Learn how to write a poem and then include it as part of a special occasion speech; wedding, engagement, birthday, retirement or funeral. An original poem is the gift that often makes the most vivid memories. Yes, you can do it!
Very little. Some paper, a pen, time, and willingness to explore possibilities.
You also need to put aside the inner critic - the voice murmuring in the background of your mind, commenting unhelpfully on what you can, and can not do.
That's the voice muttering things like:
Lock the critic in the backroom and throw away the key.
We're going to focus on how to write a poem in free verse, that is verse or poetry without strict rhyme schemes or meter. You will still use elements of poetic or figurative language for that is what makes your poem, a poem.
If you don't understand, don't worry. You'll find out more about poetic or figurative language later.
My understanding is that free verse uses most of the the attributes of structured poetry but in a non-structured way.
For example you will not find a regular beat or meter running through its lines. There will be no recurring rhyme scheme.
What will be present is the language we recognize as poetry. It will be precise, concise and condensed. The pictures it conveys will be concentrated.
As we read and experience the poem it will resonate on many levels, each new finding arising from yet another discovery of another level or layer of meaning.
At our first reading the poem is about "X". On the second and subsequent readings we find that the poem is about "X" as well as "Y" and "Z".
The story of the poem or its central idea has been compressed. It's only when we pause to unpack it that we find the rest. An image I like to describe the process or essence of poetry are these Russian dolls.
At first the doll appears as a single entity. It seems to be what it portrays. And then the unpacking begins and we see more and more dolls arising out of the first. This to me is the poetic experience, multi-layered and springing from one source.
Let's begin your voyage of discovery, the journey toward your own free verse poem.
The starting point is finding what or who you want to write about.
On a fresh sheet of paper begin a brainstorm. Put the trigger for the poem in the middle. This is the name of the person or event you want to write about.
Now without editing yourself quickly jot down as much as you can. You do not have to write full sentences. You do not have to spell correctly. Your job at this stage is to note down everything that springs to your mind.
It might be a color. It could be a sound, a piece of music, a way of smiling, a habitual phrase they used to say, a piece of clothing, the way they walked or talked... It is whatever comes to you.
Think of your senses; sight, sound, smell, feeling and taste. What you want is vivid representations for each. The more direct and specific the more evocative they will be.
Give every new or fresh idea its own space on the paper. You'll end up with a sun-burst pattern, your trigger (subject) in the center surrounded by raying clusters of words.
Here's an example. (Use your imagination and see the words "my father" in the middle of the page with the others scattered around them.)
tweed jackets, teacher, lopsided smile, ginger nut biscuits, sad brown eyes, jazz piano, empty whiskey bottles in the garden shed, glasses, books, summertime cricket
pipe tobacco, pipes with chewed stems, corduroy trousers, returned soldier, bedtime stories, impeccable table manners, clear speech, "stone the crows", Mood Indigo
Once you've done as much as you can, stop and review what you've got.
Whatever stands out is asking to be explored some more.
Allow yourself to free-wheel through your notes, adding whatever comes to mind. Again, DO NOT EDIT! You can do that later. For now you are playing, giving permission to your imagination to rumble through your memory treasure trove and bring back its findings.
From my example above
You'll find that you ignore some of the threads you started with in favor of others. That's fine. That's part of the process. You do not have to use everything you thought of. Go with the idea that pulls up the strongest images.
Here's the result of my playing with the "jazz piano" thread from the brainstorm about my father above.
At 2 am and
What had been minor was now
It didn't do for the Duke or my mother.
To hear me read Jazz Piano push play.
What I did was take the phrases I'd generated and arrange them on the page. I kept chipping away, changing them until I was satisfied. For example, my first draft began:
"At 2 am,
under my father's fingers black slid into white"
On reading this aloud and thinking about it I realized I hadn't got the main reason for the notes sliding into each other. So I started again. I wanted to get the whiskey in but I didn't want to say "he was drunk" because I wanted my experience of listening to his piano playing when he'd been drinking to come through.
Back to brainstorm again and I came up with "under the influence" and "slurred" in place of "slid".
The phrase "under the influence" means to be intoxicated and when a person is, they slur their words. In my father's case, in the poem, it was notes but the association was obvious and strong enough to use. I liked the rewritten opening a lot better.
The next two lines tell what used to happen and contain several "plays" on words. "Minor" and "major" refer to the keys a piece of music is written in as well as to the escalating annoyance my mother felt about my father's late night "under the influence" piano playing.
I included a reference to Duke Ellington in the last line because it was his music my father tried to play. This line is also a parody on a common English saying "It wouldn't do for the Queen." (It means not good enough.) It works because of the connection between Duke and Queen. Both are royal titles and both are royalty, in their own way. In placing my mother in conjunction with them, I've put her above my father. It clearly shows her attitude.
And I've imagined it wouldn't do for the Duke because he wouldn't like to hear his music badly played.
Does it work? Is it good poetry? Does it spring alive for you? Would I use it in a speech? Perhaps. It would depend on what the occasion was and who the audience were.
I hope you're ready to experiment for yourself. Get a blank sheet of paper and begin for that is really how to write a poem.
Below are explanations and examples of the more common figurative or poetic language devices. You'll find them in free verse as well as traditional poetry.
Some are "sound" devices that come alive once the poem is said aloud. Others are "image". You see them in your imagination. Once you've got a poem underway see how many of them you've used without being conscious of it.
They're fun and can help with theming or shaping a poem.
There is no one right "how to write a poem" way. There are many.
What I do know though is that once you start allowing yourself to really play with words it becomes addictive.
Go well. Try it and see. Dare to Write-out-loud.
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