I have been working on a poem for some time now. It is divided into various "Parts" and it will be a long one when completed.

Due to the very nature of what I am writing, I just let my thoughts and feelings come out, within stanzas that have at least a meter and rhyming scheme. However, I make absolutely no efforts to maintain a given meter or rhyming scheme across different stanzas.

Due to this, often the same "Part" of the poem will have occurrences of both iambic trimeter and tetrameter.

Additionally, I use all sorts of rhyming schemes - aabb, abab, abcb, abccb, abcbab and so on - even within the same "Part".

So, often, consecutive stanzas will end up having different meters and rhyming schemes.

Is this bad writing? I do think it will be a bit difficult for the reader to find his/her flow when reading my poem, but can't that extra effort be seen as a part of the experience itself of reading it?

4 Answers 4


Poetry is like music

There is a tension in a song, between fulfilling an expectation and subverting or consciously breaking it. However, there has to be enough that's recognizable as a "background" against which your expectation-breaking is happening. In poetry, the rhythm and rhyme patterns are not the focus, but the background that remains reliable.

Sour notes are worse than noise

It is more painful to hear one slightly false note in a lovely tune than to hear a wooden spoon being smacked repeatedly against a pot. Why? You were expecting more from the lovely tune than from the banging.

When a poem shifts in rhythm or tone, especially in a way that brings the reader up short, this can be an absolute triumph! (If and only if the theme perfectly aligns with the jarring change.) In prose, you generally pay little attention to rhythm, assonance, rhyme, etc. In fact, it sounds strange when any sort of pattern arises for any discernable length of time, and when I wrote more prose than poetry, I actively rooted out accidental rhymes and repetitions and alliterations which gave a weird focus where focus did not belong.

It's entirely possible to write a spectacular poem which changes styles repeatedly - but it has to MEAN something. If your poetry builds an expectation and then simply abandons it, then the results will be a ruin of dissonance - worse than noise. On the other hand, if there is a clear meaning to your shift, and the payoff justifies the shock...

That might work.


Find yourself an audience.

Here's a situation where it's impossible to guess based on your description. We have no way of knowing if your poem is a hot mess, a psychedelic journey, or an literary analysis adventure. Maybe it's brilliant, or maybe it just needs a good editor.

So find friends and family who enjoy poetry and will be honest with you. Join a writing group. Take a poetry writing class. Bribe a writing teacher. Whatever it takes to get people to sit down and listen.

Read your poem out loud. It's the best way to test rhythm and call out awkwardness. Even reading it out loud to yourself will help with that. This is how you'll find out if all those meters are discordant or a symphony. Make your revisions then repeat. And again.


If the reader will struggle to find their flow, you have work to do. Consider Paradise Lost - it flows seamlessly and once you accustom yourself to the Middle English, each line is a delight. When I read it, I pause to savour a line or turn of phrase that shimmers with beauty. I do not pause because of speed bumps written in to it.

When I read any of the greats, I pause on a line that exhibits profundity and beauty.


The One remains, the Many change and pass

is perfect. Likewise, Fitzgerald’s translation of Khayyam’s

The Moving finger writes and having writ moves on

Poetry is usually either free form or rather strict. I write the occasional sonnet and never exceed the selected format.

I had a friend who wrote poetry where word placement was as important as choice and often he would have a single word three quarters of the way along the line and the rest was empty space.

Many years ago, I was involved with a poem by committee that was a parody of Idylls of the King - one thousand couplets.

What you might have is a series of related poems that have their own scheme and rhythm.

I agree with Cyn - you need someone to read it and tell you if it works. Does it flow naturally? Might it be twelve separate poems that might stand better by themselves?

Altering meter is often helpful in avoiding a stilted sound and feel, but such alterations are normally a small percentage of the whole.

With the exception of the poem by committee (nine cantos long), I find poetry is something that I must write in one sitting. I write it, get all the lines down and then come back later with a more critical eye.

Poetry is designed to be heard, so I read it aloud and listen. If it works well and flows, is beautiful, concise and says what I think it says, I forgive the small error of scansion and move on.

In one ballad I wrote, it came to me while I was cleaning the barn. I knew I needed to keep it, so chanted it to myself until I could get home to pen and paper.

If you like what you hear when you read your verse, be satisfied. If you wish to reach an audience, have someone read it and listen to their feedback. Don’t make changes you disagree with - it is your work, not theirs.

Blake once said he never wrote poetry, he took divine dictation. His choice to have a creative spelling of Tyger was perfect. Quintessential Blake, simple words that are placed with perfection to create something profound and beautiful.

If you over edit your poem, you might kill it. Be careful.

This might be juvenlia - I know that much of my poetry will never leave the drawer, but it lead to more interesting pieces and served the purpose of instruction.

I learned what my poetic voice is and have learned that while I can sit down to work on my novel, poetry must wait until it speaks.


Older poems were typically written in strict formats with set expectations for meter and rhyme. If you are writing in one of those forms, then departing from its expectations counts as a "mistake" by those standards.

Conversely, modern poetry is most often written in free verse, which more closely resembles ordinary speech, and where rhymes and regular rhythms are rare. If you are writing free verse, then conspicuous rhymes and rhythms might be considered a defect by those standards.

With all that said, a hybrid form, with constantly evolving rhymes and rhythms, is not unprecedented. One of my favorite poems, "my father moved through dooms of love" (e.e. cummings), shifts between unrhymed, rhymed and slant rhymed lines, and varies its generally regular meter for emphasis and to add tension. It is a challenge to do well, and may not suit the tastes of either strict form or free verse purists, but all good art takes risks. Your task then becomes to make sure the shifts actually serve the poem, and don't just come across as laziness, carelessness or lack of skill. There's nothing wrong with making the reader work, but the more work, the bigger had better be the payoff.

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