Glossary Terms

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Lament
Any poem expressing deep grief, usually at the death of a loved one or some other loss. Related to elegy and the dirge. See “A Lament” by Percy Bysshe Shelley; Thom Gunn’s “Lament”; and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Lament.”

Landays
A form of folk poetry from Afghanistan. Meant to be recited or sung aloud, and frequently anonymous, the form is a couplet comprised of 22 syllables. The first line has 9 syllables and the second line 13 syllables. Landays end on “ma” or “na” sounds and treat themes such as love, grief, homeland, war, and separation. See Eliza Griswold’s extensive reporting on the form in the June 2013 issue of Poetry, in which she explains how the form was created by and for the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Language poetry
Taking its name from the magazine edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Language poetry is an avant garde poetry movement that emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a response to mainstream American poetry. It developed from diverse communities of poets in San Francisco and New York who published in journals such as This, Hills, Tottels, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and Tuumba Press. Rather than emphasizing traditional poetic techniques, Language poetry tends to draw the reader’s attention to the uses of language in a poem that contribute to the creation of meaning. The writing associated with language poetry, including that by Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout, and many others, is often associated with deconstruction, poststructuralism, and the Objectivist tradition. Browse more Language poetry.

Light verse
Whimsical poems taking forms such as limericks, nonsense poems, and double dactyls. See Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” and Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Other masters of light verse include Dorothy Parker, G.K. Chesterton, John Hollander, and Wendy Cope.

Limerick
A fixed light-verse form of five generally anapestic lines rhyming AABBA. Edward Lear, who popularized the form, fused the third and fourth lines into a single line with internal rhyme. Limericks are traditionally bawdy or just irreverent; see “A Young Lady of Lynn” or Lear’s “There was an Old Man with a Beard.” Browse more limericks.

Litotes
A deliberate understatement for effect; the opposite of hyperbole. For example, a good idea may be described as “not half bad,” or a difficult task considered “no small feat.” Litotes is found frequently in Old English poetry; “That was a good king,” declares the narrator of the Beowulf epic after summarizing the Danish king’s great virtues. See also Irony.

Lyric
Originally a composition meant for musical accompaniment. The term refers to a short poem in which the poet, the poet’s persona, or another speaker expresses personal feelings. See Robert Herrick’s “To Anthea, who May Command Him Anything,” John Clare’s “I Hid My Love,” Louise Bogan’s “Song for the Last Act,” or Louise Glück’s “Vita Nova.”

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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