37 Common Poetry Terms

While I try to explain them as I go, I often drop common poetry terms on this blog in the course of describing poetic forms, during poet interviews, and more. So I’m going to share some common definitions in this post–most of them appear in the glossary of Poet’s Market (one more reason to love that book).

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Alliteration. Close repetition of consonant sounds, especially initial consonant sounds.

Anapest. Foot consisting of 2 unstressed syllables followed by a stress.

Assonance. Close repetition of vowel sounds.

Blank verse. Unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Caesura. A deliberate rhetorical, grammatical, or rhythmic pause, break, cut, turn, division, or pivot in poetry.

Chapbook. A small book of about 24-50 pages.

Consonance. Close repetition of consonant sounds–anywhere within the words.

Couplet. Stanza of 2 lines; often, a pair of rhymed lines.

Dactyl. Foot consisting of a stress followed by 2 unstressed syllables.

Decasyllable. Line consisting of 10 syllables.

Enjambment. Continuation of sense and rhythmic movement from one line to the next; also called a “run-on” line.

Envoi. A brief ending (usually to a ballade or sestina) no more than 4 lines long; summary.

Epigraph. A short verse, note, or quotation that appears at the beginning of a poem or section; usually presents an idea or theme on which the poem elaborates, or contributes background information not reflected in the poem itself.

Foot. Unit of measure in a metrical line of poetry.

Galleys. First typeset version of a poem, magazine, and/or book/chapbook.

Hendecasyllable. Line consisting of 11 syllables.

Hexameter. Line consisting of 6 metrical feet.

Honorarium. A token payment for published work.

Iamb. Foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stress.

Line. Basic unit of a poem; measured in feet if metrical.

Meter. The rhythmic measure of a line.

Octave. Stanza of 8 lines.

Octosyllable. Line consisting of 8 syllables.

Pentameter. Line consisting of 5 metrical feet. For instance, iambic pentameter equals 10 syllables (5 unstressed, 5 stressed).

Quatrain. Stanza of 4 lines.

Quintain. Stanza of 5 lines.

Refrain. A repeated line within a poem, similar to the chorus of a song.

Rhyme. Words that sound alike, especially words that end in the same sound.

Rhythm. The beat and movement of language (rise and fall, repetition and variation, change of pitch, mix of syllables, melody of words).

Septet. Stanza of 7 lines.

Sestet. Stanza of 6 lines.

Spondee. Foot consisting of 2 stressed syllables.

Stanza. Group of lines making up a single unit; like a paragraph in prose.

Strophe. Often used to mean “stanza”; also a stanza of irregular line lengths.

Tercet. Stanza or poem of 3 lines.

Tetrameter. Line consisting of 4 metrical feet.

Trochee. Foot consisting of a stress followed by an unstressed syllable.

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Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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2 thoughts on “37 Common Poetry Terms

  1. PressOn

    Thanks very much, Robert. I’ve saved the list for future reference. The list brings up one question, however. One of the terms you define is “quintain,” meaning a five-line poem or stanza. This calls to mind Adelaide Crapsey’s five-liners, which are called “cinquains.” I enjoy the form and try it often. I usually refer to the results as “Crapsey cinquains,” assuming that “cinquain” is another word for a five-line poem and thus I need to distinguish Crapsey’s form from other five-liners. Now I wonder if “cinquain” is taken to mean Crap[sey’s form and no qualifier is needed. What’s your opinion on that?

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