Poetry Tips and Techniques

Life is filled with friendship, love, breakups, breakdowns, tragedy, and triumph. Poems hole up beneath these complicated feelings and hide in experiences. They peek out from behind the heart, challenging us to give them shape with our words. It’s up to us to listen and oblige.
We poets have big imaginations; we feel things deeply and uniquely observe life. We combine words in surprising ways to create images for the reader’s mind. While others see a tree, a poet might see the wrinkled face of an old man in the bark. They might think the veins of a leaf look like the palm of a hand, etched with lines, waiting to be read by a fortune-teller.

Each line of poetry states an idea. A poet uses strong nouns, verbs, and adjectives. 
Each line plays off the one before it, and builds upon it, increasing intensity.  
Poems don’t just happen. They are the result of experience, heart, soul, and tedious revision

Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant as in Perfect Peach Pie or Dancing Dingo Dogs

Assonance is the repetition of a similar vowel sound. Such as the “O” sounds in, only the crow knows. 

Figurative language is when a writer means something other than the literal meaning of their words. Two forms of figurative language are simile and metaphor. A simile compares two things using like or as. For example,  “He is as strong as an ox” or “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Metaphors refer to one thing by mentioning another. For example, “Love is a battlefield.

Here’s a fun exercise to practice writing metaphors, for your next poem…Think of an object then write a list of these categories: 

Looks like
Feels like
Sounds like
Smells like
Tastes like
Moves like

What do you see that resembles your subject? Write it down. They don’t have to make perfect sense, just write what comes to mind. 

For example, if your subject is a weeping willow tree, you may write...

Looks like: hair braids, party streamers, ropes, a crooked old man, a cigar
Feels like: fabric, rough stones, crumpled aluminum foil.
Sounds like: rushing water, wind chimes, a creaking rocking chair.
Moves like: a dancer swaying, a waving flag, a hula skirt.
Tastes like: Mold, seasons, mushrooms, dirt.

Now you have a jumping-off place for your poem. Look at the list, which comparisons speak to you? Which can you build your poem around? Your poem might be about an old friend who passed but now stands guard, watching over you. He waves to you or dances for you outside your window when you’re feeling sad. This exercise helps build ideas and gives you a path to take that you might not have thought of.

Rhyme is a repetition of similar-sounding words. There are three kinds of rhyme.

  • Perfect Rhyme is just that, the words at the end of the sentence rhyme perfectly (like chairs and bears),  
  • Near Rhyme (also called Slant Rhyme) is when you use words with similar sounds to end the lines of your poem (like swarm and worm)
  • Internal Rhyme is when a perfect rhyme is used inside a line instead of at the end. As with the words in bold in the first three lines of this stanza from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe:
  “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,                                   
   While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,                    
   As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.                    
   Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door… 

Rhyme help: Need to find a rhyme? Check out the amazing website, Rhymezone. It’s like a rhyming dictionary only better. You can find more information on rhyme here.

Stanza refers to a grouping of lines in a poem. Stanzas are separated from other stanzas by line breaks. Each stanza is a unit in itself. One stanza can be an entire poem or a larger poem can be built by adding more stanzas. Here are some different kinds of stanzas:

  • Cinquain: a stanza consisting of 5 lines.
  • Couplet: has 2 lines that rhyme.
  • Heterometric stanza: a stanza in which every line is a different length.
  • Isometric stanza: Isometric stanzas have the same syllabic beats, or the same meter, in every line.
  • Quatrain: a stanza with four lines with the second and fourth lines rhyming.
  • Quintain: a stanza with five lines.
  • Sestet: a stanza with 6 lines.
  • Tercet: has 3 lines with a specific rhyming pattern.
  • Triolet: an 8 line poem. 
  • Verset: a poem composed of a single sentence, broken into three lines that added up to 18 lines (6 stanzas).

The space between stanzas acts as a breath or pause for the reader that punctuates meaning and builds momentum to the ending.  

Tone conveys the speaker’s attitude or feelings toward the subject of the poem (serious, angry, funny, playful, etc.).