Poetry 101: Meter

by courtvanhaaren

Ah yes, the poetic meter. The only meter that the US will formally recognize. Amiright?! (Waits for the awkward silence. Excuse the slang. It will happen). 

It’s one thirty in the morning, I’m worn out from reading and blogging about Jane Eyre, and I have church in the morning. Sounds like the PERFECT time to be researching the different types of poetic meter. 

So far I have been taking notes from Purdue OWL about the definition and styles of poetic meter. I have to say it’s honestly frustrating. 

The definition the website gives for meter is from “The bible of most poets today regarding meter and sound is a book by Paul Fussell called Poetic Meter and Poetic Form”. (claims from said website, not me. I have to admit though, I am interested in this book. Might be worth a purchase in the future.) 

“what results when the natural rhythmical movements of colloquial speech are heightened, organized, and regulated so that [repetition] emerges from the relative phonetic haphazard of ordinary utterance.”

-Paul Fussel’s definition of meter

Thank you Paul for making the definition sound only slightly obnoxious. Is that my frustration speaking? Probably. 


The website lists four common measurements: 

Syllabic (read:manageable)

Accentual (read:the fuck)

Accentual-Syllabic (read:the actual fuck)

Quantitative (read:easy way out)

I’m going to be completely honest. I completely blanked on the accents of words. Just out  the window. Gone. 

So, with a Phonics reference sheet pulled up in a different tab, the idea of studying and attempting poetic meter is a smidge less daunting. Want to know what makes composing poems even less scary? The technique called scansion. 

Scansion is this nifty little writing technique where the author writes out the rhythms of a poem. By showing the different accents, syllables, breaks, etc. the actual meter of a poem is visible. How awesome is that?! 

Yes, it is awesome. I still have to admit that I am no more closer to understanding poetry than I was a few minutes ago. I wish at this moment I was taught this in school. Or paid attention if it was taught. High school was a few years ago, give me a break! Essay writing was never focused on the accents or syllables.

I’m sure if I googled examples of scansion the idea of meter would be easier to grasp. I hope it would, or else I am going to have to contact a former teacher or professor. Geez, with a phonics reference and scansion I really feel like I’m back tracking in writing. Better to understand than bullshit, yes? 

Ugh, I’m rubbing my eyes and tucking the ends of my ponytail above my ears. It’s two am, I cannot focus much longer on this. My bed is screaming at me. I must obey.

If anyone reading this has a fool proof way of learning poetic meter, this is me desperately begging in the middle of the night for that method. Please send it my way. I would scream happily and cause much disruption in my neighborhood. That would make my poem slam so much easier at this point. (Which reminds me, I need to pick another style to start working again. My days off are going to fly by. Ugh)

Any suggestions, drop a line. Otherwise, see you all next post!