In school, we were taught to read poetry. To recite poetry. To understand poetry. But many people do not like poetry from their young years. Maybe it is because the choice of poems in the educational system is unsuitable, or maybe it is because some people hate learning anything. Who knows?
For my part, I wrote a lot of prose-poetry a year or two ago, but it wasn’t poetry at all. Great poets are something different. Great poets always have something to write about. Great poets do not waste time hunting for rhymes and such stuff. Great poets use pictures in their poems. Great poets convey the theme of their poems aptly and beautifully. There is something special about them.
But what makes them so special?
Are they God-gifted or do they learn poetry writing skills? Both. Let’s look at the latter, poetry writing skills. To acquire poetry writing skills, one must read and write poetry regularly. However, it also helps to know a few things about poetry, such as…
Poetry Writing Forms
There are many poetry writing forms. A man could make himself hoarse shouting them, but still, they would not be succinctly defined, explained and illustrated. This article is not meant as a complete guide on poetry writing forms — rather it is just the introduction. The first form is:
- Sonnet: – This type of poem has fallen out of favour now, but it is still my favourite type of poetry to read. It follows a strict ‘a-b-a-b’ rhyme scheme. It was made popular by Shakespeare. (More info: Wikipedia)
- Haiku: – A type of popular Japanese poem. Modern haiku is different from the traditional Japanese haiku. The modern haiku follows a 5-7-5 syllable rhyming structure. Well-written haiku is lovely and pleasurable to read. It takes a lot of skill to write great haiku. I tried my hand at one. Needless to say, even I didn’t like it. (Writing Forward has a great more substantive article on haiku.)
- Tanka: – Tanka means Japanese poem. It is longer than a haiku; when it was westernized poems were broken to lines and it had a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. Tanka is not as popular as haiku, but poets do write it. Did you know that some poets write it without any capitalization at all? That’s not uncommon in modern poetry, but it always strikes me as funny. Here are some sample Tanka poems.
- Pantoum: – Although sonnets are my favourite type of poems, pantoums come a pretty close second on my list. That’s because there are certain types of similarities between the two of them. A lot of lines are repeated in it, yet you can make use of puns and suchlike and have wordplay. Go here for more information about pantoums.
For more information about other forms of poetry, go to Wikipedia.
Poetry Writing Terms
As with poetry writing forms, there are a lot of poetry writing terms. Hyperbole, personification, metaphor, inversion, simile, onomatopoeia, alliteration, enjambment etc are just a few of them. Below you can find their descriptions…
- Hyperbole: – You can say exaggeration in prose, but when it comes to poetry, there is a term for it: hyperbole. “Ten thousand saw I at a glance,” says Wordsworth referring to daffodils in the famous Daffodils poem. If that’s true, I’ve yet to hear it, but with skills in wordplay the poem can become better if this is used with caution.
- Personification: – If you can give a human or a living quality to a non living being, then you’re using the figure of speech named as personification, because you write as if the non living thing is a person. In “the bus shook itself and gave an important horn” it is said as if the bus is a living thing. Personification is my favourite poetry writing term (poetry writing terms are also called figures of speech).
- Metaphor: – A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two. “He has a special place in my life”: that is a metaphor. As with “he followed in his father’s footsteps.”
- Inversion: – Taking a previous example, the line in Wordsworth’s Daffodils “Ten thousand saw I at a glance”, is not prose. It’s not correct. The correct version would be “I saw ten thousand at a glance.” Poetry often makes use of inverting the sentence structure: this is known as inversion.
- Simile: – Simile means directly comparing one thing with another. The words “like” and “as” are used frequently in simile. “He’s like a rock” compares the person with a rock in a direct manner. Simile can paint pictures in our mind, and hence is used a lot in poetry.
- Alliteration: – We learn by examples, so let’s have more of them. “In the soft summer cold was the sun.” The sound of s is repeated for a poetical rhythm and pleasure. That’s called alliteration.
- Onomatopoeia: – The rain pitter-patters. The twig snaps. The sheep baa-baas. I’m sure you’re all familiar with these terms and verbs, and this is onomatopoeia.
- Enjambment: – From Wikipedia:
Enjambment is the breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses. It is to be contrasted with end-stopping, where each linguistic unit corresponds with a single line, and caesura, in which the linguistic unit ends mid-line. The term is directly borrowed from the French enjambement, meaning “straddling” or “bestriding.”
I’m sure I’ve missed some poetry writing terms. The term assonance comes to mind. Can you give more examples?
Poetry Writing Skills
The best way to master anything is to practise it. So go; write poetry. Let it be bad. Let it be unreadable. Just write. That’s all I’m trying to tell you. But this type of information will be helpful later, so be sure to store it up for future use. Meanwhile, my fingers are tired!
Over to you
Share your experiences on poetry writing. Is there anything I missed while writing this gigantic article? Be sure to share it in the comments.
This post is the fifth instalment in the Creative Writing 101 series.