Grammar is a fundamental element of writing in any form. Poetry is no exception, but poems don’t always follow traditional grammar rules.

Poems don’t need to follow grammatical rules. Although poetry should abide by most traditional language rules, how a poet chooses to use them is critical. Whether they decide to follow them or break them, they’re making a statement and conveying a message with this choice. 

Read further to learn how poets use language laws to their advantage and convey meaning in their work.

Grammar Conventions in Poetry

All writing has conventions that are followed to varying degrees, based on their level of formality. Formal writing is very rigid in following conventional rules, and it has a strict editing process that eliminates anomalies. However, poets can afford to bend these rules quite significantly. 

Many elements make up a creative text that poets can use to their advantage:

  • Structure, such as stanza length, or rhyme scheme.
  • Spelling
  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Figurative language like similes, hyperboles, or metaphors. 
  • Sound devices, such as alliteration or onomatopoeia. 

How Poets Break Grammar Conventions in Their Poems

Spelling can be altered to indicate an accent, local dialect, slurred speech, or general confusion. Poets can get away with making intentional spelling mistakes or changing common spelling, but only if it still makes sense and remains comprehensible. 

Poets can play with capitalization, or lack thereof, to play with formality and flow in a poem, as this creates a less rigid structure. It can also indicate tones, such as when a poet might want the poem to seem “quiet” or more monotone. 

Even lack of capitalization in proper nouns like the names of people or places can express dismissal of importance or make the poem seem more basic and childlike. 

Lack of punctuation, particularly at the end of a line, is called enjambment, which may indicate or replicate a stream of thought or possibly for dramatic effect when reading or reciting aloud. 

However, it’s mainly to aid the flow and rhythm of a poem. It also adds to the creative side of a poem by allowing the reader to read a particular line in different ways. 

If you’re an aspiring poet who wants to know more about the different pieces that make up a poem, its contents, and its structure, Colorado Mesa University gives you a rundown of the elements of poetry. 

Things are very rarely meant literally in poetry, unlike other forms of writing. 

Figurative language is a way to break typical language rules as a means to convey meaning that hints at a story beyond the text. Often figurative language pushes the reader to use their imaginations. Thus every individual can create their interpretation of the poem. 

Figurative language is also known as figures of speech, which include, but are not limited to: 

  • Hyperbole
  • Alliteration
  • Metaphors
  • Irony

Here are some examples of poets who broke the rules and made their own, many of whom you will recognize as some of the most famous poets. 

When a Poem Is Better When Sticking to Grammar Rules

There are several reasons why a poet might choose to either stick to or break grammar conventions. Some poems are more exciting and effective when breaking the rules, but some function better when they stick to them.

Certain poems, such as limericks, can only really be classified as such if they stick to specific rules. An epic poem, for example, utilises punctuation to indicate natural pauses and breaks in a story. 

Haikus are structurally rigid and aren’t indeed haikus if they deviate from their conventions. 

Contemporary forms of poetry are more open to interpretation and creative license when it comes to structuring. They include poems with no punctuation, no capitalization, and spelling mistakes. The non-traditional elements add to the effect of the poem.

However, more traditional and even ancient forms of poetry are far more structured in what the poet can and can’t do regarding structure and rules. A ballad must have stanzas organized in quatrains, but anything else would not be classified as a ballad. 

Get a brief overview of poems and poetic movements through history, from epic poems to present-day poetry.

Structural Elements of a Poem

Poems are mainly about conveying meaning beyond the literal, and the structural values of a poem contribute to the purpose quite significantly.

Structural elements of a poem include:

  • Stanza/s: This refers to how many “paragraphs” there are in a poem. There can be as many or as few as you like, and they can be as long or as short as you want, some even consisting of one word. 
  • Rhythm: Rhythm is the beat in which you read a poem, and is determined by the poetic meter. Different types of poems operate at different “speeds” or patterns.
  • Rhyme scheme: Rhyme can go according to several different patterns, represented by strings of letters, e.g., ABAB or ABCAB. 

Different poems have distinct structural conventions that primarily affect rhythm, meter, and rhyme. Poets break structural conventions less frequently due to the fact that every poem fits into a category in some way. 

For example, a poet can write a poem without punctuation and capitalization, but that poem will still be categorized as freeform, haiku, or a sonnet.

Types of Poems and Their Key Defining Factors

There are many different types and sub-categories of poems that operate independently from one another. They have their conventions and rules that determine stanza length, rhyme scheme, and other factors.

Three major categories of poetry are:

  • Lyric: Lyric poetry is explicitly written from the writer’s perspective and is a very personal, expressive, and intimate form of poetry. 
  • Narrative: this form is a means to tell a story. A narrative poem will generally have all the elements of a traditional story, such as a beginning, middle, end, central conflict, and characters, but in poem form. 
  • Descriptive: Descriptive poems rely heavily on conjuring up visuals and imagery through words rather than telling a specific story. It isn’t particular to any one person, but comments on the world around us rather than the poet’s inner world. 

Examples of the sub-categories of poems, such as sonnets, ballads, or haikus, can be found on YourDictionary’s site. 

Final Thoughts

Poets intentionally break grammatical rules to enhance the effects of their poetry and convey a specific message or take the reader along at a particular pace.

Traditional poetry has far more rigid requirements structurally and grammatically than most modern forms of poetry, which are free-form, and often benefit from breaking grammatical conventions.