Nonce Poetry Form: Chime in Melodic Experiment

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Here’s what the Nonce poetry form is:

Nonce forms aren’t so much a category of a poem as a term for one-time use forms, though it’s not uncommon for a nonce form to take on a life of its own after its inception.

These forms are often made just as an experiment or a sort of self-invented challenge by an individual writer, who may never use them again.

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

Let’s dig right in!

Nonce Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: Nonce Forms

Happy writer working outdoor

Nonce forms are their own special world within the writing community.

A nonce form is a poem created by an individual poet, often from nothing but a spark of inspiration, usually for one-time use.

They may or may not be based on preexisting forms, depending on the writer’s preferences, but are their own independent structure (named or unnamed).

While some nonce forms may eventually take on a life of their own if other writers pick them up, that usually isn’t the intent.

The intent is simply for the writer to create a fun little challenge for themselves to see how their form holds up to other forms they may be familiar with.

Basic Properties of Nonce Form

Notepad planner for business work with hot tea, a composition of flowers and donut on a beige background
Rhyme StructureOptional
OriginOnline writing communities
PopularityRelatively uncommon but well known in online writing communities

How Is a Nonce Form Created?

Notebook and pen along the river in the park.

A nonce form usually begins with a simple thought of some kind.

The writer might want to base a poem structure entirely around prime numbers by having each line in the poem have a number of syllables that is always a prime number.

Or they might like sonnets but think they have a better idea of how to structure one.

Often, it’s as simple as determining an arbitrary number of syllables per line and a rhyme scheme.

While nonce forms, by their very nature, don’t usually have a rich history when they come into being, they are the roots of forms that might catch on and be codified later.

There are online communities nowadays where poets invent new forms on a regular basis, with some hoping their form will be the next big thing but others creating form after form just as a hobby.

Communities like Shadow Poetry are responsible for many modern forms just by virtue of how many users hop on after a day of work and invent a new poem form to kill a few minutes.

It should be noted that actually defining nonce forms is a difficulty in and of itself.

Many compendiums of poem forms avoid mentioning current or up-and-coming nonce forms, partially for fear of them becoming obsolete in no time flat and partially because they’re seen as more of an individual’s hobby than as a codified part of the community toolkit.

Example of a Nonce Form

Lonely pensive young girl sitting on a bench in a field with grass and wild flowers.

Petrified by tomorrow,
pretty but tortured,
preceding the tyranny
portrayed on television,
peacefully with trepidation.

The thing about inventing nonce forms is that there’s usually a chance you’ll accidentally invent one that someone else already made, though it’s not a major issue.

I’m fairly certain the above nonce form is a true nonce form since the standards are about as arbitrary as it gets.

Every line begins with ‘P’ and ends with a word that starts with ‘T.’ Each line only has three words.

Those are the only rules that I set out for this particular form but that’s all there is to making a nonce form. You simply decide what the rules are and stick to them.

Nonce forms can be named or unnamed.

So you could call this structure a ‘PT Triple’ if you wanted to reference the letters used and the rule of three, or you could just call it ‘yet another nonce form’ and call it a day.

An important note about nonce forms is that they do have rules. It’s just that the poet invents the rules.

But if you were to write a poem that has no standards or rules by which it was written, then it would be disingenuous to call that a form.

It would just be free verse, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with that either.

Tips for Inventing a Nonce Form

Young woman right hand writing on small diary in cafe.

Since the primary writer for the form will probably be you, it would be best to base the rules on your own strengths.

The reason I based the nonce form above on ‘words that start with letters’ was really just to toy around with my vocabulary.

If you love haikus but always felt that there should be more lines or more syllables, invent your own variant of the haiku.

If you find it strange that no form is based specifically on the number ‘13’ in its structural elements then go for it.

The only barrier to entry is really your understanding of poetry, and there’s obviously no limit to how many forms you can invent, given enough time.

The truest reason to make a nonce form isn’t notoriety, though, so don’t waste your time trying to make a form for the sole purpose of creating something that will go viral.

Young woman writing in her journal.

Whether a poem form becomes popular or not often comes down to whether the poet who invented the form was already famous.

You’d be surprised how many poetic forms already existed before they were stapled to a celebrity writer, but that’s a topic for another day.

Instead, try to invent a poem that challenges you, shows off your strengths, or just sounds fun at the moment.

It might end up becoming your signature poem for a few months or it might just be something you do once and then forget about forever.

Either way, poetry really is an art of experimentation and exploration, so take some time to enjoy all your options once and a while.

Poet’s Note


Having an entire article about nonce forms may seem odd, but it’s worth noting that this is a topic no one ever seems to talk about, so I just think it’ll be nice to have a reference point to start a discussion.

Keep in mind that the official definitions of ‘nonce form’ are loose at best, so this should be considered more an attempt than a definitive one-size-fits-all guide to them.

It is a whole branch of poetry after all, in its own way.

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!