Plautus, Ben Johnson, even Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe wrote acrostic poems. Many of the chapters of the Bible, especially in Proverbs and Psalms, are acrostics, abecedarians of the Hebrew alphabet.
There are seven acrostics written around 1000 BC that are still in existence. (Imagine poems over 3,000 years old!)
If a word is spelled out at both the beginning and the end of each line, this is called a double acrostic.
If the middle letter of each line spells out a word, this is called a mesostich,
If the final letter spells out the word, it is called a telestich.
If all three positions spell out a word, beginning, middle and end, this is called a triple acrostic.
Write an Acrostic
An acrostic poem forms a word vertically from horizontal lines. (Doesn’t that sound confusing? Just have each person write their name vertically down on a sheet of paper and then use one letter to start the word for their line of poetry.)
My name ends up looking like this:
See how the letters reading down spell my name JOY? You can use single words or whole phrases.
Here’s another example:
Ring up the sun
Each day at
To find out more about Acrostic poems you might want to read:
Janeczko, Paul B. How to Write Poetry. Scholastic, 1999, page 17-20.
Padgett, Ron (Ed.) Handbook of Poetic Forms. Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 1987, page 5-6.
Priminger, Alex (Ed.) The Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms. Princeton, 1986, page 3.
Try taking your acrostic further, read Steven Schnur’s Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic (Clarion, 1997), Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic (Clarion, 1999), Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic (Clarion, 2001) or Animal Acrostics by David Hummon..
Take your favorite subject and write your own collection of acrostic poems. Can you write an acrostic book titled “My Friends,” “Sports,” or “My Favorite Animals?”
Try to spell out the word using the last letter of a word, so your poem spells out a word reading down the right margin. Or try stepping your acrostic poem so the letter is in the first position on the first line, in the second position in the second line, and in the third position of the first word of your third line. Or, try reversing the order. Both of these are tricky, but a fun challenge.
For more information on ACROSTICS try Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrostics
ALLITERATION This is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. I like to think of this as being the opposite of rhyming. Rhyming is using words that sound the same on the end, alliteration is using words that sound the same in the beginning of the word.
CHANT A poem of no fixed form or length but it has one line or phrase repeated over and over. This is a poem that is usually meant to be read aloud and if often used for rhythm in work situations. The chant is often found in Blues or Jazz poems.
CONCRETE POEM A poem that takes the shape of the object or thing it is written about. Also called a SHAPE POEM. A fun collection of concrete poems with instructions on HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN, can be found in A POKE IN THE I, a collection of concrete poems slected by Paul B.Janeczko, with really cool illustrations by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press, 2001.
COUPLET A couplet is two lines, a pair or couple. It brings together two things for a complete thought. Although it doesn't have to be, most couplets are rhyming. The challenge for the poet is to make the brief lines worthy of notice. Basically what a couplet does is notice a moment and to say this matters and this matters. Another example of a couplet can be found in A KICK IN THE HEAD An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms an anthology selected by Paul Janczko.
A mathematical six line poem based on Fibonacci's number. Each line has the number of syllables as a combination of the two previous lines. Thus line one has one syllable, line two has one syllable, but line three has two syllables, line four has five syllables. Line six has eight syllables. (1/1/2/3/5/8) Haiku, Cinquains and Minute poems are other forms that count syllables.
A long skinny poem with only a few words on each line.
TANKA This poem is a Japanese form from the 7 century. It is like a haiku, written in the present tense with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern. Tanka were love poems written by women of the Japanese court and were some of the earliest poems published by women who wrote the poems in beautiful calligraphy and left them on the pillows of their loved ones.
The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines.French in origin, and likely dating to the thirteenth century, the triolet is a close cousin of the rondeau, another French verse form emphasizing repetition and rhyme. The earliest triolets were devotionals written by Patrick Carey, a seventeenth-century Benedictine monk. British poet Robert Bridges reintroduced the triolet to the English language, where it enjoyed a brief popularity among late-nineteenth-century British poets. Though some employed the triolet as a vehicle for light or humorous themes, Thomas Hardy recognized the possibilities for melancholy and seriousness, if the repetition could be skillfully employed to mark a shift in the meaning of repeated lines.
In "How Great My Grief," Hardy displays both his mastery of the triolet and the potency of the form:
How great my grief, my joys how few, Since first it was my fate to know thee! - Have the slow years not brought to view How great my grief, my joys how few, Nor memory shaped old times anew, Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee How great my grief, my joys how few, Since first it was my fate to know thee?The first line, "How great my grief, my joys how few," is, in its two subsequent appearances, modified by the movement of time in the poem. Initially, the line assumes a declarative position, indicating the subject and tone of the poem, one of grief and love lost. By its third iteration, after several queries to the person being addressed, the line takes on the added weight of the speaker’s astonished grief that the addressee has not, despite the years, recognized the speaker’s profound sense of loss.
The features of the Triolet are:
- 8 lines.
- Two rhymes.
- 5 of the 8 lines are repeated or refrain lines.
- First line repeats at the 4th and 7th lines.
- Second line repeats at the 8th line.
- Rhyme scheme (where an upper-case letter indicates the appearance of an identical line, while a lower-case letter indicates a rhyme with each line designated by the same lower-case or upper-case letter):
A B a - Rhymes with 1st line. A - Identical to 1st line. a - Rhymes with 1st line. b - Rhymes with 2nd line. A - Identical to 1st line. B - Identical to 2nd line.