What is a Nonet?

An examination of the history, form and use of the Nonet, a form of poetry with diminishing lines.

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The Nonet is a form of poetry where each line has one less syllable than the previous line.

History

Not much is known of the history of the Nonet. It is possible the form originated from Western interest in Haiku or Tanka, and other forms with an emphasis on syllable counts.

In music terms, a Nonet is a group of nine musicians, as a Nonet poem is a ground of nine lines.

Form

The first line of a Nonet begins with nine syllables, with each line following losing a single syllable, finishing on a line with a single syllable.

These syllable counts give the Nonet a distinctive shape which can also be used as a form of concrete poetry, though some words will lead to longer lines which ruins this image. In this case, word choice and visual aesthetic need to be balanced by the poet.

Use

Because of the simple rules behind the Nonet, many have seen the form as a children’s poem; though, in the right hands, it is capable of immense beauty.

Poets wishing to use the Nonet should probably have first understood the Haiku and become used to counting syllables as they write. Checking for filler words, such as “and,” can be an easy way of dropping or adding a syllable where needed. While I personally frown at the use, exclamations such as “oh” at the start of a line can also increase lines by a single syllable where needed.

My own personal preference dictates that the Nonet be composed of a single sentence, written as spoken, rather than grammatically perfect writing.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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