Smeetha Bhoumik is editing Form Poetry for Narrow Road Volume 11

A Call to Form

Form in Poetry

This issue celebrates ‘form poetry’. Form in poetry accrues with novel, imaginative expressions that poets create when inspired to see and write in new ways. The new form is harvested over years of innovation and exchange; offering not only beauty but an underlying ability to delve deep into a subject or emotion. The precise formal structures are imbued with stability to explore a range of emotions, adventures and circumstances with fluid ease. So we have sonnets expressing love, ghazals flowing into transcendence and couplets narrating circumstance, to name a few. Their history is strewn with interesting migrations from the country of origin (Sestina originated in France in the 12th century, the ghazal in Iran in 10th century, Sonnet in Italy in the 16th century), towards England, to be adapted into English, or to India, where the ghazal arrived in the 12th century, to be adapted from Persian to Urdu.


The structural philosophy of form is to harness poetic vision into precise rhythmic patterns, setting up a ripple of resonances. The enhanced resonant appeal of the poetic expression is what ‘form’ offers.


Imagine the emotive pull of a ghazal, drawing its audiences into an intimate space of longing, lament or desire, with its addictive spell. The spell succeeds because each throbbing couplet is bound by a common word, the resonance rippling across its structure, in waves of emotion. In writing a ghazal, a poet makes gradual shifts, creating nuanced, beautifully calibrated expressions of wonder / disillusionment / love / loss /enchantment / or pain. This rhythmic build-up of thought then flows into a space where there is an element of acceptance, a coming to terms with life, seeing beauty where just sadness had reigned. Or celebrating an abundance of joy even.

Ghazals comprise rhyming couplets and a refrain.

Sonnets share their resonance with rhythmic patterns that rhyme, and the reader is left rapt in a beauteous flow. Not a word out of place, nor an extra word, as the ‘poetic meter’ demands. The exercise of writing a simple sonnet of fourteen lines offers a narrative space of immense potential.

There are many kinds of sonnets ((Italian, Shakespearean, Spenserian, Miltonic, Terza Rima, Curtal); and they are precious to poets, for allowing a detailed exploration of themes.

Sestina – the most challenging, yet the most rewarding of forms – leads the poet into unforeseen creative territories, where the act of writing seems to unfold an extra vision! It is a marvellous journey of discovery and awareness, a celebration of the power of words. A sestina, comprising six stanzas of six lines each, ending in a three line envoi; has at its heart six words which are its nuclei, its starting point. Every line ends with these six words in a precise mathematical pattern. The exacting terms of this form is only matched by its creative potential, holding up facets that seem to present themselves on their own ! At thirty-nine lines, it is a long form, and is my favourite.

Tercets are succinct three-line poems throwing light on a chosen subject, illumining its contours and building up the idea, three lines at a time. A collection of tercets can be elegant and powerful. The haiku is a tercet form too. Tercets may be rhymed/unrhymed, metered or unmetered.

Call for Submission

This is a call to all adventurous poets – to work on form and submit work on the theme – ‘A New World’, as per the following guidelines :


  1. Theme : A New World
  2. Forms : Couplets, Sonnet, Tercet, Ghazal, Sestina.
    (Note – You may choose to write in any other form too, but please mention the one you have used when you submit. Free verse is NOT considered for this issue).
  3. Please send us your work on the above theme and forms, according to the following guidelines :
    a. Couplets – ten or less
    b. Ghazal – one
    c. Sonnet – one
    d. Sestina – one
    e. Tercets – six or less

A poet may submit in any one of the above categories – a to e.

  1. Only previously unpublished, original work in English will be accepted. Poetry posted on social media/internet platforms, will be considered as published work. Simultaneous submissions will not be accepted for this issue.

Format :

1a. Please submit your entry as a single word document using Times New Roman font, size 12. Address the email to Smeetha Bhoumik and send it to :, copy to .
In the Subject line mention the form used and your name.
1b. Also include in it a short note about yourself (<100 words).
1c. Attach your photograph in jpg format.

Submissions are open from 1 June 2020 to 15 July 2020.

Thanks, you are all set!
Enjoy writing and have fun.

Smeetha Bhoumik

Guest Editor, Narrow Road – August ’20 Special Edition on Form Poetry

Notes on selected forms :

  1. History of the Sestina (Source : Victoria & Albert Museum)

The sestina is one of several forms that originated with the troubadour poets of medieval Provence. It is said to have been invented towards the end of the 12th century by Arnaut Daniel. Dante Alighieri admired Daniel’s sestinas and introduced the form into Italian poetry. It was known in Elizabethan England but was not widely used by English poets before the 19th century.

Advice : Use words with more than one meaning.

  1. Ghazal (Source : )
    In its form, the ghazal is a short poem rarely of more than a dozen couplets in the same metre. It always opens with a rhyming couplet called matla. The rhyme of the opening couplet is repeated at the end of second line in each succeeding verse, so that the rhyming pattern may be represented as AA, BA, CA, DA, and so on. In addition to the restriction of rhyme, the Ghazal also observes the convention of radif. Radif demands that a portion of the first line comprising not more than two or three words immediately preceding the rhyme word at the end, should rhyme with its counterpart in the second line of the opening couplet, and afterwards alternately throughout the poem. The opening couplet of the Ghazal is always a representative couplet it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the Ghazal called makta often includes the pen name of the poet, and is more personal than general in its tone and intent. Here the poet may express his own state of mind, or describe his religious faith, or pray for his beloved, or indulge in poetic self praise.
  2. Sonnet
    Source : A Brief History of the Sonnet | Coldfront @MIUI|

The sonnet has persisted over several hundred years, and many contemporary poets continue to utilize the form. However, most take liberties, and any poem of fourteen lines is likely to be named a sonnet. These sonnet variations may display no dominant meter, and they may employ slant rhyme or no rhyme at all. Take, for example, Derek Walcott’s “The Morning Moon,” which adheres to the sonnet form in that it has fourteen lines and uses somewhat regular pentameter; however, the lines are unrhymed, and they vary in length. The stanzas in “The Morning Moon” are tercets and stand alone lines. Successful contemporary sonnets expand the form in a multitude of ways. Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, for example, does not at all resemble the sonnets of Petrarch or Shakespeaere in form; however, these sonnets share subject matter with those that came before them. In the introduction to “The Art of the Sonnet,” Stephen Burt notes that the best contemporary sonneteers remind us that we are connected to a history, that, in fact, we are not unlike the generations that came before us. We love the same, we share similar fears, and we all grieve.
More resources here:

  1. Couplets (Source : Wikipedia)
    A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used in epic and narrative poetry, and consisting of a rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter. Use of the heroic couplet was pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales,[1] and generally considered to have been perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the Restoration Age and early 18th century respectively.
The Terza Rima is an Italian origin poem, composed of tercets in a complex rhyme scheme. The end-word of the second line of a tercet becomes the rhyme for the first and third lines in the following tercet

Dante, in his Divine Comedy (written during 1310-14 AD), was the first to use terza rima for a long poem.

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