Finding Meaning in Poetry

meaning in poetry

Finding meaning in poetry.

We humans are programmed to find meaning in everything. We find patterns where none exist. We look for hidden messages in works of art. We yearn for meaning, especially when something doesn’t immediately make sense.

Of course, art is open to interpretation, and some of the best works of art have produced a fountain of ideas about what they mean. From the nonsensical children’s story Alice in Wonderland to the complex historical fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, we wonder what a story means, what it’s really about, at its core.

Poetry is no exception. When we come across an abstract or vague poem, we look for meaning in it. We might even impose meaning on it. Read More

Using Allusion in Poetry Writing

allusion in poetry writing

Using allusion in poetry writing.

An allusion is an indirect or explicit reference. In poetry, most allusions refer to other works of art and literature or to historical persons or events. Cultural references are also common. Although allusion is a literary device, it’s often used in casual conversation and other forms of communication, expression, and the arts.

A quick reference can encapsulate a broad idea; therefore, an allusion allows us to make a deep and meaningful statement with just a few words. This is especially useful in poetry, because poets often seek to use condensed language to communicate big ideas. However, allusion requires an understanding between the poet and the reader — a common and shared knowledge about the reference that is being made. Read More

Figurative Language in Poetry Writing

figurative language in poetry writing

Figurative language in poetry writing.

Figurative language says one thing but means another. However, figurative language does not intend to deceive. There is an expectation that figurative language will be understood and correctly interpreted by the listener or reader. We get the term “figure of speech” from figurative language.

In poetry, we frequently use figurative language, because it can be more meaningful, vivid, and expressive.

Let’s take a closer look at figurative language and how we can best use it in poetry writing. Read More

How to Analyze Poetry

poetry analysis

A guide to poetry analysis.

An expert is someone who has mastered their craft through a process of study and practice. Poets are no different. It takes years to become an expert poet.

An important part of studying poetry is analysis. Examining the form, content, and syntax of a poem helps us develop a better understanding and deeper appreciation — not just for a single work of poetry but for poetry in general.

There are plenty of means and reasons for analyzing poetry: we can isolate and examine various elements of the poem, and we can figure out how the poem achieves its effects. Through poetry analysis our comprehension increases; we may gain appreciation for a poem; and ultimately we gain deeper insight into poetry as an art form and a tool for self-expression. We learn what works and what doesn’t, and why. Poetry analysis helps us become better poets. Read More

Using Imagery in Poetry Writing

imagery poetry writing

How to use imagery effectively in poetry writing.

When we talk about imagery, we’re usually referring to visuals — whatever we can see with our eyes. In literary (and more specifically, poetry) terms, imagery is anything that represents a sensory experience, regardless of whether it’s experienced through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or hands.

There are various types of imagery that we can use in poetry writing, including visual imagery (sight), auditory imagery (sound), olfactory imagery (smell), gustatory imagery (taste), and tactile imagery (touch).

Poets use all types of imagery to make a poem come alive, so readers can feel it, and not just emotionally. Read More

How to Read Poetry

how to read poetry

Tips to enhance your poetry reading experience.

Have you ever fell in love with a song immediately upon hearing it? As soon as it’s over, you whip out your phone and purchase the song, and then you play it on repeat for the rest of the day until you know every note and lyric. It becomes your your current favorite, your latest obsession.

That probably doesn’t happen very often.

Usually when you hear a new song, you feel ambivalent about it. You don’t want to jump out of your chair and start dancing. The song doesn’t make you bang your head. You can’t sing along. You don’t care if you ever hear it again. But then you do hear it again. And on the second listen, you realize, this song isn’t so bad. Then you hear it again and notice an interesting lyric or riff. Then you hear it again and find something in the song that truly speaks to you. After listening to it a dozen times, the song has become one of your favorite pieces of music.

Sometimes we fall in love instantly and other times, things need to grow on us.

The same is true with poetry. If we’re lucky, we encounter a poem that immediately grabs us. But usually we need to spend a little time or make a little effort to truly admire or understand a poem. This isn’t the poem’s fault; in fact sometimes poetry that requires deeper reading offers the greatest payoff.

Anyone can open a book and read lines of poetry, letting the language drift in and out of their mind. When we put some effort into our reading practices, we can create a more enriching and rewarding reading experience for ourselves and become more skilled readers with a greater appreciation for what we’re consuming. Read More

Quotes on Poetry: Leonardo da Vinci

What is Art? What is Poetry?

For centuries, people have been asking what is art? Is art a question? An answer? An expression? A statement? Maybe it’s sheer entertainment.

It’s a question we must answer for ourselves, especially artists and writers.

I believe the best art entertains while it provokes thought or emotion, but that’s just my personal opinion. You might seek art that makes you laugh or fills you with awe. Some prefer art that is masterfully crafted, regardless of the content or messages it communicates. Read More

How to Improve Your Poetry Skills

poetry skills

Strengthen your poetry skills.

Poetry writing requires no license, no education, and no experience. All you need to get started is a pen and some paper. In fact, many writers discovered their calling because they were compelled to write poetry at a young age.

But there’s a big difference between writing poetry and writing good poetry.

Opinions about the art and craft of good poetry are many and varied. Some hold poetry to a high academic or literary standard. Others appreciate the fact that poetry writing provides a creative and healthy form of self-expression.

I believe that all poetry is good in the sense that anything that comes from the heart or anything that speaks truth is good. The poem itself may not win any awards, but the act of writing it can be mood-altering, healing, and maybe even life-changing. Read More

Quotes on Writing: Robert Frost on Emotions and Poetry

quotes on writing - robert frost

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ― Robert Frost

Emotions are fickle. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy, but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad, but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe. Read More

Breaking Grammar Rules in Poetry Writing

grammar rules poetry writing

Do you break grammar rules in poetry writing?

Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.

Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.

Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.

So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?

Good Grammar in Poetry Writing

I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?

Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.

Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich 

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules

Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.

Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for poets who choose to dismiss the rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.

Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.

Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide

As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.

Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.

I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.

What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing