There is a notion in Buddhism that the more restrictions a person has in her life, the more freedom she is able to enjoy. The idea behind it is that if you know and accept what must be done, you don’t have to spend time considering options. For instance, you get up in the morning and it’s a beautiful spring day, the perfect day to go for a bike ride, call friends for a picnic, or sit and read a book near the lake. Yet you know you must sweep the floor, take out the trash, read your class assignment, and feed the cat. Because you know what your duties are, you don’t waste time deciding which of those other activities you could do or grumping about how you wish your life was different so you could head to the beach. Instead, you accept your chores and do them, and because you didn’t waste time on what could not be, you are able to find joy in what you are doing and where you are. Perhaps you lay out a blanket and read your assignment basking in the sun. Perhaps you spend time playing with your cat. You find ways to be creative in the here and now.

That is the idea behind forms of poetry as well. Did you know there are dozens and dozens of types of poetry? If you’re curious to know about some of them, check out 55 Types of Poetry. Some of them are incredibly restrictive.

Start with a Haiku – three lines:

First line – 5 syllables

Second line – 7syllables

Third line – 5 syllables

Originally it also had to refer to a time of year, a season.

Two of my favorites, one with a season, one without:

The sea at springtime.
All day it rises and falls,
yes, rises and falls.


After the storm
A boy wiping the sky
From the tables

-- Darko Plazanin, Yugoslavia
Ehime Prefecture first prize,
1990 National Cultural Festival

Ever try a villanelle with its crazy rhyme scheme? Here’s the description from

The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem's two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.”

Got it?

A great example is Elizabeth Bishops’ “One Art” – you may remember it from the movie In Her Shoes.

When the boundaries are set up for you, you must find a way to create within it, which can be easier because you don’t have to worry about how you are going to structure you poems.

So, why this emphasis? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s almost April, National Poetry Month. And you know what that means? It’s time for the Poetry-a-Day Challenge by Writer’s Digest. I’m just helping you warm up.

Next week, I’ll tell you more.

Until then, for more advice, tips, and inspiration about writing, visit my blog.