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How to Build a Poem

Poetry is among the most accessible art forms in the world. Experts in this field will tell you that poems are tiny machines made of words. To make them roll, it’ll take some work. On the bright side though is that you don’t have to be a literary genius to write good poems. So, whether you are a poetry enthusiast, or you are just curious and drawn to learn more, you’ll appreciate poetry even more if you learn how a poem is constructed. The following are the things that usually happen behind the scenes.

1.     Identifying the goal of the poem

If you don’t even know where you’re going, then how can you get there? Before starting any project, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Drafting a poem is no exception. So, before you start writing your poem, you need to determine what you want the poem to do. 

For instance; do you want it to explore a personal experience, depict the beauty of nature, dispute a social prejudice, or do you just want to play with words? Once you determine what the goal of your poem is, you can conform your writing to that objective or goal. 

2.     Picking a specific theme

You should focus on a specific idea or theme that you find interesting or fascinating. By picking a specific idea or theme, it will be easier for you to narrow down the descriptions and imaginations that are appropriate for your poem. For instance, you can write a poem that revolves around the theme of love. To write the poem, you can think about particular moments in your life when you experienced love. When choosing a theme, be sure to be as specific as possible. For instance; if you want your poem to revolve around the theme of loss, try to be more specific, i.e. “loss of a friend”, or “loss of a child”, etc.

3.     Choosing a poetic form

There are different poetic forms, including haiku, free verse, rhyming couplet, sonnet, ballad, etc. You can choose a poetic form that is easy to write, such as a free verse, or a poetic form that is more challenging, such as a sonnet. The type of poetic form to use will largely depend on the theme of your poem. So, you need to ask yourself – do I want my poem to move slowly or quickly? Are there places I want it to slow down or speed up? For instance; if your theme revolves around flying, you should probably want to use lines that feel fast and light. If you’re writing a sad poem, it’s best to avoid using short, bouncy lines.  

4.     Writing the poem

First, let your ideas flow. While at it, use concrete imagery as opposed to abstract imagery. Also include literary devices such as similes and metaphors throughout the poem to add depth. If you can, add other literary devices such as personification and alliteration. You should, however, avoid clichés and instead use unique and creative descriptions. Once you’re through with the draft, be sure to read the poem out loud and pay attention to how the lines flow into each other. Also note the sounds created when you place one word to another. Be sure to improve the poem structure to match the specific form you intend to use. 

5.     Choosing a good title for the poem

Many find it easy to choose a title after writing the poem. You can come up with a unique title that captures the tone of the poem, or you can use a phrase in the poem. If you cannot find a good title for your poem, it’s okay to leave your poem untitled. 

With so many things to think about – line length, breaks, arrangement, rhythm, speed etc – the more you’re likely to feel overwhelmed. So how can your poem flow freely when you have to consider all of these aspects? Well, the more poems you write (and read), the easier some of these decisions about which poem structure to use will become!

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Brianne Palensky