Poetry: What can Form do for My Poem?

To free verse or to form? Contemporary poets have a plethora of options for formatting each piece, and choosing the right format for a specific poem can be daunting. One question that may cross your mind when considering whether to put a poem into a form is “what can the form do for my poem?” What difference can the conventions of, say, a villanelle, make to the way a work is read? The answer is different for every form, but if we look at the function of a specific form, the influence of structure gets a little clearer.

Let’s go with the example mentioned above: the villanelle. This form consists of nineteen lines in a specific pattern – five tercets and a quatrain with a repeating rhyme scheme and a refrain (you can read more about the villanelle’s structure here, and its history here). The pattern of a villanelle looks like this:

A1/b/A2  /  a/b/A1  /  a/b/A2  /  a/b/A1  /  a/b/A2  /  a/b/A1/A2

A1 and A2 are lines that repeat, and a and b are rhymes. A good example of a villanelle is the poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop (retrieved from the Poetry Foundation):


One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master


In this and other villanelles, the tight structure, repeating lines, and relatively unvarying rhymes create a duality that feels like barely restrained madness. In Bishop’s poem, the villanelle’s form highlights the disorientation of loss, the way it leave us reeling even as we go on with our daily routines. The repetition of lines and sounds drives home just how much we lose in our lives – objects, time, places, people – and how powerless we are to stop it. It “isn’t hard to master,” yet the very fact that she tells us so many times raises the question: whom is she trying to convince?

The villanelle’s structure is based on rhyme and refrain, but other forms may have different components. For example, blank verse consists of unrhymed iambic pentameter – both a metric and rhyme requirement. Sestinas have a patterned repetition of whole words, and prose poems have no line breaks. Some forms, such as elegies or Ars Poetica poems, only have requirements of content. The range of forms and the elements that comprise them are broad and varied. Yet each form carries its own history and has its own way of influencing the poem that adopts it.

When constructing a poem, it’s important to let the poem dictate the form, rather than the other way around. It’s fine to write a poem with a form in mind, but don’t try to force free verse to be a sonnet. Feel free to explore formal possibilities with a poem – you may find that the repetition of a sestina highlights the dilemma you’re exploring, or that the short poem you’ve been working on would be perfect as a lune. Whatever form you choose, the point is to have one that fits – a form that works with your words to heighten and illuminate your poem’s meaning.

Want to explore forms? Here is a pretty good list from The Poetry Foundation.



Interwoven Reading Series

Featured Image: UNO Gateway

On March 9th, 13th Floor Magazine and the UNO Bookstore invite you to join them in the Durham Science Hall’s Mallory Kountze Planetarium for the next installment of the Interwoven Reading Series. Doors open at 3:30PM, and the readings begin at 4:00PM. Our university’s very own published authors D.S. Hudson, Kelsey Bee, and Michelle Lyles will present their selected works. Indulge yourself in local, creative minds as we give these authors a platform to present their works to a public audience.

Mockup_SP2016Inside the Planetarium, the audience will experience some of what the Planetarium has to offer visually, while listening to well-voiced authors. We look forward to filling the room and will have complimentary snacks for all guests! We can’t wait to see you there, and our authors cannot wait to perform their work for you.

On Campus: Margaret Lukas to Release New Book

9781608080809-COVER-187x300Writer’s Workshop instructor Margaret Lukas is set to release her new book, Farthest House with WriteLife LLC on January 14th, 2014.

Farthest House, with its rich threads of mysticism, explores jealous, betrayal, and ultimately the healing power of self-forgiveness. When Willow is born and her mother dies moments later, only the narrator of this spellbinding, debut novel knows the death isn’t from complications of childbirth. Amelie-Anais, who lived in France and is now buried on the Nebraska hilltop where the family home resides, tells this story of deceit and survival from beyond the grave. Following Willow’s life and Willow’s incredible passion to paint despite loneliness, a physical handicap, and being raised by a father plagued with secrets, Amelie-Anais weaves together the lives of four generations.

“Margaret Lukas has written a page-turner of a novel. Farthest House, boldly narrated by an unsettled spirit, is part-ghost story and a full-out love story of a family coming to terms with its mysterious past, much of it lived in an ancestral home set within a gorgeously rendered Nebraska landscape. Above all, Farthest House is the story of Willow, a bewildered little girl who grows into a passionate painter. I can’t remember the last time I rooted so enthusiastically for a heroine.” – Anna Monardo, author of Falling in Love with Natassia, and The Courtyard of Dreams

Farthest House is $17.00, and available for pre-order from

Listen to Chapter 1 and 2 of Farthest House at

Issue #2 to Release January 13th


We received a lot of amazing submissions for this round, and we are very excited to showcase the talented writers we have at University of Nebraska at Omaha. Issue 2, our Spring 2014 issue, will be released January 13th just in time for the start of the Spring semester. The beautiful cover image is by our resident photographer Chelsey Risney and sets the mood for spring perfectly.

You can get yours for FREE during the first week of classes, January 13th-17th, from Amazon. After January 17th, the magazine will be $4.99.

13th Floor Magazine is an ebook format magazine for the Amazon Kindle ereader, which is also available as a free application for your computer, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Learn more about the free Kindle reading application here.

Don’t wait, start getting your submissions for Fall 2014 ready now!

Submission Format

  • Files should be in the following formats: .doc, .docx, .rtf
  • Do not put your name anywhere in the documentDo not put your name in the filename. Use the title of your work in the filename only. We read blind, so that our editors do not know the name of the submitter and our selection process is fair and unbiased.
  • Include a brief bio in the body of your email (NOT in your submission document file). How you write your bio is up to you, but you can look at our Meet The Staff page to get some ideas. If your submission is accepted for publication, your bio will be included in the magazine.
  • All prose and poetry should be double spaced and in a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial.
  • Ensure your submission has been thoroughly edited for spelling and grammar so that it represents your best work possible. Remember, you can use campus services like the Writing Center.
  • For more tips on professionally formatting your document, please read Formatting 101 by Marlys Pearson.

Email Submission

Once you have professionally prepared your submission, email it to Don’t forget to include your bio in the body of your email!

If You Are an Educator

Please encourage your students to submit their best work. It’s a great way to get experience submitting professionally, and may result in publishing credits! Your help is crucial to making our campus magazine a success!

You can still get your copy of 13th Floor Magazine Issue 1 on for $9.99. The proceeds for all sales go directly toward making future issues more awesome!13th Floor Magazine is an ebook available exclusively on Amazon. If you don’t have a kindle ereader, you can get Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or home PC. Visit Amazon to learn more.
Good Luck!

Issue 1 Now Available at the Criss Library

hero-project-crisslibrary1Students and faculty, you can now read the 13th Floor Magazine issue 1 for free at the Criss Library! To do so, stop at the front desk and ask for the magazine. They will issue you a Kindle with the magazine loaded. Then grab a coffee from the cafe, curl up in one of the comfy armchairs scattered all over the place, and get ready to be amazed by all the talented writing!

If you don’t want to wait, you can always buy your own copy of the magazine from Amazon. It’s just $4.99 and contains the best of what our campus art community has to offer.