hum drains us now.


Ovillejos are so much fun to try as an exercise just to get your brain working and all of those writing juices flowing. It includes repetition and rhyme that give the poem a really cool effect. This 16th-century Spanish form of poetry consists of ten lines: three rhyming couplets comprise the first three stanzas, and the poem closes with a four-line stanza that has an abba rhyme scheme.

But wait! There’s more — and this is where this form gets really fun. The first line of each couplet is eight syllables long and poses a question. The second line of each couplet answers the question in 3–4 syllables.

The last line of the poem combines lines 2, 4, and 6 — so essentially your “answer” lines.


Here is my attempt at an ovillejo:

What makes the earth tremble and shake?
An earthquake.

What pulls the wind from the soft trees?
The oldest seas.

What cradles your face in my palm?
The ancient psalms.

Yet somehow we are never calm.
The world picks at pieces shattered.
The world wants whatever mattered:
An earthquake, the oldest seas, the ancient psalms.


I love ghazals. Playing with this form is such a great exercise in language because each couplet in a ghazal is meant to stand alone as an independent poem. You can have a lot of fun just free-writing in the ghazal form.

The thing that connects each couplet to one another is a 1–3 word refrain that repeats in the first and second lines of the poem, and then in the second line of each subsequent couplet.

A true ghazal will also include an internal rhyme before each refrain, and the last line of the poem refers to the poet (usually their pen name).


Agha Shahid Ali’s “Tonight” is a great example of a ghazal. You can see how the poet uses internal rhyme before the repeating refrain of “tonight.”


Nonets are for writing a short poem that packs a punch. It’s great for working with syllables, and really forces the poet to choose language wisely within the constraints of the poem. Nonets are nine lines long, the first line starting with nine syllables, and each subsequent line with one fewer syllable (the second line has eight syllables, third line has seven, etc.) until the poem finishes with a one-syllable line. It has a really cool effect on the page and is a great form to play with.


at night, my neighbor plays piano
a hound dog barks in the back room
the front door opens and shuts
voices sound through the hall
footsteps cascade up
the notes flow down
he sings

As you can see, these aren’t amazingly polished poems, but a great way to start a writing session. Happy writing!