Academy Log: The Open/Shut Case

What is the form of the poem?

The topic of poetic forms can be summed up in two words, Open & Shut (though the latter may sometimes be referred to as Closed or Fixed). For the most part, this setup makes finding the answer to the first of the Fundamental 4 Questions (F4Q) easy because — mostly — all you need is the ability to count.There is only one rule for poems of Open form:

  • If a poem is not Shut, it is Open.

That one rule only gets tricky in the few instances that stretch any of the three rules for poems of Shut form:

  • If a poem has 1-8 lines, it is Shut;
  • If a poem has 14 lines, it is Shut; and,
  • If a poem is organized into equal sections/parts/stanzas, it is Shut.

Nice & easy, right?

So, now, we delve a little deeper into the Shut/Closed/Fixed form.

What this comes down to is a sort of vocabulary list dealing with the number of lines in a poem or section/part/stanza.

  • Monostich is a poem that is just line long. while 1 line of verse is just called a line or a verse; though sometimes verse gets used in place of the word stanza, especially when discussing the parts of a song. Great as the Poetry Foundation’s browser it, it does not allow one to easily search for this form; so here’s one I wrote back when I was thinking about being a Math & English teacher:

    Ars Poetica
    The proof is in the elegance.
  • Couplet is a poem or a section of a poem that has just 2 lines. If the couplet is written in rhyming iambic pentameter, it’s called a heroic couplet. Alexander Pope’s ‘An Essay On Criticism’ (quoted in the previous lesson) is entirely composed of heroic couplets. We’ll talk more about rhyming later and iambic pentameter, too.

I’m sure this is seems pretty rudimentary, something that we could skip through, especially if you remember all that fun stuff with polygons from grade-school; but, that’s what makes this a fundamental or foundation topic. We’re looking at the building blocks of poetry.

  • Tercet, or Triplet, is a poem or a section of a poem that has just 3 lines.
  • Quatrain is a poem or a stanza that has just 4 lines.
  • Cinquain is a poem or a stanza that has just 5 lines. You see this most often with limericks.
  • Sestet is a poem or a stanza with just lines. This stanza form is a big part of how the sestina got its name.
  • Septet is a poem or a stanza with just 7 lines. Here’s a lovely ballad to serve as an example.
  • An Octet is a poem or a stanza with just 8 lines. Ever hear of a little thing called ottava rima?
  • Sonnet is a poem that is 14 lines long. You might be thinking that a sonnet needs a certain rhyme scheme or meter, but that is only true when looking at the different styles of the sonnet form, a topic for which I am developing a whole other supplemental log because … sonnets, man.

So, there you have it, a vocabulary list all about what makes a Shut poem (with plenty of examples for you). Now, there are many different fixed forms not listed here that all use repetition and rhyme schemes and what-have-you; but, every fixed form makes use of these stanza forms. Outside of this list is the world of the Open form poem.

Of course, there is quite a bit of wiggle room with Open form because it can make use of the various stanza types, it just doesn’t marry itself to any one of them in the course of its poesy.

Take a look at the poem about poetry you found (your mission from the previous supplemental log). Is it Open or Shut?

Can you find a poem of the other form?

Now, to complete your mission trifecta for today, looking at the requirements for the two forms, try to write one of each.