Lesson One: The Basics of Poetry

Lesson One: The Basics of Poetry

A Chapter by cassandra violet

Lesson one of my online creative writing course. Message me assignments or email them to me at [email protected]


Writing with Cassandra Violet


Posted: January 18th, 2011

Assignment due by: January 25th, 20100


Lesson #1: The Basics of poetry


So you want to be a poet? Or are you here because you’re already a poet and want me to make your work better? If you’re here for either of those reasons then this course isn’t for you. This course if for those who know that they are poets and believe that they are good, and are here because they want to hear my understanding of the art of poetry in hopes that this course will inspire and evoke something in his/her own work. I cannot make you a poet or improve your work, I can simply help you understand what poetry is, show you what has worked for others and myself, and give you feedback on your work, it is up to you to apply what I am teaching here. If you are here then you should want to understand the mechanics of poetry, read work by influential poets to learn from them, and apply what you are learning to your own work. 


Intentions of this course:


I do not intend to dictate to you what good poetry is, or even create a definition of what is “good poetry”. Instead, this course is to explain the mechanics of poetry and understand the basic terms associated with it. Then, once those have been learned we will study examples of the terms through some of the best poetry in both the past and in modern times. While we do this, we will analyze what exactly makes these poems we are studying so great and will then take our gained knowledge into consideration when writing our own work.


I am not a professional, and by no means do I consider myself a great writer. However, I am good with teaching, editing and understanding. Therefore, while my own work may still need improvement and I am still learning as a poet, I understand Poetry itself very well. I’m also an English major and because of this have been taught to understand the components of great poetry and examples of this throughout the history of literature. Lastly, I want to be a creative writer teacher when I graduate college and so this is a way for me to practice my skills in teaching and in writing.


            Once a week I’ll be posting a new “Lesson” which will never follow the same format. One week I may assign certain works to be read while the next I’ll give you writing prompts and then offer your work. However, with everything that I assign you I’ll explain why I’m doing so and how it will help you improve as a writer.





This is the part that most of us hate, but unfortunately its also the most important. This is where we learn the terminology used with poetry. In order to write something, you need to understand its structure, intentions and impact. So before we begin any of the fun stuff, first I’ll introduce the terms that you need to know… or rather should know if you’re a serious writer. (Note: all credit for the definition of the terms goes to http://www.poetc.com/Poetry-Terms.html where you can find an extended list of terms if you’re interested in more then just “the basics”).



Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words found in the same line of poetry: “Love, like life’s little lesson…”


Analogy: a comparison based on a similarity between things that are otherwise dissimilar, as in comparing the passage of a human life to the passage of the sun through the sky.


Assonance: the repetition of the same vowel sound in words that end with different consonants: “So long lives this, and this gives life…”


Caesura: a pause or break within a line of poetry.

Cliché: an overused word or phrase: “fat as a pig.”

Colloquial language: everyday speech. Gwendolyn Brooks often uses this type of language in her poetry.


Connotation: the implied meaning associated with a word beyond its dictionary definition.

Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning or at the end of words found in the same line of poetry: “agaiNst pouNding JaNuary wiNds…”


Diction: the writer’s choice of words, an integral component of the writer’s individual style or voice. Diction is of utmost importance in writing poetry.


Enjambment: the running on of sense from the end of one line of poetry into the next line, without the use of punctuation.


Extended metaphor:  a metaphorical comparison that continues through a paragraph, poetic stanza, or an entire literary work.

Figurative language: expressions that are not literally true but express some truth beyond the literal level, especially important in poetry:  “The sun was a red rubber ball.”


Free verse: poetry unconstrained by fixed pattern, meter, or rhyme scheme, often mimicking human speech.


Hyperbole: a figure of speech that uses exaggeration: “I must have walked a thousand miles today.”


Inversion: reversal of the usual word order: “A melody I thought I heard.”

Metaphor: a comparison of two dissimilar things, without the use of like or as: “He’s a grizzly bear in the mornings before that first cup of coffee.”

Meter: a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that gives a poem a predictable rhythm.

Mood: the emotion created by a poem or other literary work. The mood of a poem might be sad, funny, angry, scary, happy, or regretful.


Onomatopoeia: a word that imitates the sound it describes: bang, buzz, smack.

Oxymoron: a figure of speech consisting of two seemingly contradictory terms: jumbo shrimp, student teacher, pretty ugly.

Pastoral: a poem that presents an idyllic view of rural life, often about shepherds, meadows, and nature.

Personification: a figure of speech in which an animal, object, or idea is given human characteristics: “The dry fields want rain.”


Rhyme: the repetition of the same vowel sounds in two or more words. When the words at the end of lines of poetry rhyme, it is called end rhyme. When words within the same line occur, it is called internal rhyme.


Rhythm: the pattern of beats made by the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.


Simile: a comparison of two seemingly unlike things, using like or as: “The red peppers looked like little flames.”


Speaker: the voice that communicates with the reader of a poem. The speaker might be the poet, another person, an animal, an object, or an abstract idea.


Stanza: a group of lines in a song or poem.

Symbol: a person, place, object, or experience that stands for more than what it actually is. For example, washing one’s hands might be symbolic of denying guilt or involvement.

Synesthesia: the use of one sense to describe something that appeals to a different sense: sweet music, golden touch, loud color.


Tone: the speaker’s attitude toward the subject of a poem or other literary work. The tone can range from sympathetic to ironic to humorous.

Voice: the author’s use of language used to convey his unique personality to readers.



Well, now that you’ve learned how much terminology is associated with poetry, you’ve probably realized how much there is to writing poetry. Before I began studying poetry instead of merely writing it, I didn’t realize how many things could affect a poem. For example, how often do you think about voice? Or the structure of your poem? Like the length of your sentences, the lines in your stanzas? Learn the terms and you’ll learn about the different ways in which you can write a poem, how to emphasize certain things, make it interesting… I’m not explaining this right let me put it this way- learn the different colors of paint you can use to paint your masterpiece.



Assignment #1


So, your first assignment is to do two things. First, choose a poem to read off of a list I will give you and then chose three terms you learned today and then discuss how the writer uses those things. For example, how does the poet use metaphor, tone and rhyme? Then, I want you to chose one of your own poems and analyze it using the same three terms. Compare your usage to that of the selected poets. Please send me your chosen poems and terms when you’re finished with the assignment so we can go over it.


The poems to chose from:


-Anne Sexton: The Truth the Dead Know

-Pablo Neruda: I Body of a woman

-Charles Bukowski: We Must

- Robert Frost: Come In

-Maya Angelou: Still I Rise

-James Merrill: Dead Center

-Emily Dickinson: There is Another Sky



You can either message your assignments to my inbox on writerscafe, or you can email them to me if you would like detailed feedback at: [email protected]

© 2011 cassandra violet

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However, well done. I am sure it is extremely useful to many, including my pompous self.

Posted 11 Years Ago

Examples, please. One dictionary definition is really not quite enough.
Plus. It is possible to write good poetry without knowing any of these academic constructs.

Posted 11 Years Ago

intriguing project

Posted 11 Years Ago

This could really help beginnings.

Posted 11 Years Ago

i love your initiative and i applaud your effort and willingness to share your lessons ~ i can't say i will be a willing student since most of my motivation comes from inspiration - i start grad school on Monday and the thought of an assignment zaps my inspiration :(

well thought out lesson plan! :)

Posted 11 Years Ago

It's a good beginners lesson, I didn't really learn anything new but I have a friend who needs this and I will recommend. Thanks.

Posted 11 Years Ago

Hope you don't mind I'm gonna miss out on this lesson and jump in on lesson 2, I do this way too often at school, know all of these tearms and then some more. I do not need to learn how to use them.

Posted 11 Years Ago

Thank you for sharing I'm going to shelved this one for future reference.

Posted 11 Years Ago

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I think this is a great idea for budding poets who've not studied poetry at a higher level or anything yet - it'll get them to think about the technical components that can really add and improve the poem and its structure! also a great list of terminology - I would suggest adding a few (which you can ignore of course haha):

Pace/Tempo - the speed of the piece, slowed by caesurae and other punctuation devices - and then speeded up by clipping, shorter syllables, some plosive consonants etc.

Sibilance - the repetition of the "s" or "z" sound, to give it a hiss - 'sausage sizzles'. Also can add to speed.

Allusion - use of language/imagery to bring something else to mind - either classically or subverting the original image (making it negative or what not).

There are more technical things but I think your list is good!! all the basic terms/devices needed to expand poetic understanding!!

Posted 11 Years Ago

thanks for this one, i think i really needed this great lesson. one may call me undisciplined because i never think about formats for my poems like ABAB or anything of the sort, i just write.
now this was really detailed work. thanks a lot!

Posted 11 Years Ago

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11 Reviews
Shelved in 3 Libraries
Added on January 18, 2011
Last Updated on January 18, 2011


cassandra violet
cassandra violet

boston, MA

I hate this part. This is the part where I try to tell you who I am, what I've been and what I want with every single last milimeter of blood dancing in my veins to become- the person who my heart bea.. more..

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A Poem by cassandra violet

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