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Visual Poetry or Shape Verse

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

Invented Forms

Spring Blossoms

A sign of spring beginnings,
delicate white with powder pink veins,
petals join at the center with spider legs,
the gentle tangy sweet aroma of apples
complete the vision that floats
like sea foam upon limbs
seemingly barren only
a month ago.
in unison.
--Judi Van Gorder

All written verse is visual, the line length, stanzaic selection, capitalization etc. visually all influence the reader. But the genre of Visual or Shape Verse is a deliberate attempt by the poet to communicate to the reader through the image presented by the placement of the words on the page as well as through the meaning of the words. Visual poetry has been around almost as far back as writing itself. There have been various approaches to this genre. The following are a few of the more notable:

Altar Verse is the Welsh version of Pattern Poetry; it is a visual poem in which the shape outlined by the words on the page conveys the message of the content. The outline should be recognizable to the reader. It is important that the object outlined is central to the content. The frame, meter and rhyme are at the discretion of the poet. Altar Verse is named for the Welsh poet George Herbert's (1593-1633) Altar in which the opening poem forms the shape of a church altar. It also takes the shape of the capital letter I, as in the first person singular. Although this is a visual verse, it can be read aloud and the content understood without the visual.

by George Herbert

A broken A L T A R, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with tears,
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman's tool hath touched the same.
A H E A R T alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed S A C R I F I C E be mine
And sanctify this A L T A R to be thine.

The Beacon of Hope is an invented verse form created by Christina Jussaume and found at Poetry Styles that is meant take the visual shape of a lighthouse. The subject should be uplifting, spiritual in nature.  The defining features of the Beacon of Hope are:

  1. a poem in 21 lines made up of a sestet, a tercet followed by 3 quatrains in that order and all without stanza break.
  2. syllabic, L1-L6 are 6 syllables each, L7-L9 are 12 syllables each and L13 - L21 are 8 syllables each.
  3. centered on the page.
  4. rhymed at the poet's discretion.

Butterflies are shape poems. I am embarrassed to admit I found a few links to different Butterfly verse forms but when I went back to look more closely I keep getting an error. So although there is a Butterfly Septet and a Butterfly Kimo somewhere out there, right now I can't give you any details. I was able to find a different site for the Butterfly Cinquain however. Here it is:

  • Butterfly Cinquain isn't a cinquain at all:it is a nonostich (9 lines)and uses the syllable count of the Crapsey Cinquain and then reverses it, therefore the misnomer.  The defining features of the Butterfly Cinquain are:
    1. 9 line poem.
    2. syllabic, 2-4-6-8-2-8-6-4-2 syllables per line.
    3. unrhymed.


      fate by Geoffrey Le Voguer

      fate's a
      bloke you nod at
      in the pub who's too old
      to change yet still too young to die
      and seems
      to have the knack of weaving words
      into sack-cloth shirts that
      could scratch a soul
      to death

  • Defining features of the Oddquain Butterfly found at Shadow Poetry are:
    1. merges the 2 stanzas of the Mirror Cinquain by deleting the 1st line of the second stanza.
    2. syllabic, 1-3-5-7-1-7-5-3-1.
  • A Calligramme is a visual verse that almost draws a picture with the words placed on the page. It is named for Swiss poet, Guillaume Apollinaire's Calligrames (1918). The Calligrame can also be referred to as an The Ideogramme. It is visual verse that "relies heavily on typographical elements, design, and layout." Kaleidoscope The arrangement of typed words act a visual statement of the content. It is a kind of middle ground between the ancient Pattern Poems and the modern Concrete poem. It is figurative, creating recognizable symbols such as the heart, a fountain, the Eiffel Tower etc. This is in contrast with Concrete poetry which can be more abstract.


  • Circlet is a shape poem outlining a circle. It was created by Bena Parks and was found in Pathways for the Poet by Viola Berg 1977.  The defining features of the Circlet are:
    1. a decastich, a 10 line poem made up of 2 cinquains.
    2. syllabic, 2-4-6-8-10 10-8-6-4-2 syllables per line.
    3. rhymed, rhyme scheme Abcde edcbA.
    4. composed with L1 repeated as L10.
  • Concrete Poetry from the 1950s and 1960 is Visual Verse that attempts to make each shape an original image of the poem's theme. The shapes are often abstract and should be unique to the particular piece. It was prominent in Swiss and Brazilian poetry, and a host of European poets joined the movement and eventually found its way to the US where poets such as Rosenthal, John Hollander and May Swenson brought it to a more mainstream form.

    Every source I researched makes note that the poem does not necessarily retain its meaning when read aloud. The physical shape provides what the words lack and allows the poet to ignore standard syntax and sequencing. Remove the shape and you could destroy the poem. It is more an immediate experience of art like seeing a painting than the seemingly slower experience of art as a reader of literature. This is in contrast with other Visual verses such as Pattern Verse.

  • Christ-in-a-Rhyme is an invented verse form created and copyrighted by Christina Jussaume in her book My Walk with Jesus, 2006 which I found at Shadow Poetry. It is a shape poem that forms a cross when the poem is centered on the page. The verse was created in honor of Jussaume's mother and should carry a spiritual theme.

    The defining features of the Christ-in-a-Rhyme are:

    1. stanzaic, written in 5 triplets.
    2. syllabic, stanzas written in 8-14-7-5-5 syllables.
    3. rhymed, triplets are monorhymed, aaa bbb ccc ddd eee.
    4. Spaced by using &****& after each triplet if needed.
  • Cyclus is shape poem found in Pathways for a Poet, it attempts to create a cycling pattern by syllable count. It is attributed to Marvin Davis Winsett.  The defining features of the Cyclus are:
    1. a 12 line poem.
    2. syllabic, syllables per line 2-4-6-6-4-2-2-4-6-6-4-2
    3. unrhymed.
  • Figure Poem is a poem shaped like the image it describes.

    Figure Poem

  • The Lanterne is a shape poem, centered on the page to resemble the shape of a Japanese lantern. It originated as a nature poem, also called "shaped whimsy", created by 20th century American Lloyd F. Merrell and described in Pathways for a Poet. The foundation of the shape is similar to the Crapsey Cinquain but with fewer syllables per line. The verse form can be found on line at Instant Poems for Kids. It can also be found, spelled Lanturne, at Shadow Poetry.

    This can also be written in a chain. As with most chained verse since the Ancient Greek Echo Verse, the first word of the last line of the previous stanza becomes the first word of the next stanza.  The defining features of the Lanterne are:

    1. a pentastich, a poem in 5 lines.
    2. syllabic, 1-2-3-4-1 syllables per line.
    3. is composed with no punctuation and no rhyme, each end-word should be strong.
    4. centered on the page. Since this is a concrete or shape poem, the length of the word on the page factors into the equation, syllable count is not enough to determine the selection.
    5. title optional.


new growth
strong thistles
crowd out flowers
-- jvg

  • Pattern Poetry, originally called Technopaegnia and now sometimes called Figure Poetry is the oldest of the visual verse forms. The form is thought to possibly date back to Crete 1700 B.C. Recognizable shapes, usually of natural objects were created visually by arranging letters, words and lines of verse. The shape enhances and contributes to the meaning of the poem. However the meaning of the words is not diminished if read aloud.

    In classical Greek literature Meleager of Gadar's anthology of technopaegnia included a famous piece by Simias of Rhodes which was a poem that appeard in the shape of an egg. Not only was itshaped like an egg but it had to be read in an egg-like order; the last verse was to be savored after the first and then the second and the second last, until the center was finally reached. Some other classical poets who used the genre were Theocritus, Vestianus and Optatianus. Optatianus is credited as the inspiration for the poem, In Praise of the Holy Cross by Hrabanus Maurus (c784-856), Archbishop of Mainz, a Carolingian poet and theologian, which was the first printed pattern poem published in 1503. During the Renaissance, Fortunius Licetus (1577-1654), an Italian humanist, who wrote a book on hieroglyphics edited several volumes on the classical writers of technopaegnia.
  • Pictorial is an invented form found at Shadow Poetry and introduced by Emily Romano, the shape of which is like descending stairs.  The defining features of the Pictorial are:
    1. written in 3 lines of 5 words or less per line.
    2. composed with the lines side by side and step progressed downward.
    3. rhymed, rhyme scheme may be internal or end rhyme and pattern at the discretion of the poet.

      ------ xxx-------------------------xxx-------------------------xxx

  • Star Sevlin is an invented shape poem that is supposed to form a star when centered on the page. It is found in Pathways for the Poet by Viola Berg 1977 and was created by Lilliann Mathilda Svenson.  The defining features of the Star Sevlin are:
    1. a heptastich, a poem in 7 lines.
    2. iambic syllabic, iambic 4-6-8-6-8-6-4 syllables per line.
    3. rhymed, rhyme scheme abbcaca.
    4. centered on the page.
  • Tree of Life is an invented verse form written in the shape of a tree. Found at Poetry Styles and created by Christina Jusaumme who requests the subject of the poem be uplifting.  The defining features of the Tree of Life are:
    1. a poem in 19 lines.
    2. syllabic, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-4-4-4-4-4-4.
    3. unrhymed.
    4. centered on the page.
  • The Trianglet is an invented shape poem found in Berg's Pathways for the Poet. It forms the shape of a triangle and was created by Mina M Sutherland.  The defining features of the trianglet are:
    1. a decastich, a poem in 10 lines.
    2. syllabic, 1-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-1 syllables per line.
    3. rhymed, rhyme scheme AbcxddxcbA
    4. composed with the 1st word repeated as the last word.
  • Waltz Wave is a verse form found at Poet Freak that might be called the shape of the waltz. The defining features of the Waltz Wave are:
    1. a poem in 19 lines.
    2. syllabic, 1-2-1-2-3-2-1-2-3-4-3-2-1-2-3-2-1-2-1 syllables per line.
    3. unrhymed.

      Steven Hawking and Me by Geoffrey Le Voguer

      and the moon
      like krill
      in baleen
      filters of an
      and believe
      that it
      all for

  • The Wheelchair Angel Style is a poem that attempts to create sillouette shape of a man in a wheelchair. Found at Poetry Styles this invented verse form was introduced by Pat Simpson to honor poet, Michael L. Schuh and who suggests the content include reference to a wheelchair. It was found at Poetry Styles.

    The defining features of the Wheelchair Angel Style are:

    1. a poem in 25 lines.
    2. syllabic, 2-2-3-4-3-2-1-3 5-8-8-8-10-8-8-8-8-8-8 4-4-6-4-4 10. L20 thru L24 are split, to create the illusion of wheels.

x x
x x
x x x
x x x x
x x x
x x
x x x
x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x
x x ------- x x
x x ------- x x
x x x ----- x x x
x x ------- x x
x x ------- x x
x x x x x x x x x x

  • Zany ZigZag Five is an invented form that seems a little "zany". Created by Pat Simpson who requests that the word zigzag be included in the body of the poem. It was found at Poetry Styles.  The defining features of the Zany ZigZag Five are:
    1. strophic, any number of lines may be written.
    2. metered at the discretion of the poet.
    3. rhymed, the scheme of the rhyme is at the discretion of the poet.
    4. lines aligned in a zig zag pattern. Although I have not seen an example, I can only assume this should appear something like:

      x x x
      x x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x
      x x x x
      x x x x x x x

      x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x x x x x
      x x x x x x

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