Last Updated on August 28, 2023
Right here on Collegelearners, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on how to become a professional poet, how to become a poetry editor, poetry examples , and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
how to become a poetry
11 Rules for Writing Good Poetry
There are no officially sanctioned rules of poetry. However, as with all creative writing, having some degree of structure can help you reign in your ideas and work productively. Here are some guidelines for those looking to take their poetry writing to the next level. Or, if you literally haven’t written a single poem since high school, you can think of this as a beginner’s guide that will teach you the basics and have you writing poetry in no time.
Read a lot of poetry. If you want to write poetry, start by reading poetry. You can do this in a casual way by letting the words of your favorite poems wash over you without necessarily digging for deeper meaning. Or you can delve into analysis. Dissect an allegory in a Robert Frost verse. Ponder the underlying meaning of an Edward Hirsch poem. Retrieving the symbolism in Emily Dickinson’s work. Do a line-by-line analysis of a William Shakespeare sonnet. Simply let the individual words of a Walt Whitman elegy flow with emotion.
Listen to live poetry recitations. The experience of consuming poetry does not have to be an academic exercise in cataloging poetic devices like alliteration and metonymy. It can be musical—such as when you attend a poetry slam for the first time and hear the snappy consonants of a poem out loud. Many bookstores and coffeehouses have poetry readings, and these can be both fun and instructive for aspiring poets. By listening to the sounds of good poetry, you discover the beauty of its construction—the mix of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables, alliteration and assonance, a well placed internal rhyme, clever line breaks, and more. You’ll never think of the artform the same way once you hear good poems read aloud. (And if you ever get the chance to hear your own poem read aloud by someone else, seize the opportunity.)
Start small. A short poem like a haiku or a simple rhyming poem might be more attainable than diving into a narrative epic. A simple rhyming poem can be a non-intimidating entryway to poetry writing. Don’t mistake quantity for quality; a pristine seven-line free verse poem is more impressive than a sloppy, rambling epic of blank verse iambic pentameter, even though it probably took far less time to compose.
Don’t obsess over your first line. If you don’t feel you have exactly the right words to open your poem, don’t give up there. Keep writing and come back to the first line when you’re ready. The opening line is just one component of an overall piece of art. Don’t give it more outsized importance than it needs (which is a common mistake among first time poets).
Embrace tools. If a thesaurus or a rhyming dictionary will help you complete a poem, use it. You’d be surprised how many professional writers also make use of these tools. Just be sure you understand the true meaning of the words you insert into your poem. Some synonyms listed in a thesaurus will deviate from the meaning you wish to convey.
Enhance the poetic form with literary devices. Like any form of writing, poetry is enhanced by literary devices. Develop your poetry writing skills by inserting metaphor, allegory, synecdoche, metonymy, imagery, and other literary devices into your poems. This can be relatively easy in an unrhymed form like free verse and more challenging in poetic forms that have strict rules about meter and rhyme scheme.
Try telling a story with your poem. Many of the ideas you might express in a novel, a short story, or an essay can come out in a poem. A narrative poem like “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot can be as long as a novella. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe expresses just as much dread and menace as some horror movies. As with all forms of English language writing, communication is the name of the game in poetry, so if you want to tell short stories in your poems, embrace that instinct.
Express big ideas. A lyric poem like “Banish Air from Air” by Emily Dickinson can express some of the same philosophical and political concepts you might articulate in an essay. Because good poetry is about precision of language, you can express a whole philosophy in very few words if you choose them carefully. Even seemingly light poetic forms like nursery rhymes or a silly rhyming limerick can communicate big, bold ideas. You just have to choose the right words.
Paint with words. When a poet paints with words, they use word choice to figuratively “paint” concrete images in a reader’s mind. In the field of visual art, painting pictures of course refers to the act of representing people, objects, and scenery for viewers to behold with their own eyes. In creative writing, painting pictures also refers to producing a vivid picture of people, objects, and scenes, but the artist’s medium is the written word.
Familiarize yourself with myriad forms of poetry. Each different form of poetry has its own requirements—rhyme scheme, number of lines, meter, subject matter, and more—that make them unique from other types of poems. Think of these structures as the poetic equivalent of the grammar rules that govern prose writing. Whether you’re writing a villanelle (a nineteen-line poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with a highly specified internal rhyme scheme) or free verse poetry (which has no rules regarding length, meter, or rhyme scheme), it’s important to thrive within the boundaries of the type of poetry you’ve chosen. Even if you eventually compose all your work as one particular type of poem, versatility is still a valuable skill.
Connect with other poets. Poets connect with one another via poetry readings and perhaps poetry writing classes. Poets in an artistic community often read each other’s work, recite their own poems aloud, and provide feedback on first drafts. Good poetry can take many forms, and through a community, you may encounter different forms that vary from the type of poem you typically write—but are just as artistically inspiring. Seek out a poetry group where you can hear different types of poetry, discuss the artform, jot down new ideas, and learn from the work of your peers. A supportive community can help you brainstorm ideas, influence your state of mind as an artist, and share poetry exercises that may have helped other members of the group produce great poetry.
7 Common Types of Poetry and Their Unique Features
Poetry, in its own way, is a form of artistic expression. But did you know there are over 50 different types of poetry? Outside of upper-level poetry seminars or in-depth studies, most educators tend to focus on seven common types of poetry. Learn more about these seven types.
Different Types of Poetry
The world of poetry is vast. From rhyme and meter to rhyme and imagery, you can find a little bit of everything in this writing genre. However, when you are learning about poems, a few different ones stick out. Popular poetry types include haiku, free verse, sonnets, and acrostic poems.
It’s one thing to define each type; it’s another to enjoy a sample platter. Ready to open the doors to a world of verbal artistry? Let’s dive into some of the more prominent forms of poetry while we savor a few samples.
Traditionally, haiku poems are three-line stanzas with a 5/7/5 syllable count. This form of poetry also focuses on the beauty and simplicity found in nature. As its popularity grew, the 5/7/5 formula has often been broken. However, the focus remains the same — simple moments in life. For more, take a look at these rules for writing haiku. Now, let’s enjoy two short samples.
Sick on a Journey by Basho
Basho is one of the haiku greats. He has several different beautifully composed poems under his belt. “Sick on a Journey” by Basho is a great example of a haiku.
“Sick on a journey –
Over parched field
Dreams wander on”
5 & 7 & 5 by Anselm Hollo
In “5 & 7 & 5,” Anselm Hollo demonstrates the 5/7/5 haiku syllable count across multiple stanzas. Explore an excerpt of her work.
“night train whistles stars
over a nation under
mad temporal czars
round lumps of cells grow
up to love porridge later
become The Supremes
lady I lost my
subway token we must part
it’s faster by air”
Free Verse Poems
The genre of free verse poems is the least defined. In fact, they’re deliberately irregular, taking on an improvisational bent. There’s no formula, no pattern. Rather, the writer and reader must work together to set the speed, intonation and emotional pull.
This is Marriage by Marianne Moore
“This is Marriage” by Marianne Moore is a great example of free verse poetry. It demonstrates the lack of pattern and freedom of thought.
perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one’s mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one’s intention
to fulfill a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,”
Little Father by Li-Young Lee
The format of “Little Father” by Li-Young Lee contrasts “This is Marriage” considerably, as you can see in the excerpt.
“I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.”
A cinquain is a five-line poem inspired by Japanese haiku. There are many different variations of cinquain including American cinquains, didactic cinquains, reverse cinquains, butterfly cinquains, and crown cinquains. Let’s enjoy a sampling from the ever-popular Edgar Allan Poe, as well as a snippet from George Herbert.
To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe
You can’t look at a cinquain without checking out a great. “To Helen” by Edgar Allan Poe is a masterfully created five-line stanza poem.
“Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.”
The World by George Herbert
And here you have “The World” by George Herbert. This poem explores mankind’s spiritual journey.
“Love built a stately house; where Fortune came,
And spinning phansies, she was heard to say,
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same:
But Wisdome quickly swept them all away.”
An epic is a long and narrative poem that normally tells a story about a hero or an adventure. Epics can be presented as oral or written stories. The Iliad and The Odyssey are probably the most renowned epic poems. But, let’s take a different direction and check out a sampling from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ezra Pound.
The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Check out an excerpt from the epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It illustrates different stories of the Ojibwe.
“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O’er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.”
Canto I by Ezra Pound
And here’s another sampling of epic poetry, this time from Canto I by Ezra Pound.
“And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.”
A ballad poem also tells a story, as epic poems do. However, ballad poetry is often based on a legend or a folk tale. These poems may take the form of songs, or they may contain a moral or a lesson. Enjoy some beautiful imagery in the samples.
The Mermaid by Unknown
“The Mermaid,” written by an unknown author, has its roots in folklore.
“Oh the ocean waves may roll,
And the stormy winds may blow,
While we poor sailors go skipping aloft
And the land lubbers lay down below, below, below
And the land lubbers lay down below.
Then up spoke the Captain of our gallant ship,
And a jolly old Captain was he;
‘I have a wife in Salem town,
But tonight a widow she will be.'”
The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde is another great ballad poem. This poem weaves themes of the human condition throughout it.
“He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.”
Also known as name poems, acrostic poems spell out names or words with the first letter in each line. While the author is doing this, they’re describing someone or something they deem important. Here are two examples to illustrate the poetic form.Advertisement
Alexis by Nicholas Gordon
“Alexis” by Nicholas Gordon focuses on an intriguing woman he may or may not know.
“Alexis seems quite shy and somewhat frail,
Leaning, like a tree averse to light,
Evasively away from her delight.
X-rays, though, reveal a sylvan sprite,
Intense as a bright bird behind her veil,
Singing to the moon throughout the night.”
A Cry For Help by Samar Alkhudairi
“A Cry For Help” by 12-year-old Samar Alkhudairi is an example of an acrostic poem that tackles the tough issue of bullying.
“Brutal beatings beyond the feeling of pain
Understanding this hurt might get me closer to being sane
Love is a myth
Life has become like a work of Stephen King
You don’t know what it’s like
I am treated like just some ‘thing’
Never to be kissed, comforted, or loved
Going the rest of my life never to be hugged”
Although William Shakespeare sensationalized sonnets, the word sonetto is actually Italian for “a little sound or song.” This form has grabbed poets by the heart for centuries. It began as a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Although flourishes have been made over time, the general principle remains the same. Read up on sonnet examples to learn more about the different types of sonnets. In the meantime, let’s enjoy two great samples.
Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds by William Shakespeare
This sample, “Sonnet 116,” is from the master himself, William Shakespeare. As with many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, it’s dripping in feelings of love.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”
Ever by Meghan O’Rourke
“Ever” by Meghan O’Rourke is a more modern sample, published in 2015.
“Never, never, never, never, never.
Even now I can’t grasp ‘nothing’ or ‘never.’
They’re unholdable, unglobable, no map to nothing.
Never? Never ever again to see you?
An error, I aver. You’re never nothing,
because nothing’s not a thing.
I know death is absolute, forever,
the guillotine—gutting—never to which we never say goodbye.
But even as I think ‘forever’ it goes ‘ever’
and ‘ever’ and ‘ever.’ Ever after.
I’m a thing that keeps on thinking. So I never see you
is not a thing or think my mouth can ever. Aver:
You’re not ‘nothing.’ But neither are you something.
Will I ever really get never?
You’re gone. Nothing, never—ever.”