A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Don’t you love the title?

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul B. Janeczko (“by” in this case means “selected by”) and illustrated by Chris Raschka is a playful, creatively-inspiring introduction to poetic forms. Page by page an example of a particular form of poem is given in bold, large lettering, while in much smaller lettering (small enough for new readers to ignore, if they wish, small enough to suggest the deliciously naughty flavour of footnotes for more experienced readers) the poetic form is explained in clear and simple language. The illustrations are as eye-catching and funny as the poems.

The poetic forms begin with the more common and familiar styles, moving through couplet, tercet, quatrain, and haiku to the less broadly recognized senryu, tanka, cinquain and clerihew.

(I’d never even heard of a clerihew!)

Limericks – including one that breaks the form spectacularly – roundels, and double dactyls have their turn to shine, followed by triolets, sonnets, and a most mysterious villanelle. Opposite poems, riddle poems, odes, and acrostics continue to delight. Cheerful, laugh-out-loud poems are balanced with more sombre examples as the book explores concrete poems, epitaphs and elegies, found poems, persona poems, and ballads. Finally, blues poems, list poems, an aubade, and a pantoum round off the selection.

The playful style, well-rounded selections, and apt illustrations make A Kick in the Head a poetic jumpstart, one of those extraordinary books that makes something new, challenging, and all-too-often forbidden into a garden of wonders, with the sort of casual welcome you’d receive from a friend, a writer’s “c’mon, let’s play.”

Speaking purely as an adult, this book makes me want to work through each page and form, writing my own poems; and perhaps gathering a group of friends to do the same and with whom to share our new creations. This book demystifies poetry, making it accessible and comprehensible and fun for everyone. I highly recommend it to teachers. Also to eager readers, and not eager readers.

(Also, I have never in my life read better concrete poems. I’d thought the form was stupid, but the two in this book proved me wrong.)

(Fun fact: the title of this book is taken from one of those two concrete poems: “A Kick in the Head” by Joan Bransfield Graham which, unfortunately, is impossible to reproduce here – formatting and whatnot.)

Half of the spread on couplets. [x]
Here’s the most fitting blurb from the inside jacket.


Open this book for something


Twenty-nine poetic forms await you

Inside these pages. How many

Can you master?


From sonnets to double dactyls,

Odes to limericks —

Raschka and Janeczko (and a frisky mule)

Make learning the rules of poetry

So much fun!

(Can you guess what kind of poem that is?)

Highly recommended.