The Traditional Theory of Poetry, Page 5 

Robert Harris
Version Date: March 25, 2013

Poetry FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q. How can I get my poetry published?
A. Tell me something. Where do you see poems published? Another consequence of the decline in standards for poetry ("it's all poetry") is that no one cares to read it anymore and so no one cares to publish it. Yes, a few magazines use poems of an exact length as filler to finish out a page, and there are vanity books that you can pay to print your poem among the poems of a thousand other hopefuls. (I once had a freshman student tell me she was a "published poet" because her poem appeared in one of these books.) My suggestion is to start an online poetry magazine that features lots of really good poetry in addition to reviews, commentaries, explications, and theory. All it takes is work. There are many free blog setups you can use. Be forewarned: if you allow submissions, you'll be reading a lot of bad poetry. And if you publish everything, you might not have many readers.

Q. What is a poetic foot?
A. The basic unit of meter is the foot, consisting of a group of two or three syllables. Scanning or scansion is the process of determining the prevailing foot in a line of poetry, of determining the types and sequence of different feet.

Types of feet: U (unstressed); / (stressed syllable)
Iamb: U /
Trochee: / U
Anapest: U U /
Dactyl: / U U
Spondee: / /
Pyrrhic: U U

Iambic words: about, event, infuse, persuade
Trochaic words: woman, daisy, golden, patchwork
Anapestic words: underneath, introduce
Dactyllic words: fantasy, alchemy, penetrate

Q. What does meter refer to?
A. Meter refers to how long a poetic line is.
•    a line with one poetic foot is monometer
•    a line with two poetic feet is dimiter
•    a line with three poetic is trimeter
•    a line with four poetic feet is quadrameter
•    a line with five poetic feet is pentameter
•    a line with six poetic feet is hexameter

Q. What’s the most popular poetic foot and line length?
A. English lends itself to iambic feet very well, and historically five feet per line has been the most common. Thus, iambic pentameter is the line of most of the great poets, such as John Milton and William Shakespeare.

Q. What are the various types of verse?
A. Blank Verse. Iambic Pentameter without rhymes. Shakespeare’s plays, Milton’s poems (Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained) are often written in blank verse.
Free verse. No rhyme scheme and no metrical pattern. Free verse is the most popular kind of poetry since little effort and less knowledge are needed to write it.
Heroic couplet. Two rhymed lines of iambic pentameter. See the example below.

A couplet just like poems long ago
Exemplifies heroic; now you know.

Note that poetic feet are composed of words fitted together to form the meter. That is, anapestic hexameter is not composed of lines of six anapestic words each, but lines of six anapestic feet, made up of various words.

Q. Does a poem written in a specific verse type have to be exact?
A. No. For example, many iambic pentameter lines begin with spondees or trochees. The verse type is usually adhered to carefully, but the care includes opening lines with emphasis or taking liberties with the metrics in order to do something effective.


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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com