Writing Structured Poetry

Writing Structured Poetry

A Chapter by William Liston
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gives tips on how to write structured verse

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Below are some tips for poets who are interested in writing structured poetry. This is written for writers who are new to structured verse, so it may not be very helpful for those who practically think in meter and rhyme. Thank you for reading! 

1. Don't Force Rhyme

A word or line is considered "forced into the rhyme" if it only suffices in completing the rhyme scheme and not in aiding the thought. An example would be putting together a string of unrelated sentences such as "I saw grass. / I went to class. / A rock has mass." Other examples include awkwardly wording a line so it rhymes and using a word that doesn't work in context (that is, using a word that doesn't work grammatically and/or has a connotation or denotation that doesn't suit the instance). Try thinking of words you can easily string together while keeping your message clear. Chances are, these aren't going to be complex, multisyllabic words, but rather simple, one-syllable words such as "rain" and "pain." 

2. Read Structured Poetry

The best way to "internalize the rhythms of English verse" (to quote Billy Collins) is to read structured poetry. Doing so will enable you to familiarize yourself with the mechanics of writing and accustom your mind to thinking in rhythm and rhyme. Some of my favorites are Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Dorothy Parker, Sara Teasdale, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Percy Shelly, Lord Byron, and John Keats.(1) 

3. Keep the Syllable Counts Per Line Virtually Even

It's difficult for one new to structured poetry to delve into rhythm and meter right-off, so the easiest thing to do at this stage is keep the syllable counts virtually even; my suggestion is to deviate by three syllables at the most. (2) Many would argue that syllable counting is unnecessary because, of course, most readers aren't going to count the syllables as they read, but to that opinion, I say this: It's true that no reader will count the syllables as they read, but all readers have an acumen for rhythm and word-flow. The uniformity of syllable counts in structured poetry most often underlies a smooth, natural flow. In my time here on the cafe, I have NEVER read a poem with uniform syllable counts that received a critique regarding the overall word flow. I've also noticed that writers who use rhythm and meter (I'll discuss that later on in the list) are more likely to be complimented on the flow of their words, even by writers who have no clue what rhythm and meter are. (3) 

4. Metaphors Build Bridges

Metaphors can offer ways of connecting words that one wouldn't typically think of. If you're having trouble finding a rhyme, think of an evocative image or metaphor you can use. This method won't always work, but it will get your mind accustomed to thinking outside the box. As you read structured poetry, pay attention to how the author may link rhyming words through metaphor ... you'll be amazed at the possibilities. 

5. Try A Kyrielle

The Kyrielle is my favorite form for many reasons, one of them being its simplicity. In this form, one repeats a line at the end of each stanza. That being said, you can at least make the refrain (repeated line) speak clearly. Also, since most Kyrielles are only four quatrains long, once you think of the refrain, you've already written a fourth of your poem. For the rules of writing a Kyrielle and for a lovely poem, look here: http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/RichardJ/1673658/

6. Learn Rhythm and Meter

After you've gotten accustomed to counting syllables, it'll be beneficial to learn rhythm and meter so you can control the flow of your words more precisely. I suggest watching this video to learn about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktr62K-TXP4

As you read structured poetry, try to identify the meter the author uses as well as when he/she deviates from it (which is common). Try tapping your finger to a structured poem's rhythm.(4) 

7. Write in Free Verse

This may sound counter-productive, but if writing with structure gives you a huge case of writer's block, try free verse. Since the mind doesn't typically think in rhyme, writing free verse will probably come easier. After you've written your free verse poem, try turning it into a rhyming one. Take the best lines from your free verse poem and carry them over to the new poem ... you may come out with two gems. (5) 

8. Learn Different Sentence Structures

By doing this, you can acquaint yourself with various methods of phrasing and structuring sentences. Doing so will give you more options as to how you can express yourself and how you can edit lines to make them read smoother. Learn about the simple sentence, the complex sentence, the compound-complex sentence, sentences joined by a semicolon, etc. and pay attention to how certain authors use syntax. Sometimes, a single sentence may span across several lines; other times, it may take up only one line. (6) 

9. Ask For Critiques

Like all crafts, skill in structured poetry depends upon a developed acumen, so seeking help from those more experienced will prove beneficial. There's only so much that articles such as this can do. Unlike a human with experience, this article cannot delve into the specifics of your writing and apply the listed principles where applicable. Be open to advice. 

1: I listed them from easiest to understand to hardest to understand, based on my opinion.

2: I recommend 7-10 syllables per line. I also recommend not going past 10 syllables as doing so can make your poem read chunky and unevenly. Poems written with five syllables per line typically flow well, though are harder to pull off.

3: To further prove my point: In my 10th-grade class, we read Byron's "She Walks In Beauty," which is written in iambic tetrameter. When we discussed the sound of the poem (rhyme scheme, alliteration, assonance, etc.) many of my classmates, despite having no knowledge of meter, said the poem flowed smoothly. Some were in-depth enough to say "it's like he wrote the poem with up-beats."

4: When I first read about meter, I couldn't make any sense out of it. After about a month and a half of reading various articles and trying to understand it, it finally came to me one day while I was tapping my finger to the rhythm of Byron's "She Walks In Beauty." From there, it all made sense.

5: If you're interested in trying this, I suggest checking out my blog post titled "A Lily in Rain Drafts."

6: For simple, complex, and compound sentences: http://www2.ivcc.edu/rambo/eng1001/sentences.htm

For compound-complex sentences: http://www.learnamericanenglishonline.com/Orange%20Level/O5%20Compound-Complex%20Sentences.html

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Author's Comment:

When I first learned the mechanics of structured poetry (rhythm and meter), I felt as though my skills had reached an unsurpassable peak ... boy was I wrong! There are always skills that one can improve on. If you prefer writing without any regard to structure, that's perfectly fine. Do what makes you happy. I didn't write this article to tell you to write with form and structure, but rather, to help those who want to. 

I would like to thank all of those on WC who have helped me improve and who have inspired some of the tips on this list:

Richard, who taught me the meaning of poetic voice and how to make sure every word speaks, with as few "filler and repeat" words (and, the, of, etc.) as possible.

Mattaveli, who taught me the wonders of syntax, metaphor, imagery, and vocabulary (albeit unintentionally) through his revisions/alternate versions of my work.

Serah (RIP), who taught me to make sure my vocabulary fit the instance and not just the rhyme.

Shabeeh Haider, who inspired me to make my rhyme and meter more exact.

And of course: Everyone on writer's cafe who has given me encouragement to keep writing. You guys inspire me every day, and I am humbly thankful, even if I didn't mention your name above ... you have a special place in my heart.



© 2017 William Liston


Author's Note

William Liston
Feel free to add to the list. If you disagree with anything I've said, please say so.
Constructive criticism is welcome ... I'm sure there are some typos I missed.

My Review

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Featured Review

Although I am not a fan of structured poetry, you have provided great advice for the process of doing so. You have laid out a decent outline. If I ever grow an interest in the art of building such poetry, I would follow this map.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad to know that you, despite not being a fan of structured poet.. read more



Reviews

Thanks a lot for your efforts and taking out some time in sharing your knowledge! I am nowhere near but this can be a good starting point.

Posted 2 Years Ago


I am very much a fan of structured poetry and find the suggestions helpful. Thank you.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Hey Stanley, I'm glad to "see" you again!!!
I'm glad you could find this helpful too.
To learn even one fact makes Life smile that little more. You've made me laugh. Your advice and guidance is more than helpful, tis a path to walk along for as long as the journey benefits... Thank you.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Thank you for your uplifting review, Emma ... I'm glad this could be helpful to you.
Although I am not a fan of structured poetry, you have provided great advice for the process of doing so. You have laid out a decent outline. If I ever grow an interest in the art of building such poetry, I would follow this map.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad to know that you, despite not being a fan of structured poet.. read more
This is a gem. I think it is wonderful that you have taken the time to do this, to help those with a listening ear and a willing mind.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

I'm glad this could be a gem to you, Linda.
Thank you for your kind words.
As always, you speak the truth, my friend. :D You should seriously take up being an English professor!!!!

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 2 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Thank you for your kind words, Raven. As always, your are reviews sincere and encouraging.
By.. read more
Raven Moonchild

3 Years Ago

Whatever you choose, I know you'll be absolutely brilliant at it. :D
Every point is very informative. I really liked how you made an effort to improve and help others. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. I needed some information as such.
Did you take any specific classes to write structured poetry?

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 2 people found this review constructive.

William Liston

3 Years Ago

Thank you so much, Najam! I'm glad you could find this helpful.
To answer your question: No, .. read more
Najam Us Saher

3 Years Ago

No need to mention thanks. :)
I feel the same about WC. Since I joined, I have read many gr.. read more

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Added on July 24, 2017
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Tags: poem, rhythm, meter, rhyme


Author

William Liston
William Liston

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Get your own valid XHTML YouTube embed code I'm an amateur poet who's been writing for about three and a half years. Some of my influences include Edgar Alla.. more..

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