If you’re a bit confused about the terminology surrounding verse (poetry written in traditional forms), you’re not alone. After all, when you encounter a term like “dactylic,” what are you supposed to think? Is a “dactyl” a species of dinosaur, as a student recently opined? If you’re still a little shaky with regard to prosody, which the OED online defines as “the art and practice of versification,” here are some books to browse in search of everything from our old friend iambic pentameter to slant-rhymes and ottava rima and that most difficult form, the villanelle:
Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, McGraw Hill, 1976.
Alfred Corn, The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody. Copper Canyon Classics, 2008.
John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. Yale, 2001.
Karl Shapiro and Robert Beum, A Prosody Handbook. Dover, 2006. Originally published in 1965, this book is a readable, informative, unpretentious classic–and now very inexpensive in paperback from Dover Books.
If you’re a poet, glance at these books but also read a lot of poetry in traditional forms–lyric poetry from Shakespeare through the 20th and into the 21st century. If you’re a student and scholar of literature, one way to understand meter and verse-forms better is to try to write some. Don’t worry about how good it is. Just write some blank verse (un-rhymed iambic pentameter).