Author Note: How to get started writing a poem as well as some of the tools of the trade.

The Blank Page-

The blank page can be a bit intimidating at first glance. Its foreboding emptiness may add undo pressure to the creative processes. When faced with this phenomenon, there are many things that can and should be considered that will help jump-start your writing.  

For one, it would be of great assistance to have a firm knowledge of certain ideas and rules in poetry. Thus lessening the intimidation felt upon the inception of a new piece. After you have written several pieces, you should start formulating your own method for creating poems. A regular method or plan for writing will speed you past the initial hump that writers oftimes feel when starting a new piece. 

Decide on the topic of your poem.  Ask yourself what you want the poem to accomplish. It could tell a story and/or create a mood, whatever you decide. Know in advance what your overall objective is in your writing.

A poems topic can arise from personal experiences or observations. A walk in the park or digging in the garden can inspire a poem. However, coming up with a topic and a few stanzas does not necessarily mean that it is worthy of posting to the site. There are many things that still need to be considered.

When choosing a topic and writing a poem I give careful consideration as to who my audience will be. You can either write a piece with the intent that everyone will enjoy it, or you can write something entirely for yourself, where perhaps very few others will enjoy it. That is a very personal choice, but be advised, if you rant or choose to write the ubiquitous "I love you but you left me" type of story, you risk receiving very low reviews. This topic is so over done as are others. You need to research some of the poetry on the site to see what is working and what is not.

On the opposite end are the sappy, sugary pieces that some may not think even qualify for Hallmark ditties. Here again, you have to know what your intent with the piece is. Are you just getting something off your chest? Or do you want to create something beautiful that the general public would appreciate? Do you care how well the piece is received? Or do you just have something you need to say? (For which I recommend an off-line personal diary).

There is much controversy as to what subject matter makes a good poem and what does not. It is best to read as many varied poems as you can, on and offline. While online, compare the higher rated poems to the lesser rated poems. See if you can discern what makes one poem rate high and another rate low. This is where you develop your eye and ear for good poetry. You will start to see the difference between good topic/bad topic - Or the same topic, well written, and poorly written.

The writer should make great efforts to rid their piece of errors before posting. There are no exceptions; a poem must have correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. A poet that is well versed can take some liberties with the "rules" but it is done very carefully and sparingly. ee cummings was famous for pushing the boundaries of what one would normally expect from poetry.  Even when it came to his own name, he preferred all lower case letters.  Here is an example of one of his avante-garde poems.

!blac 
by ee cummings

!blac
k
agains
t

(whi)

te sky
?t
rees whic
h fr

om droppe

d
,
le
af

a:;go

e
s wh
IrlI
n

.g

 

A writer cannot escape poor writing skills by claiming they are breaking the rules on purpose. If the writers work consistently contains grammar and spelling errors or the rhythm/rhyme pattern is grossly askew, the reader cannot be expected to believe that the rules were broken for enhanced feeling or emphasis. This type of expression, through breaking the rules, must be used very carefully, and only in a piece that does not abound with unintended errors.

***

After either some magic light bulb moment, or some long, hard soul searching, whichever comes first, I finally decide on a topic. This is where I begin to think about the style and form the poem will take.  Through my own observations from reading many poems, I have formed an opinion that subjects that are a bit more lighthearted lend themselves to rhyme and lilting meter.  Dark or more serious pieces seem to go better with free verse, usually without rhyme and marked meter.

Certainly I have seen serious pieces with rhyme and meter and jesting pieces in free verse. I am only suggesting this as something to consider in the beginning stages of writing. You probably would not want a story with a tragic topic, to be in a happy lilting meter with clever, catchy rhymes. To me, at least, it would seriously detract from the seriousness of the piece. So take this bit of advice with a grain of salt.

I actually do not know completely what form my poem will take until I start placing it on the page. It may lend itself to being metered, rhymed and written in lines and stanzas. Or the feeling and topic may be better written in free verse and perhaps form an interesting pattern on the page.   

The poem either takes on a life of its own, or dies a miserable death to be buried in the depths of my computer archives. I now must admit to a weakness, which is, I can't bear to throw even the worst of them away. I actually find them to be pretty good resources for turns of phrase, or seed thoughts for other pieces.

To help myself in the writing process, I try to familiarize myself with different types of poems through reading various authors works. That way, when the urge strikes me, and I start forming the poem on the page, I already have some basic skills as to what form would better suit my needs.

***

A Familiar Poem

Most are familiar with poetry in some way or another before arriving at EP. Here is a famous example of rhymed and metered poetry with a light subject.

Twinkle twinkle little star

by Jane Taylor

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are !
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When she nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the trav'ller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often thro' my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

'Tis your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the trav'ller in the dark :
Tho' I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

You can easily see the rhymes star/are high/sky. Each line has 7 beats with stress in the same places. The flow is even and regulated. The subject matter is light.


A Free Verse Poem

 Here is an example for you to feel the how different it is from the rhyme and meter of the "Twinkle" poem. 

Under the Harvest Moon 

by Carl Sandburg    

     UNDER the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

     Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Here, there are no true rhymes, there is no marked rhythm and the stress is less evident. The flow is still even, but not so regulated, it is measured by pauses, line breaks and the lowering of the voice at the end of a sentence, thought or image. The continuity is found more in the flowing interrelated thoughts. The subject is a bit heavier. 


Elements-

rhyme:

There are many elements to be considered when writing a poem. But I will only touch on a few of the basic ideas that a beginning poet should consider.  If you are going to write a poem that rhymes, you need to decide on a rhyme scheme and stick to it. The rhyme scheme is designated by the last word in each line of a stanza. When looking at the rhyme pattern, a letter is given to each line and end sound in the poem.
 

The rhyme scheme for this stanza is "aabbaa"

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,       -a
How I wonder what you are.    -a
Up above the world so high,    -b
Like a diamond in the sky.       -b
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,       -a
How I wonder what you are!    -a

***

In this example you will find a more complicated scheme:  a b a b c d e d c e 

Ode On Melancholy

by John Keats

 

She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;                         a

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips                                     b

Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,                                a

Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:                             b

Ay, in the very temple of Delight                                                 c

Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,                                  d

Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue        e

Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;                          d

His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,                           c

 And be among her cloudy trophies hung.                                 e

 

***                                                                 

There are also different types of rhyme. 

The most familiar is perhaps the true rhyme, where the vowel sound is the same, as in: sky/ high. If the word ends in a consonant, the end sound must be the same as in: wreck, deck. Most often, rhyming words are found at the ends of the lines. However, you can have what is called internal rhyme, where there is a rhyme within one line as in "the cat wore a large hat." Where cat/hat rhyme within the same line. This can be used for special effect. When using it, consider this: does the internal rhyme pull sounds together or does it call attention to itself? Then you must ask yourself if the effect is desirable, does it enhance your poem or detract from it.

True or perfect rhyme, as it is known, is divided into feminine and masculine categories. Feminine refers to a rhyme where at least two syllables rhyme and the final syllable is not stressed as mother/brother and greenery/scenery. With a masculine rhyme the final, stressed syllable rhymes as in attain/regain. 

Words that are similar visually are not necessarily rhymes as in: although/through. Notice they have the same vowel sound and end the same as in the true rhyme rule, yet they are not words that rhyme. 

There are other words that you may think are a rhyme but only sound the same, as in see/sea. These are called identities, not rhymes. Rhyming is based on pronunciation not on spelling. Another example of words that do not rhyme are way/away. This is not a rhyme, as actually, it is the same word "way" that is being matched. Also be wary of words that end in "s" rhymed with ones that do not as in matches/batch or spike/bikes as they are not acceptable rhymes.

Near rhyme or slanted rhyme can get a bit stickier. A slant rhyme shares the same vowel sound but contain a different ending consonant sounds such as: day/pail or dawn/again or ruse/smooth.  If used carefully a slant rhyme can spice up a poem quite nicely. However, overuse or incorrect use of slant rhyme will ruin your poem and make it read poorly.   

When you are looking for a rhyme, you should start with true or exact rhyme, if that sounds too forced or you cannot find a word to suit the meaning or intent you desire, then try rhymes with similar endings. It is better to find the best meaning than the best rhyme that perhaps lacks the actual intent or meaning of your poems message. It is always the best when you find both the accurate meaning and perfect rhyme in one word, but it isn't always possible. Sometimes a careful blending of true and slant rhyme presents an interesting poem.

A forced rhyme:

There are several other facets to rhyming, but I would like to end this section by describing forced rhyming. A rhyme is forced when a poem suffers for the sake of the rhyme. This happens when you are limited in resources and you want to make a word fit. One of the first signs of a forced rhyme is the inversion of a sentence. 

Example: To the market she merrily went

                 On her way she met a gent. 

                 After her he does pursue

                 Only to find her name is Sue.

An analysis of the first line you notice that in using normal speech you would say, "she merrily went to the market."  The first part has been inverted so the word went could rhyme with gent.   Bad!

The third line is yet another way that syntax gets distorted for the sake of forcing a rhyme. The word "does" is used as a filler word to make the line read smoothly and force the word pursue at the end of the line to rhyme with Sue in the following line. Double bad!

Ok, that should be enough to get you thinking about rhyme. I will now wander off into the realm of rhythm and meter.


 

rhythm and meter-

The rhythm is the overall pace of a poem when it is being read aloud and it can be determined through meter, sentence structure and emotional flow. 

It is hard to not sound clinical when writing about meter and rhythm. There are too many hard facts that must be written out plainly. So, here they are, as I have come to know them. Meter is what defines a given rhythm in a poem. It is marked off by stressed and unstressed syllables at regular intervals. 

A reader will scan a poem to discover its meter. Not a scan as in reading quickly but a "scan" or more formally "scansion," is the term used when you read through a poem noting the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. Beyond this, the meter of a piece is also determined through number of syllables in a line, but I will stick to the stress for now.

There are many recognized meters of which I will mention one: Iambic. All meter contains units of stressed and unstressed syllables called "feet" or a "foot."  In the case of Iambic there is one unstressed syllable (u) and one stressed (/). So it would look line this ( u / ).

The poem Twinkle twinkle little star uses mostly the iambic rhythm, with seven syllables in each line, so that emphasis falls on the last word of each line: star, are, high and sky.

The meter in a poem is important to the flow and the flow of a poem is adjusted through line length, meter, white space, line and stanza breaks etc. Short lines will flow fast as the reader moves from one to the next rapidly. The insertion of a longer line will break the flow. Making this line stand out and thus making the reader think more about its meaning.  So you have to be very careful when you do this. The line that you make stand out, should have something important to say.

You can change the meter of a poem for variety or emphasis. But this must be done with great care. You can end up making your poem sound halting or choppy if done incorrectly. You will learn how to balance the meter through practice. It is important to remember that a poem is supposed to flow, however you can use meter changes to halt the flow for meaning or drama. There is also a form of poetry that is written without the use of strict rhyme and meter called free verse.


 

 free verse-

Free verse does not give the author license to do whatever they wish in writing a poem; it is not the absence of rules and guidelines. Conversely, it requires the knowledge of all the rules and guidelines. After becoming fairly familiar with the different rules involved, the poem can now be skillfully stripped of encumbering rhyme, strict meter and regular rhythm. However, this is not a mechanical process. For me, it happens as I write the words on the page, and is then tweaked into better form in subsequent edits.

In order to write good free verse, you must know the rules and regulations of 'regular' poetry first.  In other words, in my opinion, it is necessary to know what rules you are breaking, before you can break them with success. A free verse piece that is written to avoid the structure of regular poetry is glaringly obvious to the more established authors.   

The complete definition of free verse seems pretty elusive at first glance. Most believe the idea that if it doesn't rhyme, it is free verse. That may be a small part, but it is definitely, not the whole of it. The first flaw in this line of thinking is that free verse can, although it usually doesn't, contain rhyme.

Free verse does contain rhythm. However, if you tried to mark it, you would not find a regular pattern. The rhythm in this style is more like what you would hear in regular speech. It could be connected between lines, or between the stanzas. The rhythm is marked by the voice as it is speaking and then falling at the end of a sentence, image or thought. This flow of speech creates the rhythm in the free verse poem. A line of thought flowing through the piece also adds to the continuity as does a combination and variation of the syllables and stress count.

The words and sentence structure are what holds the free verse piece together and establishes the connections between the lines and stanzas. Just think of a well written speech and how the words flow and the thoughts move smoothly from one to the next. This is a similar feeling that is found in free verse poetry. The flow is brought about through the use of recurring rhythm, phrases and images. The foot in free verse, can be a line or a whole stanza. Meter and rhyme may be present, but is used more freely, without harsh restriction. 

I will end this with an example of free verse by Williams:

Primrose
by William Carlos Williams 

Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
It is not a color.
It is summer!
It is the wind on a willow,
the lap of waves, the shadow
under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
three herons, a dead hawk
rotting on a pole--
Clear yellow!
It is a piece of blue paper
in the grass or a threecluster of
green walnuts swaying, children
playing croquet or one boy
fishing, a man
swinging his pink fists
as he walks--
It is ladysthumb, forget-me-nots
in the ditch, moss under
the flange of the carrail, the
wavy lines in split rock, a
great oaktree--
It is a disinclination to be
five red petals or a rose, it is
a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
on a red stem six feet high,
four open yellow petals
above sepals curled
backward into reverse spikes--
Tufts of purple grass spot the
green meadow and clouds the sky.


Notice how the colors weave throughout the poem adding to the continuity. The subject and descriptions are consistent and flow through the whole piece. Line breaks and commas add their pause in just the right place to create a pattern in reading. There is no perfect rhyme, yet notice the relationship between words like yellow/shadow/hawk. Also notice the i sound in swinging/fists/ditch that also bring continuity to this piece. 


 

 

Some other random thoughts:

Have you ever confused alliteration, the repetition of the same sounds in a grouping of words as in " he pushes, pinches and pulls at her hair,"  with assonance, the repetition of a vowel sound as in "fathom/ father" or  "limpid/silvery." Then just when you think you've got it , they throw the concept of consonance in the mix for good measure, which is the repetition of consonants usually at the ends of words as in "leaf/loaf" or "room/roam."

Then, to top it all off, there is the fun in remembering the difference between metaphor, which is a figure of speech that compares unlike things by saying that one thing is the other as in "time is money" with a simile which is yet another figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared using the words "as" or "like" 

 I hope this article brings some of the simpler elements of poetry into focus for anyone in need.

CJ