The structure or pattern of organization that a poet chooses in writing a poem is referred to as being either open or closed. An open form does not have an established pattern to it, whether it be in line length, meter, rhyme, imagery, syntax, or stanzas. A closed form does have an established pattern in one or more of those areas. You may already be familiar with some types of closed form poems, such as the haiku, a three line poem with a set syllable pattern of 5-7-5 and usually written about nature. Other types of closed form poems include the sonnet, the cinnquain, the sestina, and the villanelle. We will be working with both open and closed forms to become familiar with the advantages of each type.

An open form poem allows the poet to write freely without worrying about trying to make the words fit a specific meter or rhyme scheme. It also allows the poet to place the words anywhere on the page to create a desired effect, such as setting lines off by themselves for emphasis or creating a picture with the placement of the words. Read the following open form poem and contrast it with the closed form poem about the same topic.

“American History”

Michael S. Harper

Those four black girls blown up

in that Alabama church

remind me of five hundred

middle passage blacks,

in a net, under water

in a Charleston harbor

so redcoats wouldn’t find them.

Can’t find what you can’t see

can you?