Everything you need to write a poem (and how it can save a life) | Daniel Tysdal | TEDxUTSC

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How to Write an Effective Poem

Five Parts:

You can write poems to entertain, persuade, inform, as gifts to loved ones, or just for having fun. To write an effective poem, you will need to try to create a piece that feels unique and true to you. You should choose a unique theme or topic to explore in the poem as well as a specific poetic form. You should also play with sound, rhythm, and tone in the poem and apply literary devices to make your poem really pop.


Sample Poems

Choosing a Unique Topic or Theme

  1. Write about a topic that scares you.Some of the best poetry is about difficult subject matter or topics that might seem taboo to the poet, and to the reader. You may decide to explore a topic that scares you or disturbs you in your poem as a healthy way to explore the topic. Addressing a topic that freaks you out can give your poem tension, passion, and excitement. These elements can then help make your poem more effective for readers.
    • For example, maybe you have a fear of spiders. You may then write a poem about your fear of spiders, focusing on a specific moment in your childhood or adulthood where your fear of spiders became extreme and intense.
    • You may also choose a topic that you find disturbing, like murder or the death of a loved one. You could then explore your feelings and thoughts around the disturbing topic in your poem.
    • Writing about a difficult topic allows you to explore it with genuine curiosity, as you've likely distanced yourself from it previously.
  2. Choose a topic that you find amusing or entertaining.You may strive to write a poem that is on the lighter side, with the goal of amusing and entertaining your reader. You can brainstorm topics that you think are funny, engaging, and amusing. You may then choose one of these topics and explore it more fully in your poem.
    • For example, maybe you have a funny situation that happened to you recently. You may then focus on the details of the situation from your perspective and write a poem about the situation from beginning to end.
  3. Have a unique take on a common theme.The theme of your poem is the purpose of the poem. Many poems will take a common theme and put a unique take or spin on it. This allows the poet to address the human experience and make the experience personal to them. You may brainstorm a few universal themes that speak to you and then try to approach one theme from a unique angle.
    • For example, you may decide to explore a common theme like “love” or “death” from your unique perspective. You may think about when you experience the most amount or the least amount of love from a person, a pet, or even an object. You could then focus on your specific experience of that love in your poem.
    • When writing about a common theme, avoid cliches by taking additional time for brainstorming. Write down all of your associations with that theme, being as specific as possible. Then incorporate these ideas as imagery. For example, when writing about death, you might list dark spaces, claustrophobia, and the smell of lilies.
    • In “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, Poe explores themes like loss, grief, and devotion to an experience in the past. He then approaches these common themes by using the personification of the raven and the unsettled mindset of the narrator to create a unique take on the theme.
  4. Read published poems for ideas on a theme.You can also get ideas on themes and topics for your poetry by reading published works. You may read several published poems that have strong, clear themes or topics that have been approached in unique ways, including:
    • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.
    • “Fame is a Fickle Food” by Emily Dickinson.
    • “Dirty Face” by Shel Silverstein.
    • “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop.
    • "Interpretation of a Poem by Frost" by Thylia Moss.
    • "3 Poems" by Wendy Xu.

Using a Specific Poetic Form

  1. Write a narrative poem to communicate your ideas clearly.A narrative poem tells a story. It should have the elements of a story, including a narrator, character(s), a setting, a plot, and dialogue. The poem should explore a plot using these elements to take the reader on a journey. Often, narrative poems are longer and may be broken into sections or parts.
    • In most cases, narrative poems are straight forward and easy to follow, so use this form when you want your ideas to be clear.
    • You can write a narrative poem by focusing on a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. You should try to start with a problem or issue that your narrator or characters must then deal with throughout the poem. There may be a change or shift at the end of the poem for the narrator or the characters.
    • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poeis a famous narrative poem that puts the reader in the perspective of a narrator who goes on a journey full of mystery and horror.
  2. Do a free verse poem to express yourself.A free verse poem gives you a lot of freedom as a poet as you do not need to follow a specific rhyme scheme or pattern. You can make the poem flow as you see fit. However, you should still use elements of strong poetry, such as a unique topic or theme, literary devices, and strong description.
    • Unlike a narrative poem, a free verse poem doesn't follow a narrative. This makes it great for expressing a thought, feeling, or impression.
    • Known examples of free verse poetry include “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitmanand “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara.
  3. Use a rhyming form.Many poems use some element of rhyme, as rhyming can be pleasing to the ear when it is done right. Rhyming can also help to deepen the meaning of your poem by connecting certain words or lines together. A rhyming form can give your poem a certain rhythm and melody, which can make it more memorable to your reader.
    • You could have end rhymes in your poem, where the end words of the poem rhyme. You can also have internal rhymes in your poem, where the middle of a line of the poem rhyme with each other. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a good example of end rhyme and internal rhyme.
    • You may use the sonnet form, which uses a particular rhyming pattern. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” is a famous example of this form.
  4. Go for a shorter poetic form.You can also try a poetic form that is shorter if you are trying to write an effective poem. You may select a form that creates a shorter structure you can follow and explore to its maximum effect.
    • Try a shape poem. You can write a short shape poem using a shape that is small and contained. Shape poems are a fun way to explore a subject or object visually on the page.
    • You may also try writing a haiku. Haikus are a Japanese poetic form that use the syllable scheme 5-7-5 to create short, three line poems. They can be good for writing about a particular subject or object, particularly an object or subject in nature.

Applying Literary Devices

  1. Use imagery.You should always use imagery in your poem to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. You can use sensory details to create strong imagery, such as how does the subject of the poem smell, sound, taste, feel, and look. Using imagery will help your reader experience the topic or theme of the poem more fully.
    • Avoid using vague or general imagery in your poems. This will not engage your reader and will weaken your poem.
    • For example, in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the speaker describes the Ancient Mariner as having a “long grey beard and glittering eye.”This image paints a strong picture in the reader’s mind using only a few key adjectives.
  2. Add metaphors and similes.You should also use literary devices like metaphor and simile to add creativity and interest to your poem. These devices will create stronger imagery in your poem and help your reader get a mental picture of the events or moments in the poem.
  3. Use personification.You can also use personification to add detail and description to your poem. Personification occurs when an idea, object, or animal is given human attributes. It can help your reader connect to inanimate objects on a more personal, human level.
    • For example, the line: “The fire consumed the house” is personification because it attributes a human element to an object, “the fire.”
  4. Try other literary devices, such as sound devices.There are many different literary devices that you can apply to your poetry to make it stronger. You may experiment with different literary devices and see which ones help to give your poem more interest and meaning.
    • You may use alliteration, where words with the same first consonant sound occur close together in the poem. For example, “The snake sucked the sound out of the air.”
    • You may also try using assonance in your poem. This is where two or more words close to one another repeat the same vowel sound. The words may start with a different consonant sound. For example, “I go and mow the grass” or “She felt depressed and oppressed.”
    • Repetition is also a great device when writing poetry. You can repeat lines or words to make an emphasis.
    • You might also use onomatopoeia, which are sound words. For example, "Boom" or "Bam."

Writing with Sound, Rhythm, and Tone

  1. Go for unfamiliar word choices.You should always try to avoid cliches and familiar wording in your poem. Cliches are phrases that have become so familiar they have lost their meaning. You should use unfamiliar word choices and come up with your own take on a cliche. This will give your poem a more unique sound and rhythm.
    • For example, rather than use the cliche “What comes around goes around” you may put your own spin on it using a unique word choice. You may also try to avoid cliches completely by using words that you find interesting to describe a moment or an experience.
    • Another way to avoid cliches is to play around with your word order, which is called syntax. For example, you might write, "Around it goes if around it comes."
  2. Set a specific tone or mood.You should also try to strike a certain tone or mood in your poem. This will give the poem intent and create a certain feeling or emotion in your reader. Maybe you are going for a more lighthearted tone with a poem that is funny and silly. Or maybe you are aiming for a more spooky mood to the poem, where your reader might be disturbed, unsettled, or just plain freaked out.
    • Elements like word choice, description, and literary devices can all contribute to the overall mood or tone of the poem. You may also want to give the speaker of your poem a certain attitude or perspective to contribute to the mood.
    • For example, in “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, the speaker becomes more paranoid and disturbed as the poem progresses. This creates an unsettling mood and a foreboding tone in the poem.
  3. Structure the lines of the poem.You should consider how you structure the lines of the poem, as they can do so much more than simply run parallel across the page. You may decide to indent certain lines in the poem to emphasize them or break up the poem into short lines down the page. Think of the lines of your poem as building blocks and then consider how you would like to build your poem on the page.
    • You may write your poem first and then go back and section it off. It may help to read the poem out loud and consider if breaking up the poem in a certain way might add to the overall meaning of the poem.
    • You may decide to slow down certain sections of the poem by indenting a line or two lines. You may also decide to speed up certain sections by having several lines jammed together across the page.
    • You can also organize the poem by stanzas, where four to five lines are placed together to paint a certain picture or to create a specific meaning.
  4. Listen to how the poem sounds.Poetry is often most effective when it is read out loud. You should read your poem out loud several times and listen to how it sounds. Does it have a certain rhythm, style, or pattern? Does the poem create a certain tone or mood when it is read out loud? You should listen for all of these elements in the poem as you read it out loud.
    • You may decide to revise the poem after you have read it out loud several times. Adjust any awkward wording or familiar phrasing in the poem. Indent or section off certain lines to add meaning to the poem when it is read aloud. Making changes to the poem so it is pleasing to the ear will make it more effective and memorable for your reader.

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