Ever since middle school, I spent most of my class time writing in a wobbly notebook, filling the pages with poetry. I couldn’t tell you what I learned in sixth grade, but I can tell you that’s when I wrote Sir Sun and Miss Moon — (and other works the world will never see).
I lost that notebook of poems in seventh grade. Late into my last year of high school, I remember being called to the office one day. The lady at the desk smiled and said, “It’s a bit damaged, but they found this and thought you might want it.”
After 5 years, I got to see all of those poems I was so proud of, only then did I realize I needed a lot of work if I was going to be any good.
Now, as an adult with a world of knowledge at my fingertips, I’ve delved into the laws of poetry and have properly begun my first actual poetry collection. Though as much of a snob as I am about reading poetry, I can’t say I’m the most confident in writing it.
However, I am confident in sharing a little of what I learned, in hopes of bringing this amazing art form to light for those passionate with words.
A poem is a work of literature that focuses on experience and emotion to paint a picture, often with the elements such as rhyme, scheme, and meter. Tools like metaphors, personification, and other figurative language meld with carefully picked words to help create the piece.
This can be done in just a few words, or over 300 pages (we’re ignoring Mahabharata). Though they often rhyme and hold a structure, they do not always have to.
It is incredible what constitutes poetry sometimes, but beauty is subjective, especially in the art of writing poems.
The basic elements of poetry are rhyme, meter, stanza, scheme, and verse. They do tend to have more attachments, but let’s focus on just these for now.
With poetry, structure and rules are more important than most literary endeavors. These structures are the elements that help break down and understand poetry.
When you think of poetry, you might think of nursery rhymes or Shakespeare. You might tap your foot or bob your head to that one song that’s always stuck in there. There’s a reason songs are so catchy. They often follow these guidelines to essentially write their poetry.
A rhyme is the similarity in syllables, usually at the end of each line in a poem or song. These can be a ‘perfect rhyme’ like milk and silk, or ‘approximate rhyme’ (sometimes called a 'near rhyme' or an 'imperfect rhyme') like orange and porridge. Sometimes, poems use no rhyme at all.
The meter dictates how the poem is to be read, line by line. It helps form and keep a rhythm.
For example, I can write “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” What you likely read was “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” These are the stressed and unstressed syllables that make up this specific meter, called a Trochee.
Stanzas usually consist of two or more lines per section, and can establish a complete thought or emotion, often like a paragraph.
A stanza is a section of a poem that establishes a full pattern. The meter, rhyme, and scheme are usually all set with the first stanza of a poem, and for the most part, will follow that rule with every stanza after.
Though this is common, a stanza does not have to have any of the above to be considered a stanza.
A scheme or ‘rhyme scheme’ is an established pattern of rhyme within a stanza or poem. Let’s take Mary had a Little Lamb as an example:
The established pattern is dictated in part by the last word of each line. The first stanza has lamb, snow, went, go. A common practice to identify the rhyme scheme is to use an alphabetic value to the word.
Lamb = A, snow = B, went = C, go = B. Snow and go share the same value because they rhyme, and there is your scheme. A,B,C,B.
Now let’s see if the second stanza follows the first. Day, rule, play, school. A,B,A,B. Though it’s common to change an aspect of the rhyme scheme per stanza, there will always be a pattern tying all of them together. In this case, it’s the value B per stanza.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, and this is definitely not the only rhyme scheme. You can easily discover many different schemes. Some might have the A,A,B,B pattern, or A,B,B,A. It’s fun to test how many you can find when studying poetry.
Free verse and Blank verse are exempt from this rule, as both are designed to disrupt pattern and often not rhyme at all.
A verse is traditionally meant to describe a single metrical line in a poem. However, it can now refer to a line, a stanza, or the entire poem itself. The word “verse” is also often used to distinguish a poem from prose.
Verse can also help define the type of poem. Most poetry we think about is under the “rhymed verse”, but, as mentioned earlier, there are other types, like blank verse and free verse.
This is just scratching the surface of how to write a poem, but the more confident you are in the basics and fundamentals, the sturdier your base will be to learn and expand.
The next step is to read what you want to write. If you feel confident in the rules so far, check out $ What is a Poetry Collection$ for some good recommendations. Try to pick up any of the elements you learned as you read and discover what rules can be broken, if any, and if they are done well.
If all else fails, do what I did in sixth grade and just write what you feel. Practice makes for better practice, and exposure makes for great lessons.
Read up on the types of poems you might like to read or write. Limericks are very short and tend to be on the more humorous side, while Haiku are even shorter, yet show powerful imagery, usually of nature.
If you want to find a community of poets and maybe take on a challenge, $ #Escapril$ is here! The challenge is a lot like Inktober, but instead of drawing something every day, it’s writing a poem based on a prompt given every day.
Here’s an example of my attempt last year. Only made it 4 days in.
Follow LetsEscapril’s $ Instagram$ or search the tag #escapril to learn more and join the fun! This is one of the more fun ways to learn about poetry.
Whatever your flavor, to write or to read, there’s always a poem that can match your speed!
Check out this video for another perspective on your poetry basics: