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Syllables of Velvet is a collection of over 500 poetry forms you can count on. These poems count letters, syllables, metrics and words to create poetry forms. The term “syllables of velvet” comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Poems that count words, letters, meter and syllables hopefully produce meaning that counts. Writing poems that count encourages word play, puzzle-solving, conciseness and preciseness. Some patterns rhyme and some do not. Some are flush left, centered or does not matter. Some forms have more leeway and encourage experiments. These forms help you know where to break lines, keep on topic, play with sounds and imagery, be terse.

I found these forms in handbooks and on the Internet. I have worked on playing with forms in four previous books dealing with forms. Cinqueries: is a book filled with Cinquos and Lanternes. Fibs and Other Truths showed the many variations of Fibs.Poems That Count is a collection of many syllabic, metric and word counting forms and examples. Poems That Count Too is a further collection of counting forms with examples.

Syllables of Velvet incorporates all the forms in the previous books plus many discoveries beyond. I wrote at least one example for over 300 of them and directions how to do many other forms. Not only is it fun to word play with forms, but it is helpful to know many ways to shape a poem. Poets are inventing new forms to express their voice. Create your own nonce form of your own creation.

How I found ways to tweek poems into form.

  1. In class: I taught poetry at a community college and wrote with my students. I created a handbook to expose students to many approaches to create poetry.
  2. In workshops: By attending workshops at many conferences, I learned of new ways poets create their poems. On Wednesdays I hold a workshop at my home where we experiment with many kinds of forms.
  3. Resources: In my previous books on form and other writing handbooks on forms, plus the Internet. I get ideas from newspapers and my reading.
  4. Scouring writing files
    1. I looked at my writing drafts over the years to find forms I had played with. Some of the first drafts were crafted into hopefully more accurate counts.
    2. Some poems were revised into a form for the new book. This technique worked when I was writing the book on Fibs. I was able to take the best parts of an old poem and crystalize it into a Fib or Fib Sequence.
    3. Some of the poems came from my Grandchild Poems. For twenty years I wrote about my three grandchildren, capturing their childhood in yearly anthologies.
    4. Now I am writing Family Tales which is about the whole family in loosely poetic prose written in lines.. I gleaned some ideas from these poems and tersed them into new forms.
    5. A few poems were written for The Smith Family Chronicles– a mostly prose account of weekly family events since 1966.
    6. Free verse poems sometimes can be revised into new forms.
    7. My previous books on form.
    8. Played with a form until my ideas focused into that pattern.

Making Poetry Accountable

For syllabic verse we count;
with meter the rhythms mount.
Are some poems free
or do all beats add to account?

Syllabic Poetry

In some poetry syllables count
By a pattern poems mount
until counting’s done,
then its ten to one
that poems spew from a fount.

There are three kinds of syllabic verse.

  1. Normative: the same number of syllables in each line
  2. Quantitative: establishes a syllabic pattern in the first stanza that is followed line by line in the following stanzas.
  3. Variable: establishes limits for the lengths of the lines and works within those limits.

How Can Syllabic Help?

  1. It helps poets know where to break their lines.
  2. Syllabics can “even out” a poem as Ron Padgett would say.
  3. Syllabic patterns often appear in the second draft. Patterns can help you revise. The poet sees a pattern emerging and tinkers with the poem until it fits.
  4. If you are not sure the exact syllable count for a word, usually you can fudge it. Are mystery and history two or three syllables? Is poem one or two syllables?
  5. Syllabics can be tightly or loosely applied to a poem which gives the poet a lot of poetic license.
  6. Syllabics can be used for a narrative poem. Select a syllable count per line and tell your story.
  7. But most of all playing with syllabics is fun. The challenges have you finger tapping, making ticks on the tops of syllables, using the edge of a ruler or tip of a stick to count–whatever your method-- adds to your pleasure.. You dance down the lines.
  8. Following a form can help poets shape their ideas.

To Count or Not to Count That Is the Question

To Count (Fibs)

for line breaks
and certain loose poems
to tighten by counting each sound.

to count sound
for certain humor,
terse, sequenced and word play poems.

Not to Count

Certain poems are not suited
to controls and need
to be freed into free verse
or use rhyme without metrics.

Counting can alter natural speech patterns.
A certain poem does not fit
a syllabic or words counting pattern.
Each poem seeks a its own trajectory.
The more ways you know
to form a poem
the better the chance for a perfect match
counting or not counting.

That is the Question ( Etheree)

can count
and not count.
but when you count,
by counting you know
poem is accounting.
Your accountability
to some form will mount, create
poem that suits that certain form.
You know where each your lines are to break.
You’re aware of more possibilities.

Writing Poems

Writing poetry is lots of fun
bringing lots of pleasure when done.
Sitting, dreaming and musing,
accepting, refusing
ideas and forms
rejecting norms.
Words display.


When Writing Poems That Count

  1. Once you have decided to follow a form, it can be helpful to write out the pattern to the left side of the page.
  2. You can number the lines you need for this form in addition, if needed.
  3. If there is a syllable count, you can write that down as well as the number of the line.
  4. If you have a rhyme scheme to follow, write a letter beside the number count for that line.
  5. Work out a process you can follow best. Some poets just write the syllable counts and rhyme schemes without the lines numbered vertically first. In the examples in the handbook, I left some of the syllable counts and rhyme schemes to the left so you can see the structure of the poem.
  6. Whatever pattern you choose to play with, have fun experimenting.

All the examples in the handbook are mine. Two Fib patterns were done by my brother Bob Varsell. You can do these forms in passes with other poets. Passes can help you get a different slant or insight into the poem.

The Written Word

lost in
words with muse
in another
my thoughts,
make these worlds
possible and

(Lanterne Links)