This course is taught by Wardah from: https://silentsilverytears.wordpress.com/
Welcome to Poetry 101!
This class is meant for beginner and advanced writers of all ages. You’ll learn about the elements of poems, different types of poetry, and how to experiment with rhyme, structure, and rhythm. You’ll also learn about different famous poets to draw inspiration from!
There’s no one way to write poetry. Everyone has their own unique style, and through this course and independent practice, you’ll be able to develop your own.
Lesson 1: What Is (and Isn’t) Poetry
In This Lesson
What is poetry?
What isn’t poetry?
What Is Poetry?
Poetry is a type of literature which conveys emotions, lessons, and ideas through words and rhythm.
There are several types of poetry, as will be covered later on. Poems can share stories, comment on the world, describe a person/place/thing… you name it.
Poetry can be about anything, by anyone, and can be written in almost any way.
There are a few elements of poetry that are handy to keep in mind, as shown in the following diagram.
There are more elements of poetry which you can view here, but these are some basic ones to know.
There are several types of poetry, which will be covered in the next lesson, but here are some sample poems to get a feel of what poems read and look like.
by Erin Hanson
by Robert Frost
There are many famous poets out there in addition to the ones named above — William Shakespeare, E.E. Cummings, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Shel Silverstein, Rupi Kaur, and many more. Not to mention that there are plenty of poetry books and blogs, too!
While these poems may share similar traits, like rhyme schemes or metaphors, you’ll notice that each of these poets has their own unique writing style.
There’s no right or wrong way to write poetry. It’s up to you to make your own!
Note: One important fact about poetry is that poems don’t have to rhyme. It’s a common misconception, and many types of poetry do rhyme, but it’s not a requirement.
What Isn’t Poetry?
There are several types of poetry, and the rules of poetry tend to be flexible. Some writers bend or even break the rules of grammar not simply to show off their creativity, but to convey meanings and emotions in a different way.
However, there is a line that divides poetry from other types of writing. Here are some examples.
Prose is similar to poetry.
It flows the same way, sometimes rhymes, and often has vivid images and rhythmic cadence. But there’s a catch: it’s written more like a sentence or story rather than an actual poem, divided into lines and stanzas.
Here’s an example:
“You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow (of death) again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.”
This sentence has a similar flow to a poem and even has metaphors, like comparing human desires to mountains. However, it’s not a poem.
One easy way to tell is that the writing is structured as a sentence, not divided into lines like a poem. Prose is known to flow naturally and sound natural, but it doesn’t have the same rhythm or structure that poetry does.
It may be difficult to discern poetry and prose at first, but with time and experience, you’ll be able to pick out the differences.
Does this sound like a poem to you?
It seems like a poem on the surface. But in reality, this writing is more like a quote than a poem.
Like the prose example, this sentence doesn’t have the same rhythm that poetry does. It’s just a thought, a question that the writer has.
“Loose threads” like this example don’t have straightforward ideas connected to them.
They’re just random musings. While these thoughts may have importance to them or sound interesting, they are not poems.
There are other types of writing that may appear to be a poem but aren’t.
To identify a piece of writing, try looking for some of the elements of poetry as shown on the diagram on page 1.
If you can’t find most of the elements, chances are the writing isn’t a poem.
That’s the end of Lesson 1! Complete the exercises below, then head on to Lesson 2 when you’re ready.
Read: Read two poems from the authors listed in this lesson or any other poets and identify the elements of poetry.
Practice: Write a poem about something that fascinates you. Then transform it into a piece of prose or a loose thread. Find at least three differences between the original poem and the “fake” poems.
You don’t have to go through this whole course today, just bookmark this post and head to Lesson 2 below when you’re ready.
Lesson 2: Classical Types of Poetry
In This Lesson
There are a myriad of types of poetry, each with their own unique characteristics. Some rhyme, some repeat lines, and some leave it up to you!
We’ll be focusing on classical types of poetry in this lesson. These forms have set structures, rhyme schemes, and/or repetition to follow. But these guidelines are not set in stone. The author can bend and even break the rules as they wish!
The haiku is a short, three-line poem originating from Japan. It consists of the following scheme:
- 5 syllables in the first line
- 7 syllables in the second line
- 5 syllables in the third line
There are different takes on the haiku, but the traditional method tends to have a special ring to it.
Here’s an example of a haiku following the original structure.
a diverse world, but
i don’t think i belong here
no one understands
This fourteen-line classical form of poetry has existed for centuries. There are several types of sonnets, but here is the general layout.
Octave (first 8 lines) introduce a questions or problem
Sestet (next 6 lines) answers the question or describes a solution
The last 2 lines (a couplet) often have a shift or turn.
The sonnet has a specific rhyme scheme, as follows:
ABAB / CDCD / EFEF / GG
(For the first 12 lines, every other line rhymes. The final 2 lines rhyme with each other.)
Here’s an example by William Shakespeare.
A highly-structured poem, the villanelle is a nineteen-line poem consisting of a specific rhyme scheme and repetition. Its forms looks like this:
- 5 Tercets (groups of 3 lines)
- The last line of each tercet repeats Line 1 or Line 3, alternating.
- Quatrain (4 lines)
The rhyme scheme goes like this.
There are many twists on the villanelle. Line 1 and Line 3 are repeated throughout the poem at the end of alternating stanzas, but some poets slightly change the line with each repetition to create different meanings. It’s a difficult poem to master, but once polished, the result is extraordinary.
Below is an example of a villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop. Notice the twist on lines 1 and 3 she incorporates with each stanza, as well as the unique line breaks.
The ghazal originates from Arabic poetry. It consists of an odd number (usually at least 5) of long couplets (2 rhyming lines).
Each line is usually at least 10 syllables long, filled with vivid images. The first two couplets end with the same word, and the last line of each following couplet has the same word as the end of the first couplet.
The couplets are often unrelated with a different shift in each stanza, but are related with the same ending rhyme. Some poets even add in their name in the last stanza of the ghazal.
Agha Shahid Ali is a famous ghazal-writer. Here’s one of his poems, “Even the Rain.” Notice the phrase “even the rain” is repeated at the end of each stanza, but with a different meaning every time.
Even the Rain
What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.
“Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?”
Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain?
After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.
Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.
How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.
This is God’s site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?
After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.
What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.
How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames—
To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.
He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves;
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—
To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.
They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.
Now that you’ve learned about many classical types of poetry, it’s time to practice! Complete the exercises below, then head on to Lesson 3.
Read: Find one of the classical structured poem forms by a poet. See if you can find how and why they bend or break some of the rules of that structure.
Practice: Choose any one of the poetry forms in this lesson and write about something you miss. (Challenge: Try transforming that poem into another type of poem!)
You don’t have to go through this whole course today, just bookmark this post and head to Lesson 3 below when you’re ready.
Lesson 3: Modern Types of Poetry
In This Lesson
Last lesson was all about the classical, structured forms of poetry. This lesson covers more of the modern types of poetry.
These forms allow for more freedom when it comes to rhyme, structure, spacing, and even grammatical rules. This makes modern poetry more popular among young, aspiring writers, though it’s loved by all ages!
Free verse poetry has become more common in the current day. These poems don’t have a specific rhyme scheme or form, as the name entails. It’s the natural way of pouring words onto paper, letting the letters flow and create a poem by themselves.
Many aspiring poets write in free verse because it gives them more, well, freedom when it comes to poetry! Free verse poems can rhyme or have a structure that the author comes up with, or incorporate unique punctuation (think irregular spacing between words and letters, parentheses, jagged line breaks, and more). There are no rules when it comes to free verse!
E.E. Cummings is known best for his eccentric poetic style. Here’s his poem “The Sky Was” below.
The reverse poem is a unique poem,often written in free verse. Read normally top to bottom, there’s one meaning to the poem, often one that mocks society or the flawed way some people think. But read bottom to top is the opposite meaning, often the “true” meaning of the poem and/or the author’s take on the topic.
This type of poem takes time to master to ensure that the words flow and read like a normal. But the end result is fascinating and often inspiring!
Here’s an example of a reverse poem.
Spoken word is exactly as it sounds: poetry meant to be spoken aloud. It can be written in free verse, written in a casual kind of way, but often includes rhymes. This is the type of poetry often performed at slams and competitions.
Reading spoken word poetry is awesome, but hearing it aloud is another experience. Writing it can be tricky, to ensure the words flow like a normal conversation yet include the rhyme and meter of poetry, but the end result makes it worth it!
A great example of a spoken word poem is “Mental Illness: The Musical” by Ben Wenzl. The written poem is below, but make sure to listen to it here on YouTube. Hearing the spoken word aloud is a lot different than reading it alone, and brings much more emotion to the words.
Mental Illness: The Musical
mental illness the musical
but like I’m too sad to sing it
so that’s kind of a bummer
you know what else is a bummer
mental illness the musical
still that is like the tagline for it
it’s on the poster
mental illness the musical
it’s kind of a bummer
still it is a musical
it is not a straight play
I’m not a straight gay
I’m just a sad gay
That oxymoron it’s a tough sell
I get it you know we may not be on Broadway
but we are off off off off off of Broadway
however we were picked up those three different times
by an inpatient Recovery Center
that was very exciting
because it was like we had made the big time
and so with that we proudly present
and by proudly I mean
I guess I don’t know what proudly means
mental illness the musical
starring me in the role of understudy to myself
choreographed by sadness
costumes by mom
set design by the suburbs
before we begin tonight’s performance
we’d like to let you know that the role of college
will be played by me
also the role of work will be played by me
I heard me sleeping is probably
going to win it this year
like they better
I’m sorry you know I don’t know this part right
like I don’t think I’ve ever known this part
I’m sorry the directors yelling something at me
but I can’t hear them over the maracas
this is a very maracas heavy musical
oh I’m sorry those are maracas
they’re giant prescription pill bottle shaking
and so many heads shaking
I’m supposed to take every morning what
is morning somebody please tell me
why are there so many songs in this musical
why is the audience always empty
you know I’m sick of playing to an empty house
and I’m sick and I’m sick and I’m sick and I’m sick and I…
but I’ll tell you this
I’ll never get tired of watching that dream sequence in the third act
you know that monologue by me sleeping
it’s what sustains the show
it’s what makes being awake all right
and then just like the slowest curtain
Now you’ve learned about several of the modern types of poetry. Try practicing your own by completing the exercises below. Then continue onto Lesson 4!
Read: Read a poem by an author that breaks some of the rules of grammar or uses unique structure (E.E. Cummings is a good example). Why does the poet write like this? How does it add new meaning to the poem?
Practice: Write a poem taking a stand against something biased or unjust. Possible topics are beauty standards, racism, and stereotypes.
(Challenge: Transform it into a reverse poem or a spoken word and read it aloud to someone! You can try recording yourself to improve on the pronunciation and cadence of the poem.)
Keep in mind, there are many other types of poetry not mentioned in this class. Feel free to explore!
You don’t have to go through this whole course today, just bookmark this post and head to Lesson 4 below when you’re ready.
Lesson 4: Figurative Language
In this lesson:
What is Figurative language?
Types of Figurative Language
What Is Figurative Language?
Figurative language is a word or phrase that goes beyond the dictionary definition (denotation), having a different meaning or emotion attached to it (connotation). For example, take the word “chicken.” The word itself means a fowl. But if you say “You’re a chicken!” to someone, you’re not calling them the literal animal. You’re using the connotation of the word: a coward or weakling.
In the same way, writers use a variety of figurative language to convey images and emotions in a more powerful, unique way than using the literal meaning of a word or phrase. It also allows the meaning of the writing to be open to interpretation, a characteristic of many great poems.
Types of Figurative Language
There are numerous types of figurative language and other tools authors use to enhance their writing. Listed below are the most common ones used in poetry, along with examples.
Read. Read the following poems and identify as many types of figurative language as you can! How do these words or phrases affect the poems and their meanings?
Write. Find a poem you already wrote, whether it be from a previous exercise or elsewhere, and edit it to include at least three types of figurative language. Then evaluate your poem. How did this editing add on or change the structure of the poem? The meaning of the poem?
You don’t have to go through this whole course today, just bookmark this post and head to Lesson 5 below when you’re ready.
Lesson 5: Improving Your Poetry
In This Lesson
By now, you’ve learned how to identify poetry and its elements, as well as the various types of poetry and figurative language. You’ve read multiple examples of poems by famous authors and even tried writing your own. But as with any type of writing, there’s always room for improvement! Here are some tips to make your poetry even better.
Practice, practice, practice! The best way to get better at forming poetic lines and images is to continuously write poems. They can be about something as complex as life or as simple as the fun day you had yesterday. Keep writing, and you’ll slowly see your poetry improving! Having a goal in mind when it comes to when and how you’ll practice is helpful, too.
There are many great poets out there, many not mentioned in this class. Get inspiration from both classical and modern poets. They’ll give you ideas on not just topics to write about, but also the perks of different poetic forms and different ways to bend the rules!
Experimenting with poetry can be tricky, even if it’s no science lab. Sometimes, experimentation can make a new, beautiful piece of writing; other times, it turns out to be a flop. But you’ll never know if you never try!
Oftentimes, trying these unique techniques adds a new layer to the poetry, a creative side that wouldn’t be there without it. Whether it be irregular capitalization or jagged spacing, just try it out and see how it adds on to your writing!
- Include images and figurative language.
Not all poetry includes descriptive, vivid images, but a lot of the best ones do. Think of a metaphor or other form of figurative language that fits in with the mood or atmosphere of the poem, then incorporate it using your own special way. You can also try including strong, complex words that you don’t use everyday. It’ll only add beauty to your writing!
- Get advice.
Whether you publish your poem on a blog or take another poetry course, getting feedback is crucial to improving your writing. Criticism can be tough to accept, but remember, the person giving it is only trying to help you shine! Read the comments carefully, whether they be about your rhyme scheme, word choice, or images, and try rewriting some lines based on the feedback. If anything, you’re practicing more, which can only help!
- Take a break!
Writer’s block hits every one of us at one point or another. If you find that you have no energy or motivation to write a poem, that’s okay! Take a break and do something else you love, or try writing something else, like a story or journal entry. You’ll get your inspiration back soon!
Read. Read the poem below. How do you relate to the author when it comes to writer’s block? How can you apply the lessons from this poem into your own writing?
Write. In a poem of any form, write about a goal you have for your future poetry writing.
Congratulations! You have successfully completed Poetry 101 from The Penable Academy. I hope you learned something new or found a poet you enjoy, in addition to improving your poetry skills!
Remember, writing is a never-ending journey. Authors write not only to improve, but to continuously express their emotions and beliefs. You’ll find your purpose for writing, too, if only you keep practicing!
Best wishes on your writing endeavors!
Wardah is a writer, artist, and math nerd from the midwestern United States. She can often be found daydreaming out the window, pen in hand, ready to pour her thoughts on paper. View her work on silentsilverytears.wordpress.com.