Chapter 6: Creative Writing

6.2 The Poem

You may have encountered poetry in a variety of forms. Although free verse, where the line breaks do not follow any particular pattern, is the most common in contemporary poetry, there are many additional types of poem. One is the sonnet, a rhyming pattern of four-line stanzas with a two-line couplet to finish. Typically, sonnets are written in iambic pentameter: stressed and unstressed syllables following each other in a pattern. From Japan, we have the seventeen-syllable, three-line haiku, often employed to describe a moment in nature. Experimental Canadian poets have even written entire books out of “found” material (other texts that have been adapted by the poet), or, in the case of Christian Bök’s Eunoia, a book divided into chapters in which only one of the vowels is used.

The villanelle is an old poetry form that is popular with contemporary poets. Originating in France, the poem has five stanzas of three lines each, finishing with a four-line stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated in each following stanza and used to make up the last two lines of the final stanza.

Beginning poets typically wait for inspiration to begin writing. Poetry is seen as something that describes a special moment, and how can one write about a special moment in an everyday mood?

Although this is one way of looking at poetry, it isn’t always helpful when you’re in the classroom and you’ve been asked to write. You probably don’t feel very inspired!

Thinking about different forms your poem could take, different subjects you could write about that are important to you, or simply freewriting a poem and seeing where it goes can be helpful in getting you started. For instructions on freewriting, review Chapter 2.3 Freewriting.

If you want to write more poetry, simply writing as much of it as you can, in whatever circumstances, is useful practice—as it is with every form of writing.

Table 6.2 Dos and don’ts of poetry
Things to always do Things to never do
  • Use vivid, descriptive language.
  • Surprise the reader.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Connect a series of images in words to build up the mood you want.
  • Use well-worn phrases. (Example: The sun will rise / Like a fiery red ball in the sky)
  • Rely on exposition or explanation (telling rather than showing). (Example: I am feeling / Extremely tired)
  • Write prose broken into lines and call it poetry. (Example: I have a lot / of work to do / My sister calls / and wants to know / will I go out with her tonight?)

Review Questions

  1. Try an acrostic poem. Select a word meaningful to you. Your name is a classic, but there are many other words you could use, including ones describing values or other things you find important. Write the word in capital letters down the left-hand side of your piece of paper, one letter per line. Use each letter to start a line of poetry related to your word.
  2. Try making a found poem from a text (or texts) you find. Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel, for example, searched old Western novels for mentions of the word “Injun,” which became the basis for his third book of the same name. Don’t forget that your found text could be a set of instructions, an official letter—anything with words.
  3. Write a poem explaining “Where I’m From.” Each line begins “I’m from” and contains a detail or phrase. (Hint: For ways to make your writing come alive, review Chapter 3.1 Descriptive Paragraphs, which gives you lists of words relating to the five senses and explains how to show, not tell, readers about your subject.)

Points to Consider

  1. You don’t need to stop with one poem. Your poem can be a jumping-off point for other poems or for other forms of creative writing, such as a short story or piece of creative nonfiction. For ideas of what to write next after “Where I’m From,” for example, see George Ella Lyon’s web page on “Where I’m From”.
  2. Try rewriting one of your poems in a different format. Can you turn your acrostic poem into a haiku? Are there two phrases in your found poem you can use in a villanelle?
  3. Find a poem you really like. Study it, and then write a poem of your own. (Hint: To credit your source, write “inspired by,” the poem’s title, and the poet’s name at the top, just under your poem’s title.)
  4. Trade poems with a classmate. Use the peer review process described in Chapter 7.2 Peer Review to give each other feedback. Revise your poem based on the feedback you received. Do substantial revisions first. As a last step, proofread.


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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