Anatomy of a poem

Many people believe poetry is a highly intellectual art, which suggests if you aren’t an intellectual you can’t understand it.

As with any artistic forms, of course, it can be intellectual, but it can also be something accessible that anyone can enjoy.

How do I write my poetry?

I’m often asked, with almost a sense of awe, how I write my poems.  As if I write using some dark magical art!

There are many different ways I approach them, depending on the subject matter.

This poem, Autumn was written for a poetry competition on Instagram.

The rules of the competition, were to write within a specific poetic form: a Gwawdodyn (a Welsh form).

Quite often, I write in free-form, but I also enjoy the restrictions of having to write within a set pattern.

This form is a 4 line stanza (verse), with an A/ B rhyming scheme.  

The first, second and fourth lines have 9 syllables and the end of each line rhymes which each other. (A).

The third line, has 10 syllables and has an internal rhyme with itself. (B)

1 – xxxxxxxxx (A)

2 – xxxxxxxxx (A)

3 – xxxxBxxxxx (B)

4 – xxxxxxxxx  (A)

My steps to write:

Firstly, I think about the subject, in this case, my choice of Autumn.

I make a list of words linked with, or to describe Autumn. 

That helps to give me an idea of how I’m going to develop the story or feeling of my poem.

On this occasion, I decided to divide my poem into different aspects of the weather and how it makes us feel as humans.  

Next, because this poem has three lines that have to end with the same rhyming pattern, I chose words that matched my thoughts for the subject matter.  At this point, this choice of words is not set in stone, but they give me a starting point, along with the idea for my poems story. 

I start creating the lines of my poem, with my collected words.

Initially, I don’t worry too much about the syllable count, but just get basic thoughts down on paper. Creating an image or a feeling I want to explore.

Sometimes, the lines automatically end up with the correct syllable count, but you can work on that later, once you have a poem-skeleton.

(I’m lucky, because being a musician, when I read out the lines, I can feel the rhythmic pattern and if the syllables don’t match, I can generally tell.)

Originally, I wrote:

Autumn arrives whilst summertime grieves, 

Hoarding squirrels run like thieves, 

Ferrying nuts in their cheeks to bury,

Darting about in the crisp autumn leaves.

The first line was fine – 9 syllables.  The second line didn’t quite work. I only had 7 syllables.   The third line, I had enough syllables, but my inner rhyme didn’t work, because I used ‘ferrying’ rather than ‘ferry’ which was correct, to rhyme with ‘bury’.

And lastly the fourth line also had 10 syllables, whereas it should only have had 9.

Gradually, checking syllables and rhyming patterns, the poem took shape.

Reading poems aloud helps you notice mistakes; where you have missed a rhyme, or missed out words to make sense of the whole.  Also, if a poem doesn’t flow when you read it, you realise somethings not quite right. 

Have a go at writing your own Autumn poem.

If you would like to write poetry, but are either just beginning, or haven’t even started, I have a monthly online poetry group, called Lis’ Poetry Place. We share poems written by members, have fun with words, and write to monthly prompts which I set.  I give feedback to everyone taking part. Ultimately, after a year, I hope to publish an anthology of the poems created during the year.  We meet via Zoom on the last Friday of each month.  It is £10 to join.  Please message me if you are interested.