How to Write Poems – Chapter 2: The Primary Parameters of Poetry

Contents | Chapter 3: The Repetition of Stresses

By “parameters” I mean the variables that go into shaping a poem. Read about the following parameters and think about which ones are important to you and how you might want to use them in your poems.

Rhyme: Will your poem have repeated sounds, or will your poem sound like ordinary prose, with only accidental rhymes?

Rhythm: Will your poem have repeated stresses that give the poem a rhythm or pace? Or will your poem have random stresses?

Line lengths: Will your poem have lines of uniform length (for the most part), or will your poem have varied line lengths?

Meter: Will the combination of rhythm and line length create a uniform line pattern, or meter? Or will each line in your poem have a random layout?

Vocabulary: What types of words will you use in your poem? Will you use simple, straightforward words, or will you use unusual—even archaic or obsolete—words?

Syntax: Will you use natural or standard English grammar and word order, or will you change things around so that there is variety and surprise in your use of syntax?

Figures of speech: Will your poem contain metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech?

Allusions: Will your poem contain references to other works of literature, or will your poem be relatively self-contained?

Point of view: From what point of view will you write your poem? Will you address the reader as “you,” will you take someone else’s perspective, or will you tell a story from the omniscient (all-knowing) point of view?

Stanza: Will your poem be one long series of lines, or will you split your poem into uniform stanzas? (A stanza is analogous to a paragraph in prose.)

Poem Length: Will your poem be long or short? Will it be pithy or expansive?

Each of these parameters can be used to change the overall effect of your poem. If your vocabulary is simple and your syntax is natural, then people will have an easier time understanding your poem. If your poem is short and concise, people might need to read it more than once to get your full meaning. If your poem has a regular rhyme and rhythm, then readers will have a better idea of what to expect next. If you use mythical or literary allusions, then you might need to address your poem to an audience whose members are generally familiar with your allusions. While all of these parameters are important when considering what and how to write, sometimes we simply have to let our poem take the shape that it wants to take, send our poem out into the world, and hope that it finds an understanding and appreciative audience.

Contents | Chapter 3: The Repetition of Stresses