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Poetry is not just about rhyming words and creating pretty pictures on the page. It’s about communicating a story through a unique medium. If you want to learn how to write poetry, you’ll need to know some of the basic techniques used to organize and communicate your words. While there are many popular poetry forms, such as haiku, limericks, and sonnets, there are also some techniques that are common to all types of poetry. If you’re ready to learn how to write poetry, you’ll want to make sure you know these important techniques.
- 1 Theme is king
- 2 Meter gives structure to your poem
- 3 Rhyme with your rhythm
- 4 Become aware of your mouth
- 5 Keep language simple
- 6 Make the imagery important
- 7 Rap with bold use of lines and punctuation
- 8 Aim for punchlines
- 9 Experience your breath
- 10 Breaking tradition
- 11 Join the Commaful Storytelling Community
Theme is king
Theme is generally the most discussed aspect of poetry, with scholars and critics spending long hours ferreting out what a particular poem is said to be really conveying. In many ways, themes of a poem feel akin to the thesis of a short essay or the message of a Sunday sermon. Without themes — and more importantly, without the poet clearly stating these themes in their work — poetry can come off as opaque. In short, everyone is more likely to appreciate your poem if they know what the poem means, or where it is coming from.
An obvious question for understanding the theme is to ask yourself what the poem is about . It may be as simple as the speaker telling someone not to go swimming for a few more hours, or as complex as all the sex symbolization packed into an Abstract Expressionist collage. From there, ask yourself how the theme is conveyed. Do characters act as an allegory for the theme? Do you want to impart what you think good poetry should be? Make a detailed outline, complete with headings and lists, and be as specific as possible – aim for something that even someone unfamiliar with poetry would enjoy reading.
Meter gives structure to your poem
Meter, beat, cadence… whatever you call it, it’s one of the most fundamental aspects of poetry. Meter is how you establish a regular, predictable pattern in a poem, and what allows a reader to understand how far along they are at any point in a poem. Rhythm is created and reinforced by meter, like a steady march in the background, or a tall building whose single point of light is the highest point in the skyline. Meter is important in poetry because it’s rhythm, and when rhyme and meter work together, they’re a bit like a magic spell that transforms the language itself into a powerful and directing tool.
Rhyme with your rhythm
As with other literary forms, rhythm is perhaps the most undervalued technique in poetry. This is especially important in poetry because, unlike prose, there aren’t any breaks for the reader to catch her breath. If the rhythm of your poem is jumbled up or inconsistent, it doesn’t matter how well-written the words themselves are because the reader won’t be able to appreciate your skill. The solution is to take care when writing and crafting verses. There are several distinct types of rhyme techniques, like enjambment and half rhyme. Keep track of them and try them out when crafting verses. If you can make them work in your poem, it will get a lot easier to craft verses that flow seamlessly.
You probably know already that a lot of poetry makes use of rhythm to provide the cadence of the poem. Clean verse uses this to great effect, but poets can also use rhythm to speak to other elements. You can use rhythm to reveal details they wouldn’t otherwise have space for, or to help readers track a complex emotion. Start listening to the rhythms of your favorite poem, and see if you can figure out how it got there. What kind of poem is it? How does the word choice work together with the rhythm? The sound? Do the syllables align with stresses and dead notes that naturally occur in phrases? Don’t worry too much about this at first–simply being aware of the rhythm in poetry can make a huge difference when sounding out your own verses.
Become aware of your mouth
In order to better use rhyme and rhythm effectively in your poetry, it helps to know the impact both are having. The beginner poet should become aware of their mouth. Tone and the way you’re speaking the words should blend with how you’re presenting your poem. Practicing reading poetry out loud is a great way to do this. If you’re having trouble with the words sticking with you or remembering them on the page, pen a few lines in a notebook. While you’re reading or writing, try to capture and reflect your mood and attitude rather than speaking in a monotone. The more you can change your honest feeling and form it in your words, the more interesting and effective your poetry will become.
Language is a fluid thing, and it is impossible to fully describe orally, especially in the middle of action. Part of learning to speak the words out loud in a captivating way is to really feel the emotions and convey them with your words. Experimenting with rhythms and saying the words in different ways is useful. For example, if a particular phrase in a poem corresponds to an action, you want to try shouting it, whispering it, yelling it, mumbling it, and even singing it. Talking your words can help to convey how you want your words to carry themselves.
Keep language simple
Poetry is about evoking imagery and emotion, and one of the smartest ways to do this is to make the reader feel like they’re entering a living, breathing space. They’re not just reading about rain, they have to feel like the rain is pounding on the tin roof of a steamy little shack. By using simple language, you can provide space for your readers’ imagination to fill in the details, and consequently create a more emotional reading experience for them.
Poetry is distillation in action. Any writing principles you learn to apply to transform technical or academic dialogue into characters and action in fiction can work with poems as well, so use this chance to practice applying adverbs, eliminating unnecessary or repeated words, and shortening sentences to between ˘ th and ˘ th of a line. If you run into a word you can’t pare down, take a minute to find synonyms, or consider a colloquialism — often the resonant weight of language with slang or colloquial connotations is enough to communicate the meaning you want to convey.
Make the imagery important
Poetry has more in common with painting and photography than many critics will allow. All three encourage the viewer or reader to explore the image, to sit with it and make it his own. It’s an invitation that many writers couldn’t resist, which means that many poets are also writers, and they take advantage of the unique tools that each form offers.
Take Walt Whitman’s hypnotic Song of Myself. Each line runs into the next and is punctuated by an abundance of commas that encourages the reader to pause and ponder the words. Thomas Hardy takes a different approach, resisting the urge to dash thoughts together in his poems, but also avoiding the standard rhythm that characterizes so many works. He ejects pauses and paints moments just as much through what he doesn’t say as through what he does. Whether you’re working with hyper syllabics or environmental descriptions, recognize the importance of the impact of each individual word.
Yet both Whitman and Hardy give characters to their poetic landscape. When picturing a forest, you should be able to see the blocks of the trunks clumped entwined together and the twigs tangled across the deadened ground. There’s a reason why the rugged bard Wordsworth walked amongst the landscape in order to write The Daffodils. The point is that any form you use should naturally create the impression of your writing. You shouldn’t close your eyes and draw from memory, but you should aim to explore as much as you can before you value an enhancement. You might do this by rereading the poetry of other writers or by actually imitating aspects of the work that you like.
Rap with bold use of lines and punctuation
Poets have many things to share with you, most of which will be veiled in metaphors and obscure references. Sorry, that’s just the nature of poetry. Untangling those metaphors becomes essential to effectively learn the art form, since each work is so unique in both structure and content. Luckily, their techniques are much less cryptic to the true devotee. Poetry critics have also commented on the widespread appeal of tough-guy poetry, which utilizes hard-hitting language and strong imagery.
First, you’ll need to have some suitable lines to play with. Find a subject that inspires you — one that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about won’t only translate better, but it will also be easily memorable. For this exercise, it’ll be easier to work with two stanzas, as opposed to trying to form long lines across four stanzas. Once you have your conclusions formed and written, make it bold, and use a lot of white space to draw your readers in.
You’ll want to position your statement in the middle of a few sentences of quick and staccato language. This can be a great way to get your readers just as excited as you are about the broad concepts you’re exploring. It also pairs well with two-line breaks, in addition to the more traditional four-line ones. This technique often gives a strong punch to the style, much like the gesture of a finger jabbing into the air. Don’t be afraid to look at other poems, or to try writing with the lines staggered differently, since variation is the name of the game. If you can pack a lot of information into a short poem, you can probably cover even more salient points by releasing it in a sustained, linear wind.
Aim for punchlines
You’ll want to think about your poem’s “punchline,” which is a literary term for the surprise resolution that brings a twist to the story or the ending of a joke. Put another way, it’s the element of something familiar that makes it different and interesting. And speaking of narrative elements that are familiar, you should also think about re-using words and poetic techniques in a way that surprises the reader. For example, it’s the repetition of a line or turn of phrase that makes Lateralus by Tool so proverbial — it packs into ten-minutes much wisdom and rhythm. Lemony Snicket is another example of a writer who takes language and turns it into more than just a story about characters. Every word and phrase will twist your expectations and bring you into a new direction of story.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Even if your “punchline” repeats something obviously, make sure you repeat it at least a third time somewhere else in your poem. Doing this will compel your reader to pay attention to the structure of your poem. You’ll find that the repetition across lines adds structure to the poem, showing how the one thing varies and increases in intensity. Repetition has a strong place in many poetry techniques, whether you’re doing a sonnet or an acephalous poem.
Experience your breath
There are unique ways to practice experiencing your breath. If you have a positive sounding word, chant it as you feel yourself relax into your breath. Many people repeat a variation of “into” on each exhale to create a rhythm that you can fall into. Another version is to have your focus be the sensation of your breath, and allow yourself to fall into a meditative state while you get into the breath.
It is also important to see how your breath impacts the natural rhythms of your body as it moves. Feel your breath come in and out. And as you inhale and exhale, continue to focus on each area of your body, the upper body, middle, the lower, the front, sides and back. As you direct your breath into your body through each of these areas, experiencing every moment you are expanding and contracting in rhythm with the breath.
Studying poetry will teach you a lot about how to write it. Poetry is a universal language, even if you might not immediately understand a given style or poem. It’s a good idea to read up on some of the major poetry movements of the last few hundred years to learn the major stylistic trends. More importantly, though, you can identify when an author has tried something new — either updating a previous convention or breaking a piece of standard technique. If you try unconventional methods of meshing prose, line spacing, or even prologues or epitaphs it will move your poem out of the ordinary. If you want to write good poetry, you’ll want to mimic these techniques too.
While there are clear-cut trends when it comes to poetry writing, and some free rules for crafting a great poem, there are plenty of parameters that are up to your interpretation. Playing around with some more liberal interpretations can give your poem character and originality. Even parodies and imitations add a new layer to your poem, allowing you to explore and analyze a different piece of work.
The rhythms of poetry are subjective and always changing. Once you start experimenting with poetry, you’ll begin to discover different flows that appeal to you and your reader. Whether you take a literary, descriptive approach, or a more personal, versatile tone, the techniques of poetry are there for you to play with to create truly unique and effective poems that can help you create lasting and beautiful works of art.
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