A Guide to Poetry: Writing and Reviewing
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Hello there. Whether you are a new user or a veteran writer, you may feel uncomfortable when you hear words like poem, verse, or stanza. It may remind you of horrible semesters in English classes, or difficult studies in other languages. Regardless, you may have already stumbled upon one of the many poems and verse forms within the Library, and you may have felt inadequate to give feedback, not confident enough to say it's deserving of an upvote, or even compelled to write something similar yourself, but with core knowledge of where to start. If any of these situations match yours (or if you're just straight-up curious), search no further and continue to read, because this guide will help introduce you to the art of poetry and hopefully give you a starting point to launch yourself into the world of verse! Make sure to check out other guides online and read lots of poems as well, because reading more helps you learn more. Oh, and before I forget, remember that poetry exists in all languages (although if you speak more than one language, you probably know this already)!

NOTE: This is not some attempt on the Library's part to say what is or what is not poetry—or even what is good or bad poetry. I have just noticed that not everyone likes reading it compared to prose, which may be caused by people not knowing how to review it, or writers not knowing how to write it. This is an attempt by staff to try to fix both of those issues, not to make some college-level guide.

What is poetry?

To start, this is the standard definition from Oxford that will show up on a Google search:

noun: Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.

As most of you new to poetry may have found out, this definition is useless as hell. This doesn't really help if you want to start writing it. Here is what you actually need to know:

  • Poetry refers to stuff written in verse rather than prose. Note that "prose" is defined as "a non-metrical style similar to ordinary written or spoken language", while verse is about lyrics to music, poetry, and sometimes religious texts.
  • Poems are organized into stanzas. Stanzas are made up of lines. This, thankfully, is straight-forward. The ends of lines can have the same sound at the end to create rhyme. When rhyme is used consistenly and repeatedly in a poem, you can find the poem's rhyme scheme. Rhyme scheme is also simple: Each line is replaced by a letter, and each letter represents a sound. For example, if I said:

The rounder the house,
The smaller the yurt;
The larger the cow,
The more it must hurt,
To round up the cattle
Into the yurt-pen
…And even more painful
To do it again.

…The rhyme scheme can be written as "ABABCDED".

  • Poetry can take different forms, with most forms having their own requirements (except most notably free verse). The requirements can range from the subject of the poem to the rhyme, rhythm, meter, stanzas, and lines. Meter is usually where everyone goes wrong; skip ahead to the "Meter" section if you think this is you. Otherwise, keep reading for more on generating ideas and writing good verse.

I want to say right now that writing poetry is definitely easier if you read it, as goes with any type of writing. For future reference, if you ever encounter a type of poetry and want to use it, look at examples first; this will show you what you can do and help give you ideas.

"Why poetry?" and misconceptions

At this point, some of you might be wondering why you should even bother with poetry. It's just art with words, right? And who cares if I need prose more in life and if people like reading prose more anyway?

The answer is the same as "Why do you need art/music/theater/dance/(insert other art form here)?" It's just fun, and it really is enjoyable to read when it looks like the poet gave actual thought to what they wrote. Similarly, it's also true that you won't be writing science papers in verse anytime soon, but it's definitely a good creative outlet that takes time and skill to master.

Here are some common misconceptions about poetry that might make you think twice about talking trash about the poet in the house:

  • "Poetry is too easy for serious writers." I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you don't share this opinion. If you do, I have no idea why you're reading this.
  • "Poetry is stupid; people write whatever they want in lines and call it "poetry" just to sound fancy." What most people refer to by this is Free Verse, which, admittedly may seem like less skill-demanding1, but usually has to double-up on the emotion and imagery rather than on the beat2

What forms of poetry are there?

There are many, many different forms of poetry out there; Some will be listed here, but make sure to check out other forms online to expose yourself to new things, since you may find something you're good at. I recommend starting with the the Poetry Foundation.

Common forms:

  • Rhyming Quatrains in general: Quatrains are one of the basic things you need to know. Four lines making up one stanza sums up the existence of a quatrain. Usually, there will be a rhyme scheme. "ABAB" or "AABB" are common.
  • Shakespearean Sonnet: In the USA, and I would imagine in some parts of Europe as well, almost everyone hears about these in English class at one point or another. At its core, Shakespearean Sonnets are made up of three quatrains and one couplet at the end; the rhyme scheme is "ABAB CDCD EFEF GG". All of the lines are written in iambic pentameter, which means that there are five "units" to each line and each one contains a stressed and unstressed syllable. The best example I can give is one of Shakespeare's actual sonnets (the source for this is here.):

Sonnet LV
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

  • Free Verse: So we're finally here. The definition from Oxford when you do a standard Google search is this:

noun: Poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular meter.

So there. That's it. The definition makes me want to smash my head in a wall, but that's it. Note that Free Verse describes poetry without sound structure, but that doesn't mean it can't have structure in terms of language and organization3. I have a less successful article on the site as an example, but there's plenty of other examples online and on-site.

A complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy. The end words of the first stanza are repeated in a different order as end words in each of the subsequent five stanzas; the closing envoy contains all six words, two per line, placed in the middle and at the end of the three lines. The patterns of word repetition are as follows, with each number representing the final word of a line, and each row of numbers representing a stanza:

1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
(6 2) (1 4) (5 3)

The envoy (or envoi) is a final conclusion that can be a dedication to a person, or a final message about the work, and is found in books as well. In poetry, it serves the same purpose. To see this in action, check out this poem by Vivax and other sestinas on-site and online.

There are other forms such as Limericks, Acrostic poems, and the Haiku and other east Asian poetry forms, but since the original language of these formats are so different from English and other languages with alphabets and latin scripts, I will leave them up to your research, as the English adaptations are criminally easy to work with4. Again, do some of your own research to really know everything.

What are some good ideas for a poem?

Anything and everything. The brainstorming for a poem is the same as prose, although it's harder to provide information in a scientific fashion with a poem. You can write poems about emotions, events, entries, and much more. All you have to do is execute it correctly.

If you're talking about a place, for example, and you're trying to write an ode to the place, you have to use imagery and metaphors to bring it to life.

If you're telling a story, you have to know what kind of story you want to tell beforehand, and use good word choice to give off the right message, and usually use some sort of structure and beat to keep it entertaining.

The main things to think when brainstorming a poem are…

  • What do I want to write about?
  • What message do I want to give?
  • How do I want to do it?

…in any order. Don't limit yourself and be flexible.

Meter, Rhythm, and Other Killers of Poetry

The main issue I have with writing this section is that I cannot give examples of bad poetry on-site because A) that would be mean and B) they've probably been deleted already. Instead, I will try my best to explain concepts that people seem to struggle with often here. For all of these terms, I recommend you look them up for their literal and basic definition because I'm sick of quoting other sources on this page.

  • Rhythm: This is the beat/pulse/feel of your poem. Rhythm is more of a general term that people hear most often. An example would be someone saying, "The rhythm of a limerick sounds like 'Dee Dum Dee Dee Dum Dee Dee Dum'"
  • Meter: This is the structure of the beat/pulse/feel of your poem. An example of this would be someone saying, "The meter of a limerick is closer to an anapestic trimeter, rather than an iambic pentameter as found in Shakespearean sonnets." Your meter decides your rhythm, and inconsistencies make a poem sound "off" or "forced". Let's take a look at an example where the meter is flawed:

The rounder the house,
The bigger the yurt;
The larger the cow,
The more it all must hurt,
To round up the cattle
Again into the yurt-pen
…And even more painful
To do it again.

Do you see where the meter is off? To find the words that are causing the rhythm problem, read the poem again and see what words you can take out to fix the meter, and, by extension, the rhythm. If you cannot spot the words, here are the "problem" words in bold:

So, the rhythm of your poem is thrown off by the inconsistent meter

  • Story Flow: Yeah, plot twist, right? I bet you were thinking something along the lines of "I thought we just had to throw in random words that made sense and rhymed." Well, if you have been paying attention this whole time, you should have realized that telling a story with verse mimics telling a story with prose, which is to say that it should also have a plot. I will not go into the basics of a story, but know that you have to have some sort of beginning, middle, and end if you want to write a narrative poem (a poem that tells a story). Each stanza and line should also have a purpose; if you want to repeat something just so it sounds fancy, don't do it unless it adds more, like imagery, rhythm, or another poetic device.
  • Metaphor: These are comparisons between two or more things that aren't normally associated with each other. In a sense, they're very similar to similes, except they don't use "like" or "as" to compare things directly.

Example: The water of the lake was an endless void.

As a note, remember that a lot of poetry terms, including rhythm and meter, can also be related to music, as both disciplines are often intertwined.

How can I make my poetry better?

In case you haven't caught on by now, poetry is different from prose. It's harder sometimes, and it definitely requires a different mindset. One of the issues I see a lot is that writers that are trying out poetry for their first few times don't quite get the full potential and idea of poetry, and they end up giving verses less sparkles than the should. If you're one of those people that don't really understand the concept of poetry, here's my own analogy to help others understand the big picture:

Poetry is like prose on steroids. Every single word in a poem is designed to pack more punch than a word of prose, and every stanza in a poem is like a paragraph in a short story, or even more. Following this rule is the best way to show that you've put effort into a poem; in other words, you can tell when you've succeeded with a poem when it takes just as long to think about the true meaning of the words in your poem as it does to think about the true meaning of a short story.

To accomplish the idea above, you need to go big. Imagery, metaphors, good words, good structure, and, most importantly, thought. These are the things that make your poetry better, and it's easier to improve once you get how poetry works.

Aside from that, make sure to practice poetry, read it, and get it reviewed.

How can I review poetry and give feedback?

This is always the tricky one, huh? A lot of people think poets are just prose writers that are high at the moment, and are thus unable to be helped, but this isn't the case. The best way to see a poem's problems is to understand what you feel when you read it5. If you feel bored midway through a poem, maybe the author is repeating a message or an event too much, or they're not varying their word choice. If you feel like the rhythm of a poem is off, try experimenting with different words with different syllable counts and accents. If you feel confused, spot where you're confused and think about why the line doesn't make sense. Consider even asking the author, as they're the ones who know the poem best.

Remember that poetry shouldn't just consist of rhyming words and fancy structures for the sake of rhyming words and fancy structures. Because poetry is prose on steroids, there are less words in a poem, but each word has much more impact than a word in a work of prose. If a line or phrase seems unnecessary, it probably is, unless there is some deeper reference involved; in the case that it isn't crucial or efficient6, ask the poet about it and see if you can make it better and more impacting.

Where can I find examples?

There are plenty of examples here on the Wanderer's Library; anything with the "verse" tag should be some form of poetry. To see all of the pages with the verse tag, go to the Tag-Cloud under the "About" section in the header and click "verse". Besides that, any kind of poetry you can find either online or offline should help expand your knowledge. I recommend reading at least one collection by any published author (whether online or physical) to get a feel for their poetry, so you can know how a poet's style and their work can look like.

FAQ

If you have any questions, feel free to add them here in block quotes, or leave them in the discussion below. I will add/answer your question so all may know more.

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