Writing poetry can be as simple as a few well-placed rhyming words or it can be a complex arrangement of rhymes, verse, and rhyme patterns.
Poetry opens up an unlimited world of creative possibilities, and once you have a good understanding of the wide range of techniques and styles available, you can craft your own unique expression of life – a poem that will engage your reader.
An Overview of Poetry.
The history of poetry is as complex as the art form itself, and there have been many debates over the centuries over what constitutes a poem. The roots of poetry date back to oral tradition, where a poem was used primarily for didactic and ballad-style entertainment. Shakespeare made the Sonnet famous – a poetic form that blends a delicate balance of narrative and lyrical qualities. With the advent of the printing press and the book, poetry became a highly regarded literary style.
So what is a poem?
Is a poem merely a static literary form that must adhere to a certain rhyme pattern, specific use of language and a rigid structural format? The traditionalist would argue that a poem should adhere to a strict rhyme pattern and its appearance on the page should not deviate from the four-line verse running down the page. The rebellious modernist would argue that rules are supposed to be broken and writing a poem is a free and unfettered craft that is subject only to the poet’s artistic whim.
I think the answer to what makes up a poem lies in this statement: a poem is the perfect form of creative expression. What do you think? Does a poem allow a writer to express his feelings, thoughts and experiences of the world better than a short story?
The 19th century classical poet and critic Mathew Arnold defined a poem as ‘the most beautiful, striking, and widely effective way of saying things, and therefore its importance …’ (Knickerbocker 1925, p. 446). But as prestigious as this quote sounds, the art of writing a poem is so much more.
A poem enables the poet to reveal his thoughts or life experiences to the reader through heightened use of language that appeals to the emotions. The poet invites the reader to undertake a journey to explore ideas. Overall, the poet designs their perfect form of creative expression to engage their reader and to elicit a response.
Here are seven techniques or tools that can help you write a poem that will engage your reader:
You have access to a toolbox full of different poetic techniques or devices that will allow you to convey your thoughts, feelings and experiences of the world appropriately such as:
1. An arrangement of sound (a clever combination of alliteration and resonance – repeating consonant and vowel sounds), which creates an internal rhyme and invokes music in our mind when reading the poem aloud. For example: resonance can create an internal rhyme such as this line of poetry by Theodore Roethke “I wake up to sleep, and slowly wake up …”
2. Surround (strategic line breaks that determine meter and rhythm, which can highlight a particular phrase).
3. Visualization: drawing on the live description of an image to create a word picture. You can use concrete images, which are images we can see or feel like a cat, house, sun, rain. Abstract images indicate concepts that we understand but we cannot see or feel as information, freedom or justice. An abstract image can be conceptual and also emotional.
4. Conversion / Similarity – figures of speech that reveal hidden similarities and compare two notions of poetic effect.
5. Rhyme: Words or rhymes that end in identical sounds. “Whose woods are these I think I know. His house is in the village, though …” Robert Frost.
6. Tone: Specific use of voice as melancholy, happy, pensive, which is determined by specific word choice. Here is an excerpt from Exit by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
I wish I could walk until my blood should sting,
And drop me, never to turn again,
On a wide bank, for the tide is out,
And the weed rocks are bare to the rain.
But dump or dock, where is the path I take
Coming up, it’s small enough I’m worried,
And no matter how much I care about the fuss they make,
Killed dead in a ditch somewhere.
7. Music is a vibrant and versatile art form. There are many styles of composition available – free verse (which does not conform to traditional rhyme verse or regular meter or rhythm), or Baronet (a poem used as a lament or as a sentimental memorial to a person or event) .
Of course, these techniques are just a few of the tools that a poet can use, and some of these techniques can be used when writing stories, but they are specifically related to the world of poetry.
Poetry teaches us about the beauty and power of language and the richness of the written word. By using a combination of the poetic techniques available, an author can find complete freedom in expressing thoughts, ideas and feelings.
John Redmond defines a poem as not so much a word structure, which must conform to a set of rules and a particular form, but an experiment with being, which has its own personality and value; and “… any good poem should make us feel like explorers of a new planet, going out on an important adventure … [a] a good poem will seek to maintain the sincerity, the sense of possibility, that every reader feels when they open a book for the first time ”(2006, p. 2).
To maintain sincerity and a sense of possibility, the poet needs to keep the reader in mind when writing a poem, by using language and images that the reader can engage with and thus feel able to join the poet in the journey of exploration.
Ultimately, the role of music not only serves the purpose of self expression, but it can teach us something new, and also capture our imagination and emotions.
Knickerbocker, William S 1925. ‘Matthew Arnold’s Theory of Poetry’. Sewanee Review 33 (4). Johns Hopkins University Press: 440-50, via Jstor.
Redmond, John 2006, How to write a poem, Blackwell Publishing, USA. p. 2.