What is Poetry?

Poetry is a type of writing that is hyper-focused on word choices and rhythm, and it often uses rhyme and meter (a set of rules around the number and arrangement of syllables in each line). In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly. 

Poetry is sometimes meant to be read off a page, so the way words are arranged visually can vary from what looks like a paragraph to what looks like a list to what looks like a pattern or image. Each choice the poet makes about how they place their words on a page can impact the way the reader reads it. So those choices need to be intentional. 

Sometimes poetry is meant to be recited out loud by the poet. So how the poem is read or performed is as important as how the poem is written. This kind of poetry can often be heard in Poetry Slams.

To help get you started, read on to learn more about different kinds of poetry and see how you can start to write your own. You will find several links to read and/or hear various poems and poets, and find links to other helpful resources, as well as some activities to try! 

Before You Start

There are a few concepts to understand before you read on. We have created videos to help you with these concepts. You can pick and choose the videos you want to explore before you start or during your review of the material. Freewrite is currently available. Videos for brainstorming, prompts and creating word banks are coming,

Freewrite: In creative writing, we do a lot of free writing. It's a "free" type of writing that gets your creativity flowing. The following video describes what it is in more detail. 

Example Poems

To start, here’s a list of poems to read or experience that will get your creativity flowing before you start writing your own. A couple of questions to ask yourself for further thinking are included after each link. (Important note: There are no right and wrong answers to these questions! They are simply provided to help deepen your thinking about what you are reading and hearing.)

 

  • Dance, dance, dance by Princess Moo: (scroll down to where you see the title, dance, dance, dance).

    • What did you notice about how the words appear on the page? Did anything surprise you? Why do you think some words are italicized? Why do you think the poet chose not to capitalize her sentences?

  • Hearing That   Joe Arroyo Song at Ibiza Nightclub, 2008 by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

    • What did you notice about how the words appear on the page? How did that arrangement impact the way you read the poem? If you could speak to the poet, what questions would you ask? 

  • Had My Parents Not Been Separated… by Porsha Olayiwola: 

    • In this video, we hear the poet read their poem out loud to us. How did it feel to have the poem read to you instead of reading it yourself? 

  • I Wonder What Ricky Martin Is Doing Right Now by Anthony Febo: 

    • This time we hear and see and hear the poet perform their poem at a Poetry Slam. How did experiencing the poem like this impact you as the audience? What did you notice about the poet’s body language while he was performing? Did it add to or take away from the poem, in your opinion?

  • Queer Brown Planet by Amanda Torres: 

    • Even though the poet is writing in what could be considered science fiction, what real life experiences does she share with her audience? Why do you think she chooses to share real life experiences in this way? What impact, if any, does the audience response have on your experience of the poem?   

Types of Poems

There are many different poetry forms with their own rules and styles. With so many forms, it can be a little intimidating especially if you are new to poetry. So, we suggest you begin with these to get a feel for the possibilities:

  • Rhymed Poetry

Rhymed poetry uses a “rhyme scheme” to create a specific rhythm and meter in a poem. Rhyme can be defined as “the repetition of similar sounds at the end of a word.” Rhyme scheme can be defined as “the pattern of rhyming words at the end of each line of a poem.” Watch this video to see how this works in action. 

 

  • Haiku

Haiku (俳句 pronounced high-koo) is a short three-line poem that usually follows a 5-7-5 syllable structure. Haiku poetry was originally developed by Japanese poets, and is often inspired by nature, a moment of beauty, or a poignant experience. Haikus are meant to be read in one breath to feel the full affect. For more on haiku and some ideas to get you started, click here

 

  • Free Verse 

Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has no set meter, poems written in free verse can have lines of any length, from a single word to much longer. Most poets writing today write in free verse. For more on free verse, click here.

 

Try writing at least one of each to get you started. If you want to learn more, you will find a list of types of poetry here. Take your time to read through these types of poems. Find which ones you gravitate toward the most. Find examples of these forms written by poets that you like and read, listen, and take notes. Ask yourself why certain poems and poetry styles attract you? Is it about the words? Message? Rhythm? All of the above??? You can learn a lot about yourself as a writer by reading other writers’ work.

Now You Try!

Read the following prompts. Pick one and freewrite your response. (Remember, the process of freewriting to a prompt or a topic is a good way to get you started.)

 

  • Think about how you are feeling right now. Are you happy? Bored? Nervous? Excited? Once you are aware of how you are feeling, write about anything at all in your mind for 3 minutes. This is also known as a freewrite. Then, reread your freewrite after the time is up. Circle stand out words or phrases you wrote and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. Then turn those words into phrases or sentences to create a poem.

  • Pick a specific moment that stood out to you this week. Create a “Word Bank” full of action words, emotions, nouns, and phrases that describe this moment in as much detail as possible. Arrange the words from your Word Bank in a way that makes sense to you. Then flesh out those words into phrases or sentences to create a poem.

  • Write a poem about what your name means. It can be as long or short as you would like, free verse, rhymed, or haiku, but share the history of your name and what it means to you. 

  • Use Random Word Generator. Go to the site, type in the number 5 in the number of words box then click on Generate Random Words to get a list of words. Use as many of those words as you can in a poem. You can look up the meaning of any words you might know know at Dictionary.com.

Feeling inspired? Here's another site that has 22 poetry prompts to help you write your next great poem!

Want more? Here are a Few Poets To Enjoy

Find your favorite poets and pay attention to their process, themes, and style. This can help you develop a process and style that works for you. Here are a list of some poets to look into:

  • Natalie Diaz: Natalie Diaz is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe.

  • Porsha Olayiwola: Black: Writer. Performer. Futurist

  • Marcus Wicker: Marcus Wicker is the author of Silencer, poems that address gun violence and police brutality against African Americans.

  • Adobo-Fish-Sauce: Adobo-Fish-Sauce is an active choice to celebrate in the face of bitterness. It is responding to “Go back to where you come from!” by bringing where they are from right to you.

  • Javier Zamora: Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador in 1990. His work explores how immigration and the civil war have impacted his family. 

  • Amanda Torres: Write. Educator. Cultural Organizer

  • Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboa: Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah is a Ghanaian American poet living out the diaspora in Boston (Massachusetts).

  • Elisabet Velasquez: Elisabet Velasquez is a Brooklyn Born Boricua. She is a mother of two. ​Her poems are an exploration of her life. 

  • Eve L. Ewing: Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago.

  • Button Poetry: Button Poetry is committed to developing a coherent and effective system of production, distribution, promotion and fundraising for performance poetry.

  • William Nuʻutupu Giles: William Nuʻutupu Giles is an afakasi Samoan writer and arts educator from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.

  • Native American Poetry and Culture: Explore a multitude of Native American Poets.

  • Denice Frohman: Denice Frohman is a poet, performer, and educator from New York City.

 

These are so many wonderful poets out there, so this is only a small list. Go explore then when you are ready to write your own poems, submit them here!

 

Are you ready to submit a poem? Upload your poems here!