How to Write a Concrete Poem

In a concrete poem, the words are most often written in the shape of the subject of the poem. The appearance of the poem and how it looks on the page add to its meaning and impact on the reader. A poet may also use different fonts, symbols, colors, and white space (areas of no text) to give the reader a visual treat.

Here are the rules:

  1. Write a poem in either free verse or rhyme. Longer poems work best as it takes a lot of words to fill most shapes.
  2. Think of a shape that reflects the subject or detail of the poem.
  3. You can work with either a pen and paper or learn to create concrete poems in Word:
  •  PAPER: Draw the image outline in pencil on a sheet of paper. Use a pen to fill in the shape with the words of your poem, making sure to stay inside and follow the lines. Wait for the pen ink to dry, then erase your pencil outline. You can also use the words themselves to make the outline, leaving the inside of the shape blank.
  • WORD PROGRAM: Place an image in a blank Word document using the watermark feature (under Design)and size it to your liking (silhouettes of basic shapes work best).
    • Insert a text box over the shape. Grab the corners on the text box with your cursor and stretch the box to cover the shape. 
    • Right-click the text box and select “no fill” and “no border,” then type your poem using the spacebar to manually arrange your text to conform to the shape beneath. It’s tricky to get the words inside the shape as you may have to add or delete some words for the right fit or you might need to change the size of your font or image. 
    • Let the shape lead you as to where you begin and end your lines. It’s important to follow the shape and stay in the lines so the poem’s shape will be recognizable when the image behind it is removed.
    • It takes some time to get it right so be patient. You can do it!
    • When your poem is typed in the text box in the shape of the underlying image, delete the watermark, and (Tah-dah!) you’re left with the poem in your chosen shape (see my shape poem below).

Example #1  Not all concrete poems are written in a shape, instead, the words are arranged to depict the meaning of the poem. In Roger McGough’s poem, 40 LOVE, he likens middle-aged love to a tennis match. The words are arranged on the page to resemble two sides of a net which allows the reader’s eye to move back and forth like they are watching a tennis match. So clever!

40--------------------------Love

middle                        aged
couple                         playing
 ten                              is
 when                          the
 game                          ends
 and                             they
  go                              home
 the                              net
 will                             still
  be                              be-
 tween                        them

Example #2 Here’s a concrete poem I wrote for a children’s poetry book that I’m working on. The poem takes on the shape of Cat’s fiddle in this mixed-up nursery rhyme: 

BEHIND THE POEM

Also known as a shape poem, the origins go back to Greek Alexandria of the third century B.C., According to Michael J Vaugh of Writer’s Digest (2008), the poems were written to be presented on objects such as an ax handle, a statue’s wings, an altar—even an egg.