Let’s get started with a confession: I don’t like poetry. Even though I’m married to a man who loves it, who would read it to me on rainy nights over a glass of wine…I just don’t enjoy it.
But poetry can express ideas and emotions in a way that prose can’t. So over the years, as I’ve worked with my children on creative writing, I’ve also made an effort to include poetry.
I don’t particularly care if they write good poetry. I simply want to introduce the art form so they aren’t intimidated by it, just in case they turn out to love it later in life. So when I’m guiding children in writing a poem, I start with this liberating truth:
Poems don’t have to rhyme. This fact is usually a revelation, since our normal exposure to poetry is in songs and nursery rhymes. When I found out about acrostics, anagrams, cinquains, free verse, haiku, and other forms that didn’t require rhyming, I was more willing to try my hand at it. The poems come out a little less trite, even with children.
Here’s a quick rundown of the forms I enjoy playing with.
Acrostic. Each line of this poem begins with the letter of one word. It’s an easy “idea guide” for elementary-aged children. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. Mine usually aren’t.
Apples and pumpkins
Lattes for Mom
It’s tempting, by the way, to have kids form an acrostic with their names, but think through that first. It’s fine for someone like me with only four letters to deal with, but I always felt sorry for that girl in my class named Khaliah.
Anagrams. An anagram is a word or phrase created by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. Some people are naturally good at this trick; I myself have to use the internet.
The wind sent the leaves hustling in the sunlight.
The cold air whispers a cordial welcome to winter.
This form, which is best for middle-school and high-school students, explores the sheer joy of playing with words.
Cinquain. A cinquain is my favorite way to help a child create a poem. It consists of five lines; the easiest format is based on word count:
First line = 1 word
Second line = 2 words
Third line = 3 words
Fourth line = 2 words
Fifth line = 1 word
Red and yellow
The cinquain is very versatile. You can focus on word count, syllables, or parts of speech.
Free Verse. The favorite of all budding poets. Free verse is an “open form” that doesn’t depend on meter, syllables, rhyme, or any other pattern. It’s an ideal form for vivid imagery and pairing unexpected ideas.
I’m too old to write free verse unselfconsciously, so here’s one written by my 11-year-old, Sparkler. It’s based on characters for a story she’s working on. Because of the repeating refrain, it might not technically be free-verse, but it does show how the poet isn’t concerned with syllable count, rhyme, or rhythm.
I stand on the battlefield, the same one where I lost one friend, and gained another. I grasp my bow tightly, as I stand, hesitant.
I look at my two friends who are prepared, able,
I close my eyes. Focus. Focus! I put all my effort into enchanting my arrow.
I load my bow.
I point it at the four-winged villain.
I hesitate. She’s evil, but she’s my old friend’s friend! No, shoot!
My only thought I let fill my mind:
I release the flaming arrow.
A feeling fills my heart and brain. Not physical, but still,
Haiku. This Japanese poetry is deceptively simple. A haiku consists of three lines with the following syllable count:
First line = 5 syllables
Second line = 7 syllables
Third line = 5 syllables
Traditional haiku mention seasons or nature, but the form is very adaptable. It’s great for teaching syllables, and helping even kindergarteners create “real” poetry.
The sunset’s colors
Blaze pink and orange and blue
And then dim to gray.
(You could even use haiku as the title of a blog post about poetry. I bet whoever did that thinks she’s pretty clever.)
Poetry comes in hundreds of forms; you can have a lot of fun exploring them with your children. Even if you don’t like poetry, your child might. You can be the one to introduce this art that touches the soul and can change the world. And you don’t even have to rhyme.
Who is a favorite poet of yours?
*Copyright D. Jones 2017
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.