Writing Well: Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Traditionally, poems had a specific rhythm and rhyme, but modern poetry such as free verse doesn't have regular beat, rhyme, or line length. Before you start your poems, let's review the different tools you have to work with: poetic elements and figures of speech. Pick and choose from these elements to create the poem that expresses your soul.

Word Watch

Iambic pentameter is a rhythm scheme with five accents in each line.

Write Angles

Use rhyme to create a musical sound, meaning, and structure in your poems.

Poetic Elements

As with any other skill worth knowing, poetry has its own lingo. Here are some of the most commonly used terms:

  • Blank verse. Unrhymed poetry. Many English poets wrote in blank verse because it captures the natural rhythm of speech. Now, you can, too.
  • Couplet. Two related lines of poetry, which often rhyme.
  • Foot. A group of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.
  • Free verse. Poetry without a regular pattern of rhyme and meter.
  • Meter. The beat or rhythm in a poem, created by a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The most common meter in English poetry is iambic pentameter.
  • Refrain. A line or a group of lines that are repeated at the end of a poem. Refrains serve to reinforce the main point and create musical effects.
  • Rhyme. The repeated use of identical or nearly identical sounds. End rhyme occurs when words at the end of lines of poetry have the same sound. Internal rhyme occurs when words within a sentence share the same sound, as in “Each narrow cell in which we dwell.”
  • Rhythm. The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that create a beat, as in music. The meter of a poem is its rhythm.
  • Stanza. A group of lines in a poem, like a paragraph in an essay.

Yes, I know I packed a lot in here, but let's just take it slow. First, read the list over a few more times. Then look back at some of the poems I've included in this section, some of your own favorites, and some you've written yourself. See how many of the elements listed here you can find in the poems. Finally, try using some of these elements when you write your own poems.

Figures of Speech

Figurative language, words and expressions not meant to be taken literally, uses words in fresh, new ways to appeal to the imagination. Figures of speech include alliteration, hyperbole, image, metaphor, onomatopoeia, and simile. Let's look at them now:

  • Alliteration. The repetition of initial consonant sounds in several words in a sentence or line of poetry. Use alliteration to create musical effects, link related ideas, stress certain words, or mimic specific sounds.
  • Hyperbole. An exaggeration used for a literary effect such as emphasis, drama, or humor. Here is an example: “I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.”
  • Image. A word that appeals to one or more of our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.
  • Metaphor. A comparison between two unlike things, without the words “like” or “as.” “My heart is a singing bird” is a metaphor.
  • Onomatopoeia. The use of words to imitate the sounds they describe, as in crack, hiss, and buzz.
  • Simile. A comparison between two unlike things, using the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison, as in “A dream put off dries up like a raisin in the sun.”

Remember that figures of speech are usually appropriate in any of the four kinds of writing. The right figure of speech can enhance everything you write—not just poetry.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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