Attention all you future William Wordsworth’s and Robert Frost’s … Emily Dickinson’s and Sylvia Plath’s … Shel Silverstein’s and Amy Lowell’s – I know you’re out there! And whether or not you agree that you have it “in you” to be a great poet, let’s take a look at what comprises poetry and what draws us to it. Time spent exploring poetry is certainly enriching time spent “off the merry-go-round!”
In “Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?” we explored the “definition” of poetry, as well as what constitutes a poem. When you hear the word poetry, what goes through your mind? You might have a fixed idea in your head about what that means. But did you know that there is a whole world of different types of poetry out there just waiting to be explored – by you!
Here in Part 2, we will look at what draws us to certain kinds of poetry – why one poem might “speak to us” over another, as well as why someone might want to use poetry as a form of expression. We will then explore the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover the first step toward composing a basic poem.
One of my favorite, albeit quirky, poets is E.E. Cummings. I think my enjoyment of his poetry stems from the memory of when he was introduced to me. The summer after I graduated from high school I had to have all four of my wisdom teeth removed – at once. Needless to say, later in the day following the surgery I didn’t feel that well. So my mother came to my bedside and read to me. She read Cummings’ poem, “in Just.” I took to it immediately and have read it many times since then. I explored and read other poems by Cummings. One I also enjoy is, “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” and it reminds me of what perhaps my mother thinks when she remembers my father who recently passed away.
I know why I like this poet and these two poems in particular. However, it is not as easy for me to express why I like Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are two of my favorites by this poet, yet exactly what makes them so and why they are the two poems I think of when I think of Robert Frost I don’t know. I think perhaps it is his use of language – and this just illustrates that sometimes the answers to these questions about poetry are unclear. Rather, the reason may be simply “because.”
Many of you may have a favorite poet as well – an author whose prose simply “speaks to” you, though you may not even know exactly why. The why it does, however, is not as important as that you have found a poet and a style of poetry that you enjoy, as well as one that you can relate to as you read his or her work.
There are so many types of poetry that exist (and are still being created!) that it is nearly impossible to summarize and categorize them all, and some can be quite complex. However, there are more well-known, popular, and familiar forms you can learn to compose.
Categories of Poems
I. Formal or Traditional
Some fixed forms such as sonnets (of which Shakespeare composed many) or limericks (remember Edward Lear?) have very specific line counts, rhythmic patterns and rhyme schemes. Other forms are classified by their use of different kinds of “constraints” – such as repeating end words, or words that repeat later in the poem.
II. Free Verse
Free verse poems are very common today; and are less complex and easier to compose. They don’t have specific fixed rules in terms of line count, and rhythmic patterns or rhyme. In fact, most free verse poems actually don’t rhyme. Although some free verse poetry does incorporate a few traditional elements (e.g. alliteration), and can use rhythmic patterns and rhyme, there is no specific rule it must rely on to do so. Free verse poetry also relies on line breaks, which can be broken in different places to emphasize different words in the poem and create different meanings. The best part? The format of free verse poetry is determined by the author!
Prose poetry combines elements of prose and poetry into one “hybrid form.” It doesn’t use line breaks, however does use a lot of the same techniques as free verse: alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and poetic imagery.
Some types of poetry step in an entirely different direction and therefore are classified as experimental poetry. An example is “Oulipo” which uses different types of formulas and constraints to create new poems. For example, the author of this type of poem might take a poem that already exists, and replace each noun with a different noun from the dictionary. Pretty wild!
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The best way to get started writing poetry is to read poetry. Of course, you may find a few forms of poetry more enjoyable to read than others, yet the important thing is just that you are reading. This allows you to immerse yourself in the language and form used, and perhaps soon find that words in a certain form begin flowing naturally for you as you begin to compose.
As a lover of poetry, and a writer of poetry, I often look online for poetry websites. I recently came across a wonderful site that I think you will really enjoy checking out! Family Friend Poems is a simple, yet popular site for contemporary poetry published on the Internet. There are thousands of poems organized by themes, and the site prides itself on being different from other poetry websites. Family Friend Poems publishes contemporary poems not already posted on the Internet, though only after they know they are well-liked by their audience. Posted poems are enhanced by the stories of many readers facing similar life events. Once a poem is published, the site uses feedback from ratings and sharing metrics to ensure that published poems are meeting the readers’ needs.
What I really like about this site is that the writers are “everyday” people – who just happen to enjoy creating and writing poetry. Poetry is such a wonderful way to express everything from a simple topic that amuses the author, to some of life’s most powerful experiences and the deep emotions that accompany them. I think of writing poetry almost like making a short journal entry.
When you visit a particular subject matter on the site, it takes you to an introductory page that explains the general topic, or theme, for each poem categorized there. For example, an excerpt from the section on “Nature Poems:”
Whether one is watching a thrilling thunderstorm or looking up at a mighty tree, the experience of nature is one of awe. One cannot help but marvel at the intricate design of a single leaf, or the roar of a great waterfall. Time spent in nature is time spent realizing that you don’t know it all and that you never will…
Preceding each poem, the author then offers a brief summary as to why they wrote the poem; as well as perhaps how they got into writing poetry. I came across what I thought is a beautiful poem about nature called “May’s Spring Days” (© Hemakumar Nanayakkara). Here is the first stanza:
Over the distant mountains morning breeze blows
Humming through robust beech birch and oak trees
Evergreen pines whistle to the tune of nippy breeze
Group of songbirds sing delightful springtime Songs
Reading the writing of others will enhance your own. Reading this poem in its entirety got me thinking about nature which I enjoy most in springtime and the warmer weather it brings. For me, it is a time of renewal. The more poems about nature I read from this site, the more the writing spirit inside me stirred.
Once you have immersed yourself in the writing of other poets (and not necessarily well-known ones), the more you too will find the words to express how you are feeling … about anything that is on your mind! Another way you can get started writing poetry is to immerse yourself in experiences. Simply put – get out there! Even a quiet walk in a light, soft rain can spark a creative feeling; and what you see and feel around you can bring those descriptive words to mind.
Do you have what it takes to write a poem? We’ll find out in Part 3! In the final part of our poetry series, we will learn specific ways how to write poetry – even if you have never composed a poem before. Additionally, I will share a poem I wrote, as well as how I got the idea for my poem.
In the meantime… Share your favorite poems and/or poets with us. Feel free to offer any tips for writing poetry that you have found helpful – you may just read them in part 3!