Shelley Widhalm

The form and inspiration of poetry

In Inspiration for Poetry, Poetic Forms, Poetry, Writing Poetry on April 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing poetry is a matter of art and inspiration.

April is National Poetry Month, an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.

The art of poetry can take many shapes from free verse to fixed form, such as sonnets, sestinas, villanelles or haikus that have specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. Or it can combine poetry and prose through a prose poem that is a block of text filling part of a page with poetic language.

Poems, no matter their structure, are about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. They have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they move across or down the page.

With or without structure, poems can employ various poetic devices to add musicality to the words, such as alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.

Other devices that add music to language include onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sounds they stand for, such as hiss, buzz or squawk, and slant rhyme, the similar sound of two words that are nearly identical.

Free verse poetry doesn’t have a specific meter or syllable count or a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open but still engages one or more of these poetic devices.

Poems typically fall into two categories, lyrical or narrative. A lyrical poem is a snapshot or a fixed moment of time; it is a poem of a single image, thought or emotion. A narrative poem tells a story and has a plot with beginning, middle and end.

To write a poem, here are some things to think about.

  • Think of the intent of the poem and what it is you want to express.
  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture your thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Avoid using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope and war. Avoid overusing trite words, such as tears and heart, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • To get to the concrete, describe the specifics, such as how a sunflower lowers its seed-filled head to show change from day to night.

Once the poem is written, reread it to cut excess words to get to the heart of the poem. Explore what your poem is really saying and look for ideas that can be further explored. Your subconscious may have made connections your conscious mind doesn’t readily see. This can happen as you surrender to the writing and the beauty that comes out of the unfolding of words.

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