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How to Write Clever Poetry

Updated on March 31, 2014

The Craft of Poetry

Most people know how to write a poem but don't really know the craft work behind writing a good poem, which can take their work up to the next level from ordinary to extraordinary. This lens will teach you the basics and everything else you need to know about writing beautiful poetry. First you need to know about the kinds of poetry that exist.

Secondly, you will need to be aware of Rhythm and Meter in a Stanza. Then you can go on to learn about kinds of rythme and then examples of form and style in poetry.

Shown here: Creating Poetry

a poetry handbook
a poetry handbook

Types of Poetry

There have been many types of poetry produced throughout the ages. These are a list of the most familiar types.

Epic poetry tells us about heroic events on a grand scale with the supernatural contributing to the overall feeling of the poem. Usually very long in form, it will contain classical references sometimes as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey acted as the prototypes for the form. For instance, Milton used the invocation of the Muse in his Epic poem Paradise Lost, something which Homer originally did. Beowulf is one of the oldest epic poems in British history. Poets nowadays may try to adapt the epic to their own needs, performing new things in prose and rhyme.

Narrative Poetry does as it suggests; it tells a story. A long narrative poem may often be a novel in verse for example the Romance of the Rose written in France in the Middle Ages. The Canterbury Tales is another long novel written in verse that describe the events that took place on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. A ballad however is much shorter but is still a narrative poem. It is lyrical in style and mood as it used to be sung whilst dancing. Early ballads grew out of teeling folk stories but now it is an established form we will deal with later.

Dramatic poetry uses its characters to tell a story or to describe a situation. It was only later in the modern times that drama was written in prose; before that Greek writers and Shakespeare wrote what they call dramatic poetry. More shorter forms of dramatic poetry can be seen in Browning's dramatic monologues. Sometimes a ballad will be written in dramatic form, an example being A.E Housman's 'Is My Team Ploughing' in a sort of question and answer dialogue.

Descriptive poetry describes a situation or event, presenting objects, scenes and persons. The description of one of these things is the entire point of the poem and the poet does not do anything further than that with the poem. If the poem is longer then the poet's opinions or feelings towards the object described may enter into the picture.

Didactic poetry is poetry that teaches us a lesson. See Pope's 'Essay on Man' is a moral treatise or even a nursery rhyme teaching us the number of days in a month is educational.

Satirical verse has the aim of making fun of someone or their actions so as to expose their folloy to the audience. It may be written in lyric, descriptive, narrative or dramatic poetry. Examples are Moliere and Ben Jonson.

Occasional Verse is often written by the poet laureate to record an event or an occasion. It commemorates them like for example the Queen's birthday.

Finally, light and humorous verses try to provoke laughter of course. Vers de societe is a light verse that comments on social life and individuals in it. Nonsense verse seems not to make sense but has an ultimate meaning behind it, like Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. Parody makes fun of an already existing piece of writing that is well known.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets

Rhythm and Meter in a Stanza

First let us deal with meter. There are different types of meter in English labelled according to the number of syllables present and where the accent falls on the words.

Lambic meter is the most important in the English language and probably the most simple. It goes ti-TUM. Trochaic meter also has two syllables but instead of the stress falling on the last syllable it falls on the first, going TUM-ti. Anapestic meter has a unit of three syllables with stress on the third one, ti-ti-TUM. The Dactylic meter has three syllables with accent on the first, TUM-ti-ti. The monosyllablic foot is when two unaccented syllables occur together in a line.

We can take these meters therefore and arrange them into lines. Lines differ according to length, described by how many metrical foots they contain. One metrical foot may consist of an iamb, trochaic foot, anapest or dactyl. So one dactyl (see above) would be TUM-ti-ti. If there were was one of these the line would be called trochaic monometer. If composed of two dactyls it would be described as a trochaic dimeter. A three-foot line is called a trimeter.

A four-foot line is called tetrameter and five pentameter, six hexameter, seven heptameter and eight octameter. So for example if we had a line consisting of five iambs we would call it iambic pentameter. This is one of the most commonly used poetic lines in the English language.

Image credits: A Poetry Handbook

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Stanzas

It must be remembered that poets do not always follow the rhythm and meter rules exactly. They often change or adapt them to suite their own purposes and this is how it should be. For example an irregular meter may be made up of three iambs and an anapest. This gives variation and change of rhythm to the line. It takes a lot of practice to be able to know these rhythms intimately so that the sound of the line is not ruined by variations. This is something you can practise on.

Use stanzas of different lengths to experiment with. These are the division units of poetry. A stanza of one line is called a one-line stanza, two is called a couplet, three a triplet, four a quatrain, five a quintet, six a sextain, seven a septet, eight an octave, nine a nine-line stanza, ten a ten-line stanza.

What do poets use these different stanzas for? Well they each have different effects that they bring to a poem.

A one-line stanza may produce a kind of shokcing effect to the poem, whilst a couplet, which can also refer to a rhyme unit not set out as a separate stanza, is often used in heroic verse or in narrative poetry. The latter can be seen in Browning's 'My Last Duchess'.

A triplet is used in Italian sonnets, whilst the quatrain is the most popular for writing lyric poetry. The sextain is a good length for a slightly longer poem as used in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. An adaption of the septet line called rhyme royal was used by both Chaucer and Shakespeare.

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Rhyme

A rhyme is a repetition of the same sound in the lines of a poem. A masculine rhyme is on a single accented syllable, whilst a feminine rhyme is an accented syllable followed by a weaker syllable. English poetry because of the language usually has masculine rhymes whilst Italian most often has feminine rhymes. Both can be used with any meter.

Spelling rhymes are those that rhyme due to the spelling of the words but have become out of use nowadays for example Chaucer's 'houres' with 'youres'. Now 'move' and love' are similar spellings and are considered to rhyme but not be perfect rhymes.

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Rhythm and Meter

Have Fun Experimenting with Rhythm and Meter and poetic forms. Get hold of a rhyming dictionary and go wild with experimenting!

The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre
The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre

Poem Forms

These are a list of some common poetic forms.

The Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet is a lyric poem containing fourteen lines in iambic pentameter and it has a set rhyme scheme. First comes an octave then a sextain. The octave talks about what the poem is about whilst the sextain provides the solution to the predicament. The rhyme scheme is a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, c-d-e, c-d-e. The sextain may also be rhymed c-d-c, d-c-d. It is hard to find an exact replica of the Italian sonnet in English literature, but you can try writing one at home.

The Miltonic sonnet is an Italian Sonnet without the break between the octave and the sextain.

The Shakespearean or English Sonnet has the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g, rhymed in quatrains for the first twelve lines. There is a tight rhyming couplet at the end of the poem.

Spenser's Sonnet is like the English sonnet but the rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b. b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e. It is quite a rare form.

The Eight-line stanza ballade contains three eight-line stanzas and another four lines making up twenty-eight lines. In the eight-line stanzas the rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c and in the four line stanza it is b-c-b-c.

The ten-line stanza is written in iambic pentameter and has the rhyming scheme a-b-a-b-b-c-c-d-c-d repeated three times and then a our line stanza of c-c-d. It had to orginally be written in ten syllables but in English this rule is no longer followed. Stay tuned for a description of more poetic forms.

Have You Ever Tried To Write Poetry?

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    • beaworkathomemom profile image

      beaworkathomemom 4 years ago

      It takes a lot of talent to write a poetry. I commend those who can write it so easily.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      a very well put together description of the classical poetry forms and structure. Intending poets should at least know these before writing freeform poetry or prose

    • NickyT LM profile image

      NickyT LM 5 years ago

      Incredibly interesting lens here about the structure involved in good poetry. Nick :)

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 5 years ago

      You've got a lot of good information here. I like the part about poets not following meter etc. exactly. I record public domain poetry and am very aware that, if you count syllables you'll find variation on seemingly metered stuff -- very famous poets have done. I think playing with things here makes a better read, too.

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      Great page, I've included it in the featured lenses on my EPIC BALLAD OF POETRY lens

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 6 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      I am in the process of adding this lens to one of the Featured Lenses sections of my Epic Ballad of poetry one.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      A poetess was an Eastender

      One night she went on a bender

      There was a terrible mess

      A sausage fell into her dress

      And ended up in her suspender

      On second thoughts, I think I need to read your excellent tips!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Those are great tips. I don't believe I have poetic instincts but I think I can give it a try.

    • profile image

      mockingbird999 7 years ago

      I used to write poems back when I was in school, but haven't written any in a long time. I should give it a try again.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens! Very interesting!

    • indigomoth profile image

      indigomoth 7 years ago from New Zealand

      I recently rediscovered the joys of writing poetry. I hate to say it but I quite like rhyming verse! This is a good lens, lots of solid information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I wrote my first and last poem in th 1st grade - a Haiku. My father on the other hand has written poetry for decades. Good lens.