Bop Poetry Form: Untie Knots of Life’s Trials

Photo of author
Updated on

Here’s what the Bop poetry form is:

The bop is a poem form that was developed by Afaa Michael Weaver during a poetry summer retreat at Cave Canem.

Bop poems are made up of three stanzas, where each stanza is followed by a refrain.

This poetic form is argumentative in nature whereby the author presents a problem, talks about it, and then offers a potential solution.

So if you want to learn all about the Bop poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s jump right into it!

Bop Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: The Bop

Female writer with glasses on sitting outdoors at a cafe.

A bop is a 23-line simple poem form featuring refrains written to present a problem, expand on the problem, then offer a solution or failed solution to the problem.

The form was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat with Cave Canem, an African American poetry association.

As such, the spread of the bop started with word of mouth and poem sharing among members of Cave Canem.

It remains to be seen how long the form will persist and how far its influence will spread, but it has all the makings of famous forms before it, most closely resembling the sonnet in execution.

Basic Properties of a Bop

Thoughtful attractive young author looking away
Rhyme StructureNone
OriginModern America, Aafa Michael Weaver
PopularityStill a young form with a scattered following
ThemeVaried; but focuses on the problem-solution structure popularized by scholarly discussions of sonnets and similar forms

How Are Bops Structured?

Woman writes in notebook with laptop

Bops have a relatively simple structure.

Bop poems begin with a six-line stanza that presents a problem, followed by an eight-line stanza that expands upon that problem, and finally ends with another six-line stanza wherein the speaker either solves the problem or fails to solve the problem.

Bop poems, except for uncommon variations, are therefore 23 lines long.

Following each stanza is a one-line refrain that will be repeated a total of three times (once after each stanza).

Rhyme and meter are not mandatory nor expected.

Bop poems have a tendency to experiment with enjambment and usually use minimalistic grammar.

The most obvious comparison is to the traditional sonnet.

Sonnets, in both the English and Italian forms, are often described by scholars as poems that explore a problem from multiple angles before featuring a poetic turn that introduces a new perspective to the reader at the end.

Where the bop differs most from the sonnet is in its freedom and its conclusion.

Sonnets follow stringent meters and rhyme schemes that may limit the writer’s ability to express themselves, whereas bops allow each individual line to take the form that best suits it.

The conclusion is the most interesting aspect.

While sonnets are typically expected to feature a poetic turn and may or may not lead to a solution, bops specifically report on whether the problem itself was solved or not.

This more pragmatic approach to a conclusion is unique to the bop form.

Example of a Bop

A young woman studying writes in her notebook at home with natural light coming through the window.

The Grind Kills Me

The sun comes out like he always does
and I shudder in my bed like I always do
because I didn’t volunteer for this
didn’t sign up for waking up
but it never seems like it’s enough.
People always want more every day

and the grind kills me inside.

Get up, go to work, pay bills,
do what you’ve always done
with that plastic smile on your face
that you learned from mom and pop
and the hours roll by, over me,
while the coffee wears off again
but tomorrow’s already on the way
so I work, afraid of tomorrow

and the grind kills me inside.

Say it’s enough, quit your day job,
follow a dream because you can
and ride that rainbow for a while
but it always cycles back again
never makes enough money
because it’s all about the banks

and the grind kills me inside.

The above bop shows an example of the expected problem, expansion, and solution structure, with this particular poem showcasing a failed solution.

In the first stanza, the speaker introduces the problem of tedium, focusing initially on the frustration of getting up.

The refrain (“and the grind kills me inside”) gives a clear announcement of the problem and becomes the central thread of the poem.

The second stanza then expands on the problem, having the speaker go through the motions of a ‘typical’ workday.

The final stanza is where a solution or failed solution is expected to be.

In this case, the speaker explores the possibility of following a dream to escape the tedium before giving up on the pressure of finances.

The poem also showcases how the repetition of the refrain can bring value to the poem instead of just being a mandatory feature.

Here, the repetition matches the repetitive nature of “the grind” and helps to imply the passing of days and days of the same, even though no mention of time passing is ever explicitly given.

This is one way to utilize the refrain for a creative purpose.

Origin of the Bop

Young woman reading a book on a rural bridge.

Bops were created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat with Cave Canem, an organization celebrating African American poetry.

Afaa Michael Weaver, born in 1951 in Maryland as Michael S. Weaver, is a graduate of Brown University with several collections of poetry under his belt and is still actively publishing poems to this day.

His assumed name, Afaa, is an Ibo word meaning “oracle” that he took in 1997.

Weaver is an award-winning poet with a history of teaching poetry at various universities.

The bop poem has started to gain traction in African American communities, especially thanks to circulation among other members of Cave Canem who found the form intriguing.

However, the form is still too young to predict where it will ultimately end up, assuming it survives the test of time.

Despite its short history, some bop writers have already begun experimenting with permutations of the form.

These usually consist of adding an additional six-line stanza to the poem, with another repetition of the refrain afterward.

Tips for Writing a Bop

Female student doing homework sitting at desktop using laptop computer for online courses, skilled freelance professional planning successful strategy for startup working remotely in cafeteria

In order to write a bop, you will naturally need a problem for your speaker to explore and interact with.

You can think of this in similar terms to how you would develop the central conflict for a narrative piece.

Just like with a narrative conflict, the ‘problem’ in a bop poem can range from entirely psychological to a more narrative-driven event within the poem.

Either way, bops tend to work best when approached with a fragmented, casual mindset.

Bops are intentionally a fun, relaxing form to work with, as was the initial intent.

Do not focus on presenting the lines in a strictly logical, linear way as this will only limit your execution and enjoyment.

The refrain may present a sticking point for poets who are not used to utilizing repetition.

The best approach to refrains is to either choose a line that has an immediate aesthetic appeal, especially in the sounds of the words or to choose a refrain that can be recontextualized multiple times throughout the poem.

Recontextualizing is an art form unto itself but, putting it in the simplest terms, a line’s meaning can be drastically different depending on the line before it and after it.

As an example, let’s say the line you’re working with is “But it was not the time, not yet.”

Let’s look at examples that utilize this line differently.

A girl is walking in a blooming garden, with a vintage blouse and a long skirt, chestnut long hair. she gently cares for her flowers. Sweetheart gardener. Artistic Photography

I wanted so desperately to laugh
but it was not the time, not yet.

I was ready to give up, to break down
but it was not the time, not yet.

In the first example, the line takes on half of a melancholic sentence that insists it was not time to laugh.

The second example doesn’t change the second line, but the combination of lines takes on a completely different meaning, insisting it was not time to give up.

While sentence fragment lines do not always work in poetry, they can naturally suit a bop rather well, since enjambment and simple grammar are already staples of the form.

The only complication is that there will be some white space between the refrain and the other stanzas, but this does not inherently mean that you can’t weave the refrain into the stanzas conceptually.

Most importantly, remember that a bop is really just a form of experimentation.

Pretend you’re off on that summer retreat where it all started and just melt into the poem as you write.

Letting yourself relax while you work will improve your writing considerably, as you learn to let your own thoughts and feelings seep onto the page.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

My favorite thing about this poem type is the name. Bop.

It’s just a great word.

Were you expecting a weighty insight into the etymology of the term? Too bad. I’m more interested in the sound. Bop. Bop.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

Vintage poetry book on wooden platform

Dare to traverse the entire spectrum of poetic forms, from the commonplace to the extraordinary?

Venture from the quintessential Sonnet to the elusive Mistress Bradstreet stanza, right through to the daunting complexity of Cro Cumaisc Etir Casbairdni Ocus Lethrannaigecht.

For those with a zeal to encounter the full breadth of poetry’s forms, this invitation is yours.

Start exploring the vast universe of poetic ingenuity with our comprehensive array of poetry forms right now!