A Poetry Formula with 20 Requirements

Writing form poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is reading it. However, I am a firm believer that the best poets have conquered the forms before reinventing them into new, breathtaking poems. Of course, it is possible that I have been brainwashed into thinking this by those who have taught the various writing classes and workshops I’ve attended.

Following a formula for a poem can be both challenging and fun. In fact, if you like word puzzles, you should love the challenge of writing a good poem that fits a form. It is easy to write a form poem, but it isn’t easy to write a great one.

The following exercise is from an assignment I received while taking a poetry class in college. My professor, Sam Green (who was named Poet Laureate for the state of Washington in 2007), provided this fun formula for us.

The Twenty Requirements

1. Begin the poem with a metaphor or simile.

2. Say something specific, but completely and utterly preposterous.

3. Use at least one image, in succession, for each of the five senses: sight, touch, sound, taste, smell.

4. Use an example of synesthesa (mixing the senses).

5. Use the proper name of a person and a place.

6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.

7. Change direction, or digress from the last thing you said.

8. Use a word you have never seen in a poem (slang, perhaps).

9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic (The snow falls heavily, because the candle is burning, and there’s nothing on TV—see how none of these really have anything to do with each other?).

10. Use a piece of “talk” you have actually heard, preferably in dialect and/or which you do not understand.

11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun).”

12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities (her smile is the squeal of a pig to slaughter).

13. Make the speaker of the poem do something he/she could not do in real life.

14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.

15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.

16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.

17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing, but that makes no “real” sense.

18. Use a phrase from a language other than English, than translate it.

19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).

20. Close the poem with a vivid image that echoes the image you began the poem with.

Below, you will see how I wrote the poem. I think it is a fun poem, but it isn’t finished. It can use a lot of editing and revision; in fact, I already have more current version of it. After you write your poem following the form, you can choose to deviate from it to make it work better.

DRIVING CROSS-COUNTRY, USA 2003

Billboards decorate natural scenery along the interstate

like vultures screeching over their prey.

I am full of silences shouting through my mind.

A glimpse of my eye caught in the mirror, my smile

thickens, as voices change from sweet melodies

to serious banter. I am entranced by the voices,

their words scourging through my veins, my fingers

coiling like ancient roots around the steering wheel.

And I bite through the bitterness, praying for

sweet respite, but the air is full of the rotten

fruit, the trash left at the door and trailed back

in by unwanted visitors who can’t be turned away.

Messages of harmful hope feel smooth

as a razor, and I am alone in the world,

hidden in dreams with the noise spreading

through my mind and into numbness.

They are home in bed, in sheets of cotton,

like a Sunday morning with empty prospects

and I swerve on the road like a young kid in

his red racing car. Again I’m bombarded

by billboards, because I won’t be there today,

and tomorrow has yet to come.

I’m following my plan, and I’m listening

to the woman’s relationship with God,

like the sun, and we are the dark moon

of disgrace, the silvery globe is the cold

light of sin. I grasp the radio waves in my

fist, tossing them out the window. How many

miles to go? I can’t wait to sigh with heavy relief,

stretching limbs, realizing how this lonely

adventure will shape perspectives for years

unknown. My eyes are glued to the long stretch

of strict road, and I continue on,

with the sound of memories fueling my engine,

the car rumbles soundlessly along.

Ich bin nicht auf dieser Straße allein

I am not alone on this road.

The tires ask for a break, the pedals beg

for a breath of fresh air from underfoot.

I continue alone, avoiding the cries

of the predators surrounding my car.

I will pull over, as soon

as I’m no longer here.

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Comments 14 comments

hillellina 7 years ago

I love it!!!,


luv.poem 7 years ago

This is a very challenging exercise! I look forward to trying it, probably after finals lol :)

I also really like your product! It's very good, and doesn't seem to have come from a writing prompt. Bravo.


aussie_wife 7 years ago

thanks for sharing this info with us..this is very helpful....love the poem...i'm curious to see the other version of this poem...


Theresa Grefer 7 years ago

this exercise gives great ideas for poetry (most of which I have experimented with movie). I loved your product which makes me want to try one for myself :D.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Stacie... Forgive this old man, OK? As an exercise, write out that poem as though it were paragraphical text, you know, like some sort of text story. Then read it to yourself. What do you think of it? I'm one of those screwballs who truly believe that poetry should have both rhyme and rythm. If not, it is text written on funny little disconnected lines. I got what you thought, etc., and it made sense. But, I asked myself, is that poetry? :-)


WRKennedy profile image

WRKennedy 6 years ago from Canada

Rhythm 'n rhyme - they are just tools to me. You can use them to build a commercial jingle or a Shakespearean sonnet. For me, poetry is actually about distilling emotions into language. If after reading a poem, you don't feel an emotional connection to the author or the subject, then it isn't a real poem for you.

I LOVE this exercise. It's intellectually challenging and it pokes fun at poets who take themselves too seriously.


hotspur profile image

hotspur 6 years ago from England

Thanks for sharing the exercise I'll try it out


Jessica 6 years ago

Wow, what a coincedence. i didn't understand a few of the requirements, so i searched it up, and apparently, you are doing this as well. I'm only fourteen, and my english teacher decided to choose this for us to write, and i must say, it is really, really difficult for me... But your poem is beautiful. you make it seem so easy. i'll try harder now thanks to your inspiration :)


blake4d profile image

blake4d 6 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

Wow I thought I went a little over the top with some of my musical viral hubs, you can check and see what I mean. But this is quite an exercise in percison poetics, not for the rank amateur. I will have to see if I am up the the call, It may take me a while to write the exercise...thanx for the challenge.


pinkhawk profile image

pinkhawk 6 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

...interesting but I'm not sure If i can do this, I need so many practice to follow all the requirements. However I'll try if my limitation permits. Thank you very much for sharing ma'am! :0 great!


:) loveyoudearly 6 years ago

this is amazing!!! thanks!!! :)


LeonJane profile image

LeonJane 6 years ago from Australia

Great idea and very creative


Serendipity88 profile image

Serendipity88 6 years ago from California

Below was what I had written before until I came across this page, however, I do look forward to trying this. It sounds very intriguing and helpful! Writing is the one of the best cathartic releases that I know of… It has always been a passion to me. Poetry is something that is very new to me. I do believe that in time I will improve, especially if I were to read or take a class on it. I was curious how long the average person take to work on a poem. Also, I am confused by the classifications of the poems themselves. I have been categorizing mine as narrative or dramatic because they seem to be the most suitable. I would really appreciate it if anyone has any suggestions. Thank you so much! Sincerely, Raina


Juan Lizardman 3 years ago

Over the rainbow and through the stars. They gather and nobody knows.

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