Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Free Verse’

Elements of Poetry

In 52: A Writer's Life, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 21, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Unlike writing novels, writing poetry is a little freer in structure, especially if it’s outside of form.

A novel requires a beginning, middle and end, tension and conflict, a climax and the structural elements of setting, plot and characters.

Poetry is about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. The shape poems take ranges from free verse to a fixed form, such as a sonnet, sestina, villanelle or haiku, or prose poem.

Fixed forms have a specific meter, rhyming scheme and syllable count. Prose poems bridge poetry and prose with writing that is poetic, while looking like prose as a block of text filling part of a page.

Free verse poetry is the most open form of poetic writing that doesn’t use a specific meter or syllable count or employ a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open while engaging any of a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

These devices can include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds; and rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

Poems can achieve a variety of purposes. They can have a musicality that comes from the tempo of the words, or the feel they create as they are spoken or read, as well as how they are put side by side and down the page.

Poems can tell a story and have a plot with the novel’s beginning, middle and end but in a smaller space. Or they can capture a single moment, image, thought or emotion.

They communicate through sounds, which appeal to feeling the same way music does as the words become the music.

Writing poetry is an individual art, but to prompt the process, there are several ways to enter a poetic state of mind. Try to:

• Use the senses – those of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting – when making observations.
• Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
• Write in different places, such as a garden versus an alley.
• Choose a title for your poem, then write from that point. Or choose a topic, an experience or a feeling you want to write about and compare it with something concrete like a pigeon on a window ledge to express risk-taking.

Lastly, think about the intent of the poem and the feelings to be expressed and say it in a fresh way. Trust your subconscious, which makes connections your conscious mind might not readily make. And surrender to your writing.

Writing Poetry 101 (plus some fun!)

In 52 Writing Topics, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

When I find a good one of these, I am awed and often inspired, but doing the required reading is a lack in my writing toolbox.

I write but fail to read poetry. I feel my way along, thinking when I’ve typed up my scribbled notes and made a few edits, the poem is finished.

Likewise, when I think about reading poetry, I don’t because I’d rather hang out with fiction – a poor attitude for an aspiring poet.

Even so, I want to improve my poetry.

What I’ve learned about this form of writing I’ve gathered from my writer’s magazines, poetry textbooks and attending monthly poetry workshops hosted by the Matter Bookstore in Fort Collins.

Poetry can be free verse without a specific meter or syllable count, or it can follow any of dozens of forms, anything from sonnets to haikus.

With or without form, poetry can engage a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

Examples include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.

There can be onomatopoeia, employing words that imitate the sounds they stand for, such as hiss, buzz or squawk.

Or there can be rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

There are two realities in a poem, the internal reality of the poet – his or her thoughts, feelings and imaginings – and the external realities in the poet’s world. This can be political or social circumstances, time period, time of day or night, weather, season, landscape and location.

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

Poems have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they sprawl across or slide down the page.

As you write a poem:

  • Think of the intent of the poem and the thoughts or feelings you want to express in a fresh way.
  • Avoid using clichés and overusing words that have become trite in a poem, such as tears, heart and from the bottom of ___.
  • Use concrete terms, not generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope or war.
  • Describe the specific, such as how a butterfly constantly shifts direction, unsure of where it heads to show uncertainty, instead of saying “uncertainty.”
  • Use the senses to make the objects and ideas you want to express take on dimension. The senses include sight, smell, hear, touch and taste.
  • Cut excess words to get to the heart of the poem.
  • Think of line breaks. In the case of end jambs, where a line continues to the next line, there is no need to capitalize the first word in the new line unless done intentionally.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago:


I am not what you say:
I become what you want
you with a capital
I could not begin
to write my letters
how I feel them
pump through my thoughts –
Go away, I must shear
each one off to make
myself simple, a 9-to-5 girl
with a lost heart.