On Poetry: A Lesson on the Basics

On Poetry: A Lesson on the Basics
May 16, 2018 No Comments » For Authors, Poetry, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

We’ve been doing a series on writing poetry here at Our Write Side. We’ve talked about getting started writing poetry and imagery. This time I thought we could cover some basics on writing poetry, so let’s get started.

How a Poem is Structured

Theme

The theme of a poem is the point of the poem, or what the poem is trying to say. Choose one theme per poem, but leave it open to interpretation by the reader.

Lines

These are the building blocks of your poem, much like sentences build a story. Many things go into consideration when deciding where to stop or start a line, like spacing or rhyming. A line does not have to be a complete sentence but can be a fragment of one. Remember this is poetry and not prose. Some poems create pictures within the spacing of the lines, such as birds, or butterflies, or even plants!

Rhythm and Pacing

You can use short or long lines to speed up or slow down reading. You can get creative with punctuation to do the same thing. If you want to highlight a specific word, phrase, or image, how can you frame your poem around it? Remember that words and phrases at the end of a line pack more power.

Meter

Not every poem needs meter, but a lot of forms call for it, especially rhyming poetry. Meter measures out a syllable count and sets a rhythm with unstressed and stressed syllables.

Poetry is measured in what are known as feet,  which is a two syllable measurement. So if we look at iambic pentameter for an example, it has five feet, or ten syllables total. In those feet, we have one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable together, like in the word “attend.”  Meters are the pattern created by those feet. There are many different types of meters and many different types of feet.

Stanzas

Stanzas are the next block, grouping lines together the way a paragraph is formed from sentences. They help organize ideas together. They get the same considerations as lines do as far as length and shape.

A woman's hand holds a cup of milky tea framed by a bundle of pink and blue carnations on the right and on the left a book with an inspirational quote written on it.

Instead of choosing to simply exist, I urge you to experience life. I urge you to live.

Building a Poem

Now that we know what the structure of a poem is, let’s look at the building blocks of poetry.

Imagery

Imagery is the descriptions used to paint a picture in the reader’s mind’s eye. We discussed imagery previously. Even though imagery has the word image in it, it can and should involve more senses than just sight. It can include the senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste. It can also include even more obscure senses, such as a feeling, like love, companionship, hate, distaste, etc.

Comparative Language

Similes

A simile is using the words “like” or “as” to create a comparison of two similar things. For example, “Her eyes were as blue as the sky.”

Metaphors

A metaphor is the direct comparison of two completely different things, without using “like” or “as” to make the comparison, as in, “the child is a bear.”

Clichés

Clichés are something to avoid in your poetry writing, as a cliché is an overused phrase or image. Using one detracts, rather than adds, substance to a poem. Can you think of any similes that are cliché?

A purple-backlit book is open to a bookmark of orange leaves.

Poetry can create imagery, like this one!

Literary Devices

There are many types of literary devices that can be used in writing that can make it more interesting to the reader, but poetry, especially spoken poetry, relies heavily on them. It’s basically having fun with the sounds of words! Three of the most commonly used devices are alliteration, assonance, and consonance.

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a series of words. For example, “the clawing cat cavorted on the carpet.”

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, such as “an amazing acrobat,” though it doesn’t always have to come at the beginning of a word.

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonants, such as “Harry had a hot habeñero,” but again, these don’t have to come at the beginning of a word or phrase.

Sibilance

The use of sibilance is actually a subset of consonance, but basically, it’s the use of sounds like those that a soft “c,” “s,” or even “f” make to create a block of sound. The word “sibilance” is actually sibilant!

Onomatopoeia

This really long word simply means that a word sounds like a noise, like “bang,” “splat,” and “boom.”

Rhyme

A lot of people write poetry with the misconception that poetry has to rhyme, or that each line has to end in a similar sound. This is not necessarily the case, and can lead to overly simple sounding poems. Do not feel like you have to rhyme, especially if you’re writing in free verse. If you do choose to rhyme, here are some different kinds of rhymes.

End rhyme

End rhyme is the most common. It is rhyming the end words of lines in your poem. For example, “You have followed me to the end/ and yet still you’ve remained my friend.”

Internal rhymes

Internal rhymes are when two words in the same line rhyme. For example, “Look at this light that shines alone tonight.”

Slant rhymes

Slant rhymes or “off-rhymes” are rhymes that share a vowel sound or consonant sound, but aren’t exact rhymes, like “heart” and “star.”

Rich rhymes

Rich rhymes are rhymes that end in the same sound, like “hitch” and “itch.”

Eye rhymes

Eye rhymes are words that look like they should rhyme, but don’t, according to the spoken sound of the words, like “temperate” and “abate.”

These basics should help you feel more prepared to write a poem. Stay tuned for more in this series. Have any questions about poetry? Leave us a comment and I may write about your question.

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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