In the last Rhythm in Poetry lesson, we talked about the “iamb,” a two-syllable poetic foot with the stress on the second syllable. The reverse of the iamb is called the “trochee” (pronounced TRO-kee). Like the iamb, the trochee is a two-syllable foot. But instead of being stressed on the second syllable, trochees are stressed on the first syllable. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because we emphasize the “day” not the “to.” (That is, we say “to-DAY,” not ‘TO-day.”) But the word “candy” is a trochee, because we emphasize the “can” and not the “dy.” (It’s pronounced “CAN-dee,” not “can-DEE.”) Look at it like this:
Here’s a type of poem that absolutely anybody can write, even if you’re sure that you have no idea how to write a poem. That’s because it’s a poem about not being able to write a poem! You won’t even have to think up a title for this poem, since you can use the very first line as the title.
The key to success in writing this type of poem is to let your imagination go wild. Your poem might start off with an ordinary excuse, but as the poem goes on, the excuse can get crazier and crazier.
Here are a few different first lines you could use to begin your poem:
When poets write rhyming, metrical poems, they usually count “feet” instead of syllables. A foot is a group of syllables that, most of the time, contains a single stressed syllable. (Read Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, and You Can Scan, Man for more information about stressed syllables and poetic feet.)
Meet the Iamb
The most common poetic foot in the English language is known as the “iamb.” An iamb is two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because the stress falls on the second syllable, like this:
When a poems is written using iambs, we say that it is “iambic.” For example, the following line is iambic.
As I explained in Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, some syllables in English are “stressed” – pronounced louder or with more emphasis than others – while other syllables are “unstressed,” meaning they are not emphasized. Knowing this, you can create patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in your writing to create a rhythm in the words. Having rhythms in your poems make them more fun to recite and easier to remember.
To make it easy to spot the stressed and unstressed syllables in the examples I gave, I wrote them in UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, like this:
my PUPpy PUNCHED me IN the EYE.
The trouble with using this method is that it is awkward to write or type this way, and it makes the poem more difficult to read. Also, if you have a poem that is already printed on paper, you wouldn’t want to have to rewrite the entire thing just to show the rhythm.
Wouldn’t it be better if could make marks to show the stressed and unstressed syllables? Indeed, there is such a system that is commonly used, and it’s called “scansion” (pronounced “scan-shun”). The process of marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called “scanning.”
When you read rhyming poetry, one of the things you might notice is how the words often have a nice rhythmical quality. That is, there is a pattern to the rhythm of the words that makes them fun to say and easy to remember. Sometimes the rhythm is a simple one, and sometimes it’s more complex, but it’s not there by accident. Poets arrange their words in such a way as to create those rhythmical patterns.
When rhyming poems also have a rhythm in the words, they are much more fun to read. By contrast, rhyming poems that do not have a rhythm are usually not as enjoyable to read.
Over the next several lessons, I’m going to show you how to identify the rhythms in poems and how to write rhythmical poems of your own so that others will enjoy reading them.
A fun and easy kind of poem to write is what I call an “alliteration poem.” Alliteration is when you repeat the beginning consonant sounds of words, such as “big blue baseball bat” or “round red robin.”
Writing alliteration poems is a terrific creativity exercise. Not only is it an easy way to write a poem, it’s a great way to get your brains working. You’ll need to think of a lot of alliterative words, and then form them into rhyming sentences.
Writing an Alliteration Poem in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: To write an alliteration poem, first pick a consonant. It can be any letter of the alphabet except for the vowels a, e, i, o, or u. For example, let’s say you choose the letter “B.”
A poetic “form” is a set of rules for writing a certain type of poem. These rules can include the number of lines or syllables the poem should have, the placement of rhymes, and so on. Here are lessons for writing several common poetic forms.
There are many different styles of poems. These are not “poetic forms” because they don’t usually have firm rules about length, syllable counts, etc., but they are common enough that many well-known children’s poets have written poems like these.
When reading these lessons, you may come across some unfamiliar words. If you see a poetic term and don’t know what it means, you can always look it up in the Poetic Terms Dictionary. Poetry4kids also has a rhyming dictionary and a list of rhyming words you can use to help you write poems.
Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity to tell the people we care about how much they mean to us. The tradition of sharing our feelings by giving cards dates back to the 15th Century in Europe, and the messages were all originally written as poems!
The oldest surviving example of a Valentine’s poems is written in French, but the most famous Valentine’s poem of all is in English:
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you!
The best thing about this poem is that it is so simple to adapt by changing just a few words.
Writing Your Own “Roses are Red” Poem
Some people buy pre-printed cards, but homemade cards always mean a bit more, especially when you’ve written your own personalized poetry inside!
Tanka, which means “short song,” has been an important literary form in Japanese culture for nearly a thousand years. The original Japanese form of tanka had only one line of poetry containing 31 speech sounds—what we would call syllables. However, most tanka poems that are written in English today are broken into five poetic lines with a certain number of syllables in each line.
The basic structure of a tanka poem is 5 – 7 – 5 – 7 – 7. In other words, there are 5 syllables in line 1, 7 syllables in line 2, 5 syllables in line 3, and 7 syllables in lines 4 and 5. If you have ever written a haiku, you will notice that tanka is kind of like a longer version of haiku that gives you a little more room to tell a story. Here is one example of a tanka poem:
Concrete poetry—sometimes also called ‘shape poetry’—is poetry whose visual appearance matches the topic of the poem. The words form shapes which illustrate the poem’s subject as a picture, as well as through their literal meaning.
This type of poetry has been used for thousands of years, since the ancient Greeks began to enhance the meanings of their poetry by arranging their characters in visually pleasing ways back in the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BC.
A famous example is “The Mouse’s Tale” from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The shape of the poem is a pun on the word tale/tail, as the words follow a long wiggling line getting smaller and smaller and ending in a point.
The name “Concrete Poetry,” however, is from the 1950’s, when a group of Brazilian poets called the Noigandres held an international exhibition of their work, and then developed a “manifesto” to define the style.
The manifesto states that concrete poetry ‘communicates its own structure: structure = content’