Saturday, October 3, 2015

Basics of Poetry

photo cred: © Fred Viljoen – Unsplash

I had a special request from +Adil Vp about doing a post on poetry. So, here we go!

The rules for poetry are a lot different than the rules for fiction (which I have been covering in my Writing Basics posts). Unlike fiction, poems do not need a clear beginning, middle, and end; well-crafted characters; or elaborately written sentences. However, like fiction, poems need to be constructed using carefully chosen words.

Poetry distinguishes itself from other types of writing in that it relies so heavily on the physicality of the words on the page. When poets are crafting a poem, they need to consider the rhythm, size, sound, and even shape of each word.

When readers pick up a poem, they expect one of two things: beautiful language or thought-provoking words. If you have a poetry fanatic, s/he may be expecting both beautiful and thought-provoking words. As a poet, how do you go about meeting such expectations for your readers?

Focusing on your use of imagery, rhythm, and rhyme are good places to start.

Imagery is the way you help readers see what you are writing about in your poem. There are a variety of tools you can utilize to enhance the imagery in your piece, including similes, metaphors, personification of objects, and symbols. Remember that your reader wants to be enchanted, not overloaded with excessive (though well-crafted) turns of phrase.

Rhythm is the way your words look and sound in conjunction with all of the other words in your poem. There are a lot of technical aspects of rhythm that we will not get into right now (stressed and accented syllables, syllabic units, syllables per line, etc). If you want more information on rhythm, click here.

Rhyme is the way words sound in relation to one another; specifically, you can consider "rhyming" words to be any words that share similar end sounds. For example, "knuckle" and "buckle" sound the same at the end of the word.

Now, one major misconception about poetry is that it has to rhyme. There are plenty of poems that rhyme (most do) and there are plenty of resources out there (like this one) for the poet who wants to craft superbly formal rhyming poems. But bear in mind, ye poets, that all poems do not have to rhyme. Go back to what I said above: Poetry is art. That is what people are expecting to experience when they pick up your poem to read it: words cleverly crafted to form art. By all means, play around with rhyme, but do not let rhyme scheme and meter drag you into the darkest pit of Writers' Hell (a place where there is self-doubt at every turn, too many broken pencils, and the ever-present question "What are you working on?" written on all the walls).

To close, let me mention that people typically consider the six following traits when discussing poetry. If you are looking to master the genre, keep these six traits at the forefront of your mind:

  1. Idea (Message) -- This is the core of your poem, your "golden meaning." What are you attempting to convey to readers in the poem?
  2. Organization -- This refers to the internal structure of your poem. How are you breaking your lines (enjambment)? Are you considering the final word of your lines? What type of power do those words carry in relation to the entirety of your poem?
  3. Voice -- This refers to the unique flare that you have put in the poem. Does your personality (voice) carry through?
  4. Word Choice -- Again, poetry is the art of language. You want to make certain that you are using words that fit the message and "feel" of your poem. For example, if you are writing a warm, fuzzy poem about the nature of enduring love, you should probably avoid words like "crypt," "death," "murder," and "blood." Unless, you know, that fits your idea for the poem.
  5. Fluency -- This is, basically, an assessment of your flow and rhythm. HINT: If you are worried about the flow of your poem or whether or not your chosen "rhyming words" sound good, read your poem aloud. If it sounds weird or odd to your ears, it probably will read as weird or odd to your readers.
  6. Form -- This kind of ties back to the mechanics behind your poem. For instance, if you are aiming to write canto, dirge, or ghazal, you can bet your readers are going to expect to see the patterns and structures related to those types of poems (example: the structure of a traditional haiku is five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. If you aren't following that structure, you aren't writing a traditional haiku).

Now, Adil also wanted me to discuss postmodern poetic constructions, but that is a little above my pay grade. So, for Adil and all others who may be interested in that topic, you can find information here and here :)

Hope you enjoyed this post! 
We will go back to discussing fiction on Monday. 
Enjoy your weekend!


Adil Vp said...


Han Hills said...

Terrific, clear post. Thank you. Like a good poem, you make every word work for its supper.

Majesta Miles said...

Glad you enjoyed it! :)