Fun and Games

Poetry and Art

Elements of Poetry

Creating Meaning

Diction and Connotation

Metaphor and Simile


Symbolism and Allegory



Creating Sound

Rhythm and Meter

Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance


Using Form

Open and Closed Form

- Sonnet

- Sestina

- Villanelle

Mrs. Barnhart's Poetry Page

Open and Closed Form

The structure or pattern of organization that a poet chooses in writing a poem is referred to as being either open or closed. An open form does not have an established pattern to it, whether it be in line length, meter, rhyme, imagery, syntax, or stanzas. A closed form does have an established pattern in one or more of those areas. You may already be familiar with some types of closed form poems, such as the haiku, a three line poem with a set syllable pattern of 5-7-5 and usually written about nature. Other types of closed form poems include the sonnet, the cinnquain, the sestina, and the villanelle. We will be working with both open and closed forms to become familiar with the advantages of each type.

An open form poem allows the poet to write freely without worrying about trying to make the words fit a specific meter or rhyme scheme. It also allows the poet to place the words anywhere on the page to create a desired effect, such as setting lines off by themselves for emphasis or creating a picture with the placement of the words. Read the following open form poem and contrast it with the closed form poem about the same topic.

"American History"

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?


A closed form allows the poet to establish a pattern that will help him or her create the desired meaning or sound. Some closed forms are established by the individual writer, but others have become patterns that different writers use as a template for their own ideas. We will be going over three of those forms: the sonnet, the sestina, and the villanelle. I have found that students who don't feel comfortable with poetry often like to start with one of these types because it gives them a sense of security that they are actually writing a recognized poem. The following closed form poem is written about the same topic as the above poem, but the writer chose a much different form. After reading, prepare answers for tomorrow's discussion questions.

"Ballad of Birmingham"

Dudley Randall

"Mother, dear, may I go downtown

Instead of out to play,

And march the streets of Birmingham

In a Freedom March today?"


"No, baby, no, you may not go

For the dogs are fierce and wild;

And clubs and hoses, guns and jails

Aren't good for a little child."


"But, mother, I won't be alone.

Other children will go with me,

And march the streets of Birmingham

To make our country free."


"No, baby, no, you may not go

For I fear those guns will fire.

But you may go to church instead

And sing in the children's choir."


She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,

And bathed rose petal sweet,

And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,

And white shoes on her feet.


The mother smiled to know her child

Was in the sacred place,

But that smile was the last smile

To come upon her face.


For when she heard the explosion,

Her eyes grew wet and wild.

She raced through the streets of Birmingham

Calling for her child.


She clawed through bits of glass and brick,

Then lifted out a shoe.

"O', here's the shoe my baby wore,

But, baby, where are you?"


Discussion Questions:

What is the tone of each poem? Is there anything about the form that helped to establish the form?

What patterns of organization has Randall used in his poem "Ballad of Birmingham"?

What do you see as the purpose of each writer? Who do you think the intended audience of each would be?



Take one of the above poems and try to convert it to the opposite form (open to closed/closed to open) while changing as little as possible about the poem. How does the poem change and how do the changes affect the poem both positively and negatively?