With most poems, it's easy to observe that the words are arranged into lines, or rows. For example, these opening lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

   Half a league, half a league,
   Half a league onward,
   All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

The main feature of GRID POETRY is that in addition to clearly lining the words up into rows, the GRID POET also lines up repeating words, or repeating groups of words, into columns, and then actually draws both the horizontal row lines and the vertical column "grid" lines as part of the poem. The result is a piece that looks as if it were written on graph paper, or in the cells of a spreadsheet:


The GRID POEM format works well with relatively short poems that feature parallels between some of the words on some of the lines. The poem is read along the horizontal lines like any normal sentence, but the grouping of the words and the drawing of the row and column grid lines serve to visually emphasize the pattern in the repetition.



Possibly the easiest way to explain GRID POETRY is to look at a few examples, using words you may already be familiar with. Let's look at a later part of the aforementioned The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson, structured in a grid:

   Theirs not   to make reply,   
   Theirs not   to reason why,   
   Theirs   but to do and die.   

When the above piece is formatted in a grid with both rows and columns, it is easy to spot the repetition of "Theirs," "not," and "to" in each line. That's it! At its most basic, that's all that it takes to make a GRID POEM. Now, of course, there is the final column in the above grid in which the words are NOT exactly the same in each line, and that's necessary. But when the verse is presented this way, it points out how it's the repetition of certain words that really makes the piece "work."

Let's look at a few more, including some that get a little more complex. Here is a nursery rhyme you likely know. Remember to just read each line across in order, don't worry about the spaces that are not filled:

   Pease porrige   hot         
   Pease porrige     cold       
   Pease porrige       in the pot     
             nine days old   
     Some like it hot         
     Some like it   cold       
     Some like it     in the pot     
             nine days old   

After you've read it the normal way, you can take a second look, and see what is revealed when it is broken into columns, how the author constructed it much like an architect might -- possibly without even knowing he or she did.

Now let's take a look at a verse from the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. This helps demonstrate that lines do not necessarily need to contain rhymes:

   We are troubled on every side, but not distressed;   
   We are perplexed, but not in despair;   
     persecuted, but not forsaken;   
     cast down, but not destroyed.   

Famous quotations also seem to be easily presented in grid form, such as this piece of wisdom from Henry S. Haskins:

   What lies behind us and   
   what lies before us     
         are tiny matters compared to   
   what lies within us     

And showing this famous presidential line in a grid adds a bit of understanding to the creativity behind its formulation:

   Ask not what your country can do for you,   
   Ask   what         you   
             can do for     
         your country.         

And a final popular proverb, again simply read across:

   when the going gets tough,   
     the     tough   

I don't know about you, but when I see each of those presented in grids, I glean new meanings from each of the pieces, or at least a new appreciation for the expertise with which each was constructed.



There are not many formal "rules" for writing GRID POETRY:

  • There is no requirement for a set number of lines in the poem, such as we find when writing a sonnet.
  • There is no requirement for a maximum or minimum or exact number of words per line.
  • There is no requirement for a prescribed number of syllables, such as we find for a haiku.
  • There is no requirement for number of columns, although I suppose there must be at least two rows and two columns, or else it's not really a grid.
  • There is no requirement for how many words need to be in a column. It does NOT have to be just one word per column, and probably should not be, if it is a short phrase that is being repeated.
  • There do not need to be words in every individual cell. In fact, with most GRID POEMS you'll probably find a number of empty cells.
  • Columns do not have to all have equal width. Column widths usually vary with the number of letters and words in the cells, and the variety adds a dimension to poem.
  • The last words of lines in a GRID POEM do not need to follow any set rhyme scheme, and the poems do not need to even feature any rhyme at all.
  • There are no requirements regarding punctuation, capitalization, bolding, or italicizing words... do whatever you please and whatever best expresses your ideas.
  • There are no requirements regarding font, or left/right/center alignment of the words within cells. Again, do whatever the individual poem needs for effective communication.

The only three "rules" are:

  1. Repetition of words and phrases between rows
  2. Grid lines to group the repetitive patterns
  3. Write it so each row is read across, the same as a normal sentence would be


In the above examples and in the collection of GRID POEMS mentioned below, I tend to format them with light grey colored backgrounds in some cells. The colored squares and rectangles serve a few purposes: in some poems they make it easy to spot the repeting columns; in some poems they help to guide the reader's eye, to facilitate proper reading; and in all poems they simply serve to add some visual interest to the pieces. The choice of which cells to color and which cells to leave uncolored is somewhat arbitrary, and is as much a part of the "creation" of the poem as the choice and arrangement of words.



The above are examples using the words of "famous" poets and authors. The aim of this GRID POETRY project is to encourage and collect a body of original GRID POEMS from not-yet-famous writers. You can find a gallery of many original GRID POEMS on the COLLECTION page for your reading pleasure. Take a look!


You may have already written GRID POETRY without even realizing it! If you have written poems, I'd encourage you to take a look at them with a "fresh set of eyes." If a piece contains a good deal of repetition between lines, it's quite possible your poem could be effectively formatted as a GRID POEM. Try it out! Or, set out to write a fresh one, with the structure in mind.

And once you've written your masterpiece(s), we are promoting a CONTEST to encourage the creation and submission of GRID POEMS, with the ultimate goal being the publication of a paperback ANTHOLOGY of the winners. Try your hand at creating one or more. If you are pleased with the result, SUBMIT your work to us for possible publication on this website and/or in print. Or, if you get stuck while formatting your piece, CONTACT US for help.




GRID POETRY website copyright © 1983-2017 by LEE SCHULTHEISS. all rights are reserved.
each individual GRID POEM is property of and copyright by the GRID POET who authored it.