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Poetry Project

Analyzing, Understanding, and Writing Poetry


Poetry is a powerful way of expressing feelings and ideas. Poets use a variety of devices to convey these feelings and ideas. One of the greatest features of poetry is the possibility of alternative interpretations. Analysis does not take the beauty or power away from the poem. Instead, it helps the reader to better understand the poem and appreciate the poet's craft.

First, just read the poem. Always read according to the punctuation, not the line breaks. What is your first impression of the poem? Does it tell a story or describe certain events? What images do the words bring to your mind?

If the poem is free verse, pay attention to the line breaks. Is the author using line breaks to develop an interesting double meaning or to create an effect?

Identify any poetic devices that are used in the poem. See the Poetic Devices section below to familiarize yourself with these techniques. See if any of the poetic devices help you determine the the poem or part of the poem.

Here is a collection of poems by Crimson Love.

Poetic Devices

The point of identifying poetic devices is to determine how they add to or what they tell you about the meaning of the poem.
For example, a change in a pattern, like rhyme or meter, is a clue to the meaning of the poem.
- the repeating of consonants at the beginning of words. 
Example: I saw her singing at her work And o'er the sickle bending - (from "Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth)

ALLUSION - a reference to a mythological situation or character or to another piece of literature.
Example: I stood still and was a tree amid the wood, Knowing the truth of things unseen before; Of Daphne and the laurel bough And that god-feasting couple old That grew elm-oak amid the wold. (from "The Tree" by Ezra Pound) (Pound alludes to the myth of Daphne who, chased by Apollo, was changed into tree by some river gods.)

ARCHETYPE - an image or symbol which is psychologically inherent to our imaginations. They recur in a civilization's mythology and thus are important to poetry.
For example, rivers as symbols of time, floods as symbols of rebirth, Snakes as symbols of evil, Dragons as symbols of evil or luck, and the phoenix as a symbol of death and rebirth

ASSONANCE - the repeating of a specific vowel sound or group of vowel sounds throughout a poem, but not the consonants following them.
Example: Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all; (from "Riddle of the World" by Alexander Pope)
"Till I collapse I’m spilling these raps long as you feel 'em
Till the day that I drop you'll never say that I'm not killing them
'Cause when I am not then I'ma stop penning 'em
And I am not hip-hop and I’m just not Eminem."
-Marshall Mathers


- the repeating of specific consonant sounds after different vowel sounds. (see assonance)
Example: I have a line or groove I love runs down ( ... ) (from "Our Bodies" by Denise Levertov) (note consonant sounds of "have", "groove" and "love" and also "line" "runs" and "down".)


- a pair of lines whose end words rhyme

HYPERBOLE - an exaggeration of the truth.
Examples can be found HERE.


- the use of description to create an image in the mind of the reader

LINE BREAKS - where the poet chooses to end one line and begin another, especially used in free verse.

METAPHOR - an association of two completely different objects as being the same thing. Distinguishes itself from simile by not using "like" or "as". Considered a powerful form of communication because it disregards logic. (ie. an object can not be something else and be itself at the same time.) Example- "Drum"
METER - a device used to measure poetry. The unit used is the metric "foot". The number of feet determines the metre of the poem. Four feet per line is called tetrametre, five feet pentametre, six feet sextametre etc. A "foot" is determined by a series of stressed and unstressed syllables.  



- to make up a word or give a new meaning to an old word.

- the use of a word to indicate a sound. Examples are words like hiss, splash, bong, clack, splat, swish, etc.
    Can also be a pattern of words or sounds used to create an effect.

PARADOX - a statement which appears to contradict itself which may, in fact, be true. Example: One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. (from "Death Be Not Proud" by John Donne)

- using the qualities of a person to describe an inanimate object. Example: The tree scratched its fingers on my bedroom window.


- the associating of two words in a poem through the way they sound. Rhyme usually occurs at the end of a line in a poem, but it is not restricted in that way necessarily.There are many kinds of rhyme:

True Rhyme - two words whose last syllables sound the same.
Example:     and swear nowhere 
                   lives a woman true and fair.
                                            (from "Song" by John Donne)

Assonant Rhyme - the rhyming of vowels only. Rather popular in prose poetry since it is often hard to recognize. Also effective in internal rhyme.
Example: "He was at Naples writing letters home And, between his letters, reading paragraphs On the sublime. Vesuvius had groaned For a month. ( ... )" (from "Esthetique du Mal" by Wallace Stevens) ("home" and "groaned" rhyme assonantly)

Consonant Rhyme - the rhyming on consonants only. Often used as a deviation from "true" rhyme in a lyrical poem.
Example:     "But Antichrist got down from the Barbary beast And doffed his plume in courteous prostration; 
                 Christ left his jennet's back in deprecation And raised him, his own hand about the waist."
                 (from "Armageddon" by John Crowe Ransom) ("beast" and "waist" rhyme consonantly.)

Sight Rhyme - words that are spelled similarly, but do not rhyme. (sight rhymes are frequently also assonant or consonant rhymes)
EXAMPLE:     "Let me not to the marriage of true minds 
                    Admit impediments. Love is not love
                   Which alters when it alteration finds,
                    Or bends with the remover to remove
                                           (from "Sonnet 116" by Shakespeare)

Internal Rhyme - when a word in the middle of a line rhymes with the word at the end of the line




- a comparison of two completely different objects using "like" or "as". Not generally considered as powerful as Metaphor since it does not defy logic. (see METAPHOR)
Example (first two lines)


- a set of lines in a poem, separated from other stanzas with an empty line
This EXAMPLE has six stanzas.


There are many ways to write a poem; inspiration can be found anywhere. The important thing to remember about writing poetry is that it doesn't have to be clear, with an obvious meaning. You can do more with poetry than with prose; your work can mean different things to different readers.

Another important thing about any type of writing is the drafting process. After you write one poem, even if you love it the way it is, you should rewrite it. In your revision you can rearrange words or lines, try a new perspective, or implement a poetic device you hadn't tried. Always keep your drafts. You never know when you might want them.

If you've been working on a poem for a long time and feel stuck, put the poem away for awhile. Sometimes writers need distance from their work. You may be stuck, but later, when you're out mowing the lawn, inspiration will strike!

Here are some poetry writing exercises to help you get started!

Poetry Writing Exercises
Cut Out Word Poem

Begin by cutting words out of newspapers and magazines. The more unique the words are, the better. When you have a substantial collection of words, spread them out on a blank piece of paper. Have another piece of paper ready to write the poem on. Arrange the words on the blank piece of paper. You don't have to use all of them, and you can add your own "connector" words to complete your ideas. When you have a draft of a poem, write it on the other piece of paper. Don't worry if your poem seems vague or confusing. It's okay, that's the beauty of poetry! It is often the later drafts of this poem that are the best.
This exercise is often more effective if done with the help of a partner or a teacher (to cut out words for you). It is very similar to magnetic poetry kits that you can purchase.

An alternative is the BLACK OUT POEM, where you take a text or page from a magazine and strategically black out text, leaving behind your poem.

Phone Number Poem

This exercise can be a lot of fun. Pick a phone number that has significance for you and write it down. Use the number for your title. Your poem will have as many lines as your phone number has numbers. Each line will have the number of syllables as the number it corresponds with.
For example, if you use 426-3213, the first line will have four syllables, the second line will have two, the third will have six, and so on.
The contents of the poem should relate to the phone number you chose.

Phone Number Poem Example

Art Poem

Find a work of art that you admire or find interesting. Write a poem about the artwork.

-You could write about the artist: what (s)he was thinking or doing, why (s)he created it, or what the artist thought of his/her own work.
- You could write about the art: what it looks like, something it reminds you of, how it makes you feel, or what might be going on around it.

Couplet Poem

Write a poem that is made up of at least ten couplets. Try to be original with your rhymes. Sometimes it helps to try a rhyming site like RhymeZone.

Three Stanza Poem

Attention: To make this exercise effective, please complete one step at a time.

Step One: To begin writing this poem you will need a collection of various items to look at. You could either have a teacher or a partner gather items for you, or you could use a more natural collection of items in your bedroom, for example. Pick one item and write a stanza of poetry about it.
Step Two: Next, choose a person, either one of your parents or a person who is like a parent to you. Write a stanza about this person. Try to find something specific about this person to write about. Use details.
Step Three: Then, write a stanza about yourself. (This is difficult for many people!)

Step Four: Find a title for your poem that somehow ties all three stanzas together.

Story Poem

Write a poem that tells a story. Often it is easier if it is about something that actually happened to you. Epic poems are very long poems that tell an entire story. One famous example of an epic poem is Homer's Odessey. Don't worry, your story poem doesn't have to be hundreds of pages long!

Memory Poem

Take a piece of paper and write the words sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste on it, leaving plenty of space between each word. Then pick a memory to write about. It can be anything, as long as you remember it vividly and it has some importance to you.
Now think of the memory. What do you see? Write down words or phrases that describe what you are seeing under "sight".What do you smell? Write down words or phrases that describe what you are smelling under "smell". What did you touch? Write down words or phrases that describe what you feel under "touch". What do you hear? Write down words or phrases that describe what you are hearing under "hearing". Finally, what do you taste? Write down words or phrases that describe what you are tasting under "taste".
Now, on a separate piece of paper, combine the words and phrases from the five senses list to create a poem about the memory.

Simile Poem Write a poem that contains three similes. It sounds easy, but you have to decide if all the similes will describe the same thing or three different things. Sometimes it is difficult to describe one thing three different ways. However, If you choose three different things, you must find a topic under which to combine them.
Made Up Word Poem

Imitate the made up word technique of  "Jabberwocky", by Lewis Caroll.

Conversation Poem Before you write this poem, you should decide who the people are who are having the conversation. Pick two distinct personalities and put them in a situation. Write a short description of each person and the situation, including their relationship to each other. Now, write the poem. What are these people going to say to each other? You can use "he said" and "she said", or you can differentiate the speakers with empty lines between their words.

EXAMPLE of Conversation Poem

It's Not Fair Poem The title of the poem should be "It's Not Fair". Write about anything that you feel is unfair. This usually is not difficult for teenagers!
Found Poem When you write a found poem, you take words, phrases, and even sentences that you find and combine them creatively to make a poem. You can find these fragments on signs, in books or magazines, anywhere!

“Maps of the World”

The best minute of the day.

Ask clarifying questions.

This is an opportunity.

We must prepare the world for our children.

National scholarships will be awarded.

Yoga classes will be starting up again,

These are times for us to gather.

What’s Cookin’?

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide

It’s not just a step above. It’s a new plateau,

@ Exit 10-Interstate 89 & Scenic Route 100 North


                                    - Michelle M.

Meter Poem

For this exercise, you need to use a poem that you have already written. Rearrange or rewrite the poem so that it has a specific meter.

The haiku's structure is made up of 17 syllables arranged in three consecutive lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. 
Click here for some examples

Joanna Fowler,
Oct 16, 2009, 10:54 AM
Joanna Fowler,
Oct 16, 2009, 10:54 AM
Joanna Fowler,
Oct 16, 2009, 10:53 AM
Joanna Fowler,
Oct 16, 2009, 10:53 AM
Joanna Fowler,
Oct 29, 2009, 8:26 AM