Basic Poetry

Basic Poetry
All poems are similar in that they try to accomplish the same goals. Sometimes that goal is to simply paint an
image of something that the author saw and wanted to share. Sometimes the author is trying to teach us a lesson
about life. Or maybe an author is just having fun with the language, mixing together words that tell a story but that
do so in a way that exploits the “fun” that exists in the arranging of words.
To accomplish these goals, poets rely on a number of writing techniques.
Alliteration – Repeated consonant sounds at the beginnings of words.
“Lump lingered last in line for brains…”
-Presidents of the United States of America “Lump”
Assonance – Repeated vowel sounds within words.
“The June moon loomed.”
Capitals out of Order – This technique places capital letters where they are not expected. Poets also remove
capital letters at times to make a statement. The reason for placing capitals where they are not expected
is to increase the importance of those words…to have them represent something symbolic. The reverse
is also true. Stripping a word of the capitals that it is supposed to have reduces that word’s importance.
This also would include the use of the lowercase “i” when referring to one’s self. That lowercase letter
can suggest guilt, shame, or simply a feeling of being small and unimportant.
Old preacher man
Preached that boy away –
Charged Five Dollars
His girlfriend had to pay
“Night Funeral in Harlem” -Langston Hughes
Hyperbole – An extravagant exaggeration.
Ex. She had told him a million times.
Internal Rhyme – When the middles of words have a similar sound.
“Miss Rafferty wore taffeta
Miss Cavendish wore lavender”
Irony – When the result of a sequence of events is the opposite of what is expected.
Metaphor – A direct comparison.
The classroom was a jail cell imprisoning the inmates until half past two in the afternoon.
Onomatopoeia – Words that look and sound like the noises they represent.
Boom, crash, wham, clink, sizzle.
Personification – Giving an inanimate object (or an animal) human characteristics. (Technically, giving animals
human qualities is called anthropomorphism, but we can just call it personification, too.)
The old car wheezed and coughed as it chugged down the road.
Repetition – Repetition can be either single words, entire lines, or it can even be repetition of form where a poet
will have the same types of stanzas throughout the poem. Be careful! If you use repetition in your poetry,
make sure that the portion that you are repeating is worth repeating. If the lines or words that you are
repeating come too close together, the pattern can be more than a little annoying.
Rhyme – The repetition of the entire sound of a word save for the first letter or first syllables.
The saddest thing I ever did see
Was a woodpecker peckin’ at a plastic tree.
He looks at me, and “Friend,” says he,
“Things ain’t as sweet as they used to be.”
“Peckin’” by Shel Silverstein
Rhythm – An ordered alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech. Think
of it as the “beat” that words have when you read them.
Sensory Detail – Writing that appeals to all five senses and paints a strong image.
Simile – Making a comparison using “like” or “as”.
His handshake was a like a vice.
Single Word Lines – Another way to add weight to words is to set them apart. The reader’s eye is drawn to
those words in particular and must pause on them for an extra second. This makes those words more
important. Choose words to be set apart very carefully.
In the cage
at the pound,
the kitten sat,
staring out
between the metal bars.
Trimming the Fat – To make poetic images as sharp as they can possibly be, a poet needs to ‘trim’ the fat or
unnecessary words to leave the reader with a ‘lean’ poem that is packed with image and emotion. Small
words like articles (a, an, the) and conjunctions (and, but, or) are a good place to start.
Frost covered this decades ago,
and frost will cover it again tonight,
the leafy disarray of this woodland
now thinned down to half its trees,
but this morning I stand here
sweating in a thin shirt
as I split a stack of ash logs
into firewood
with two wedges, an ax, and a blue-handled maul.
“Splitting Wood” by Billy Collins
Word Choice – Since your space is limited when you write poetry, you need to use the best possible words to
paint your images. Think about the degrees of words. When you think about the concept of “anger”, try
to find exactly the right word to match the feeling in your head. For example, if you weren’t really all that
angry, you might use the word “annoyed”. If you were beyond annoyed but were not completely ticked
off, you might say that you were “riled”. Or if you are hopping mad and seeing red, you were probably
“livid”. The subtle shades and flavors of language allow us to be very exact when it comes to speaking our
minds. It’s a good idea to use a thesaurus when you are looking for new words, but be sure that you
understand the words that you are using! If the words you pick do not fit the mood well, you will have
defeated the purpose of writing the poem in the first place.
The Hunt
by Billy Collins
Somewhere in the rolling hills and farm country
that lie beyond speech
Noah Webster and his assistants are moving
across the landscape tracking down a new word.
It is a small noun about the size of a mouse,
one that will be seldom used by anyone,
like a synonym for isthmus,
but they are pursuing the creature zealously
as if it were the verb to be,
swinging their sticks and calling out to one another
as they wade through a field of waist-high barley.