How To Talk And Write About Poetry When You Don’t Have A Clue


You don’t have to be a poetry expert to talk about it, but it seems like a good idea to have something to say. I’ve put together a few odds and ends that might help you.

It is always a good idea to read poetry before you talk about it. I compiled a list of my favourite poetry on this site a while ago. At least you’ll know what you do and don’t like if you do this. [Read: 17 Of The Most Powerful Excerpts From Poetry]

The Importance Of Sound

Sound is always a good place to start when you talk about poetry. It is how we identify the genre. Everybody finds it difficult to forget rhythmical poetry. Children love it.

You could tell people that poetry should ‘sound right’ when you read it aloud. It should flow without effort. Poetry allows you to play with words – to manipulate, to suggest, to twist, and to turn words inside out.

The fundamentals of poetry and prose are the same. However, poetry makes us experience the human condition at its most vulnerable. It makes us feel something. It is also to there to entertain.

If you want to say something clever about poetry, you could discuss the importance of emphasis.

Three Differences On Emphasis Between Poetry And Prose

  1. The emphasis in poetry is on the line. Poetry is more about a line than a sentence. Poetry lines never reach the right hand margin. Prose does. The line of poetry is more focused, unique, and intense.
  2. The emphasis in poetry is on rhythm. Although creative prose can be melodic, poetry is always rhythmic.
  3. Poetry emphasises the notion of less is more. Poems say more in less space. They are constrained by the limitations of line and the elements of rhythm.

Read these examples out loud:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear. – Henry Longfellow

Whose woods are these I think I know. – Robert Frost

Irish poets, learn your trade,
Sing whatever is well made. – Yeats

Now that we’ve spoken about sound and emphasis, you could show off by discussing some of the most common poetry forms, including sonnets, haiku, and free verse.

The Sonnet

Oxford Dictionaries: ‘A poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line.’

14 Lines, That’s All

The term comes from the Italian word ‘sonetto’. It follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure.

Traditionally, the sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. This is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The rhythm is written as: da DUM. A standard line of iambic pentameter is five iambic feet in a row: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM

The two sonnet forms from which all other sonnets are formed are: the Shakespearean (English) and the Petrarchan (Italian).

The English sonnet consists of three quatrains, which are four-line verses, followed by a rhyming couplet, rhyming as follows:

abab, cdcd, efef and generally ending with gg

Example: Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The Italian sonnet has three verses, rhyming as follows:

abba, abba, cdecde or cdcdcd

Example: Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Find out more about sonnets here

The Couplet

According to Oxford Dictionaries, a couplet is ‘a pair of successive lines of verse, typically rhyming and of the same length.’

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo. – T.S. Eliot

Wendy Cope is an expert at this. She maximises what she wants to say in two lines.

Two Cures for Love

1 Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2 The easy way: get to know him better. – Wendy Cope

Haiku

Oxford Dictionaries: ‘A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.’

This is the Japanese art of poetry about the traces left by life experiences. It can be traced back as far as the 9th century.

One of the best ways to write haiku is to think like a forensic detective. Remember something that happened, and look at the traces – the evidence left behind.

17 Syllables, That’s All

The structure of a haiku is as follows:

5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

It is a snail’s trail,
the wine stain on the table,
smoke after a fire.

Haiku is a way of looking at the physical world and seeing something deeper.

Under the rainclouds
 The plum blossoms seem like stars
 Despite the daylight.

~Uejima Onitsura

Free Verse / Blank Verse

Oxford Dictionaries: ‘Poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular rhythm.’

You can make your own rules here, but you should use this style to create an emotional response. It is about honesty of expression. It is not the form normally used to write about an object.

Example: The Portrait by Stanley Kunitz

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Questions To Help You With Free Verse

  1. Is it interesting?
  2. Is it melodic?
  3. Does the poem say something?
  4. Does the poem make you feel something?
  5. Is the viewpoint appropriate?
  6. Is it specific? (Show. Don’t tell.)
  7. Does the poem have power or beauty? (It should have one of these.)

Resources

There are many places to learn about poetry.

Here are five great poetry websites:

  1. Poetry Foundation – Publishes feature articles on poets and poetry, news about poetry publishing, and reading guides to poems from its comprehensive archive of more than 8,000 poems.
  2. Eat This Poem – In addition to recipe and poetry pairings, you’ll also find musings on writing, cooking, creativity, motherhood, and embracing the simple things.
  3. TheThePoetry – A blog about poetics, for both poets and non-poets.
  4. Poetry International Web –  Let PIW take you on your global poetry tour.
  5. Poets & Writers – A blog to foster the professional development of poets and writers, to promote communication throughout the literary community, and to help create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public.

You will find more here

Here are five fantastic poetry pages on Facebook:

  1. The Poetry Archive
  2. Poetry Foundation
  3. The Poetry Society
  4. Poetry Book Society
  5. Literature Is My Utopia

 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. 33 Quotes By Poets On Poetry
  2. The Day Jobs Of 12 Famous Poets
  3. 12 Famous Book Titles That Come From Poetry