Tag Archive | poetry

Poetry Part 2: So What’s Behind All Those Stanzas Anyway?

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.”

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you.  (Snowy Forest - image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you. (Snowy Forest – image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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!

III.  Prose

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.

IV.  Experimental

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

Willow Catkin - Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Willow Catkin – Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

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!

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Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?

"How do I love thee?"Photo credit: Pixabella Poetry credit: Why, William Shakespeare of course!

“How do I love thee?”
Photo credit: Pixabella
Poetry credit: Why, William Shakespeare of course!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

With Valentine’s Day having arrived today, many of us may be scrambling for last minute cards and gifts for our spouses, children, other family members, and even good friends. This may especially be the case for those of us who have been buried under several feet of snow the past few days!

There are so many popular presents that are typically given on this day – fragrant flowers, delectable chocolates or other candies, cuddly teddy bears, lacy lingerie, sparkly jewelry. In the 19th century, however, valentines were more of the homemade kind. How many of us receive love poetry these days? Actually, I happen to be (and please don’t hate me, ladies) one of those lucky women who receive the traditional gifts on Valentine’s Day, and love poetry to boot. My husband just seems able to let the thoughts he has in his mind flow through his heart, and out the tip of his pen right on to his valentine paper. His “poems” are really more like free-flowing paragraphs that read like poetry. They’re beautiful and touching. And then there are the envelopes he puts his letter, poem, or card in. It was not until I married him that I discovered he can draw – and what begins as a doodle can turn into a rather elaborate sketch on the outside of the envelope portraying something about me, our family, or our life together.

Although there certainly are many popular poets (the poet “greats”) most people who write poetry are just “every day” people who seem to be able to create a poem out of thin air – my husband being one of them. He has what I consider a “poetic flow” when he writes those loving words to me.

My name in lights ... even my husband's DRAWINGS take on poetic-like form!

My name in lights … even my husband’s DRAWINGS take on poetic-like form!

I know a poet – and a poem – when I see one!

When you think of a poet – whether one of the “greats,” a local or less well known poet, or even just someone who enjoys writing poetry; how do you picture their personality or what is going on in their lives? Are they excessively happy? Depressed? Brooding? Mysterious? Also, what defines a well put together poem? The “flow” of the poem? The pentameter (poetic meter based on length and type of syllables used – iambic or dactylic) used? The length of the poem? Whether the poem is comprised of rhyming verse or not? If the poem is one to which you can relate? The form (physical structure) of the poem?

All of these elements are potential considerations when looking at poetry. No matter how you picture the author of poetry going about constructing those lines and forming them into conveyed thoughts, though, there is always some kind of emotion behind a poem and a form which the poet found best expresses it.

How many forms?

In conducting further research on poetry, I discovered over 25 various poetry forms – plus, a very long list of Asian-inspired forms! If you had an interest in writing poetry and an emotion you wished to express through poetic verse, how then would you decide what “form” your thoughts would take? Would you need to learn about all of the poetry forms first in order to know which one you feel comfortable using? Or, can you just structure your thoughts in any form you like and simply call it a poem? Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Rather, let’s take writing poetry a step at a time …

What is a poem … exactly?

The Free Online Dictionary defines a poem as: “A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.” The answer to all those questions above, then, is “yes!”

Some of the most popular poets – many of which may be familiar to you, are: Langston Hughes, Shel Silverstein, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, E.E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Jack Prelutsky, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Robert Hayden, Amy Lowell, Oscar Wilde, Theodore Roethtke, and T.S. Eliot. Each of these authors tend/tended toward a certain style – one that was familiar and comfortable. Some even created a new style of presenting poetry (who knew that the E.E. Cummings style of writing poetry would even become the initial way many people composed emails – in all lowercase letters! [By the way, if you are still writing your emails that way, do stop.]

All of these great poets had a unique way of presenting life’s experiences and emotions. Some even chose a light-hearted and humorous way of doing so, as evident in Jack Prelutsky’s poem, “As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed.” Additionally, the collection of poetry in Shel Silverstein’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends whose name came from a poem he titled the same.

Jack Prelutsky

To be (a poem) or not to be? That really is the question!

Many times when one is looking to define poetry, it is commonly done by distinguishing it from prose. Simply by glancing at the two (a poem and prose) on pages side by side, one can tell the difference by “appearances only.” On the page, a poem has lines of different lengths, and the line breaks are chosen by the poet. The appearance of a passage of prose, on the other hand, is shaped by the typography and the size of the page; and the words fill the page or column, with line breaks determined by the margins. Prose is built of sentences and paragraphs, while a poem is made from lines and stanzas. In a poem, the white space around the words (or the pauses or silences, if you’re listening to a poetry reading) is part of the poem. As another example, this can be equated with rests in a musical composition.

So … is there any circumstance in which prose can be a poem – as opposed to just a paragraph of prose? This is a debate in the literary world, and some would say that a poem cannot be a poem if it takes the form of prose and avoids line breaks. However, others would argue that the manner in which phrases are clustered, and words arranged, on a page are not the only defining elements of poetry. There are many linguistic forms that can only be considered poetry – metaphor, image, the “dance” of words unconstrained of lines and other dividing elements. It may actually be easier to define a prose poem by saying what it is not: It’s not “verse,” which demands line-based metric rhythms and often rhymes. It’s certainly not a sonnet, or other kind of poem, that is clearly defined by its form. An excellent example of prose comes in Hysteria by T.S. Eliot (1915) …

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden…” I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

"Our love endures, like beams of sunshine through the clouds." Yes, ladies, he really DID write that!

“Our love endures, like beams of sunshine through the clouds.” Yes, ladies, he really DID write that!

In the end, then, when trying to distinguish between a poem and prose, one may only be able to get a sense of what a prose poem is, even if they cannot offer a clear cut definition.

Poetry … versus prose … versus being poetic – which I define as what one is feeling when they want to get past all of the literary definitions and blah, blah, blah that was spewed forth in English Lit class and simply – write!

In Part 2 of our Poetry series, we will look at why someone might want to take an interest in, or even learn how to write, poetry. We will explore three examples from the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover how to compose a basic poem. I will also share an example of a poem I wrote in that style.

Let’s hear from you readers … What were some of your past experiences writing poetry, whether in class or on your own? Have you ever published a poem; or shared one in another venue (writing club, author share)? Do you have further thoughts on what can be considered a poem / poetry?