How to Compose a Poem

Poetry is everywhere, in birthday cards, books, magazines, quoted on walls, and in plays, TV and movies. Most of us probably studied poetry at school, and maybe we were even encouraged to write a couple of our own at some point – but how do you actually compose a poem? Writing a poem can be scary.

Sometimes people compose poetry for school, sometimes they compose poetry for funerals, or for birthdays, or weddings. People write poems for special occasions, or to capture a feeling, or to convey a sentiment to a loved one in a poetic way.

Writing poetry does not have to be excessively hard because there is a probably a style that perfectly fits your needs and creative preferences! If you like short poems, try haikus. If you like longer and more complex pieces with rules try the sonnet. Also check out below for a guide to blank verse, rhymed, free verse, and the epic!

Read on for a guide to composing poetry: whether it’s a poem for family and friends, a poem just for yourself, or your ambition is to have your poem professionally published.

Firstly, Why is it Hard to Read Poetry?

Before you try to write a poem, it’s a good idea to read some poetry. Reading poetry can be hard for lots of reasons, but with some practice and knowledge it can get a whole lot easier. The main difficulties can arise if the poem is old! If the poetry was written a long time ago you might benefit from reading with a dictionary to help with unfamiliar words.

Sometimes old poems will also references historical events and traditions that we just aren’t as familiar with anymore. Try starting with some contemporary poetry if you are finding the poems you are reading just too hard to enjoy.

You should also check out of the definitions of the different poetic forms below. Understanding the rules of the poetry you are reading will help to make it easier to understand and enjoy poetry.

But the Poetry I Compose is Terrible

Don’t worry if your poetry is terrible. This is part of the process of composing a poem. First of all, it’s really hard to be a judge of your own work. Remember, composing a poem starts with putting pen to paper. Just get a first draft down in your preferred style. Then you can start to edit, and editing a page of text is so much easier than filling up an empty page.

You can also show it to trusted friends and family now for feedback!

If you want to have your poetry published, just do the best job that you can, and then submit the work and ask for feedback if you get rejected – this is the best way to learn.

At the end of the day, if you have enjoyed writing your poetry, then that is good enough. If it’s important to you that it gets published, there’s no better way to get this done than to submit and seek feedback. If you want to impress your friends and family, and perhaps your romantic partner, then make sure to read them your poems, and ask them which parts they liked the most. Then write more bits like that!

Can Anything I Compose be a Poem?

Yes, anything can be a poem. In the same way that anything can be a painting. But a painting usually has a surface on which paint is applied. So with poetry, there are usually words arranged in such a way as to best express the intention of the poet, using poetic techniques.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a poem as a piece of writing in which the words are arranged in separate lines, often ending in rhyme, and are chosen for their sound and for the images and ideas they suggest.

But we know that’s too restrictive, don’t we? Perhaps a poem is anything a poet writes, or anything anyone writes who has the intention to write a poem. Perhaps a poem is anything anyone refers to as a poem. The definition of anything can be stretched at the edges – and yet we know a poem when we see it, don’t we?

Guilty Question: Can I Become Wealthy by Composing Poetry?

Yes, poets can become wealthy. Shakespeare’s sonnets are one of the best selling pieces of literature of all time. There are hugely popular poets on Instagram these days including people like Rupi Kaur (see below). Unfortunately though, most poets do not become wealthy from their art.

What is the Hardest Type of Poem to Compose?

Some of the hardest types of poem include the epic poem (for its length and scale), a heroic crown of sonnets, a palindrome poem, iambic pentameter (or any form that is highly prescriptive / restrictive), and a villanelle. The hardest poem of all to write is one that the poet is happy with.

What is the Longest Epic Poem Ever Composed?

The Mahābhārata is the longest epic poem ever composed, at an astonishing 1.8 million words. It’s an Indian classic that’s about 10 times as long as the Iliad and Odyssey combined. So if you’re looking to settle in for a long night’s reading over a gallon of tea this one could be for you.

Can a Poem I Compose be a Question?

Yes, a poem can be a question. A poem is a difficult thing to define. If you see work laid out in what you would consider a poetic way, that is likely a poem. There is nothing to stop you asking questions in your poetry. Here are some of the best examples.

How Many Lines Does an Acrostic Poem Have?

An Acrostic poem has as many lines as the word that it is based upon. Acrostic poems feature lines whose first letter spell a word when reading in descending order down the page. So an acrostic based on the word Love would have 4 lines, and one based on Cat would have three.

Here is an overview of some of the major varieties of poetry! I hope you find the style that is a great match for you.

Are Haikus Hard to Compose?

Haikus are not considered to be hard to write. Although they are hard to do very well. The most common formulation of Haiku that you’re likely to encounter is the poem that is broken into three lines, with five syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five on the third.

Matsuo Bashō is one of the most celebrated practitioners of this variety, and you can see why in poems like this:

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond—

Splash! Silence again.

As you can see, this style of highly affecting poem can be written relatively quickly, and is a nice entry point for many fledgling poets. 

Are Sonnets Hard to Compose?

Sonnets are considered harder to Compose than forms like the Haiku, because while both have strict rules regarding syllables, sonnets are longer, and feature more rules.

This form of poem got started in Italy in the 13th Century CE, and early examples are associated with ‘courtly love’, or love for a Goddess-like and unobtainable woman, written notably by Petrarch.

Shakespeare wrote a particular variety of English sonnet which took the form of three quatrains (four line stanzas) followed by a final couplet, usually in the iambic pentameter he employed in his plays.

Iambic pentameter refers to the five iambs, or two syllabled ‘feet’ in each line of poetry.

So each line has ten syllables grouped into five lots of two syllables, with a short first syllable and longer second.

This is a challenging form to write in, but is very rewarding to get right!

The restrictions are also somehow generative. Here’s an example: 

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Is Blank Verse Hard to Compose?

This is metred verse (almost always iambic pentameter), but unrhymed! Perhaps surprisingly this is the most common form of poetry in English, with over three quarters of English poems reportedly composed in this form. This one may be a bit easier to get into than the sonnet! 

Is Rhyming Poetry Hard to Compose?

Rhyming poetry can be thought of as being both very challenging, and is also regarded as an easy form of poetry. This is because the rhymes can be simple, like ‘The Cat Sat on the Mat.’ Or far more complex, so that the challenge itself forms part of the joy.

About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

Rhymes perhaps work particularly in children’s poems, and short satirical or ribald forms, like Limericks.

The rhyme can give comic emphasis, such as in The Man From Nantucket.

There are lots of rhyme schemes to play around with such as ABAB where the lines marked A rhyme, and the lines marked B rhyme.

Are Epic Poems Hard to Compose?

Yes, epic poems are hard to Compose. Ready to take on a longer tale? Try the epic poem! There are plenty of contemporary poets writing longer poems that relate a narrative. Some of the most famous authors of all time are acclaimed because of the gigantic challenge that epic poetry offers.

Some people give the epic a very specific definition such as Meyer’s “An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the mortal universe for their descendants, the poet and their audience, to understand themselves as a people or nation.”

Sometimes contemporary epics are called verse novels such as Les Murray’s Fredy Neptune: 

Is Free Verse Hard to Compose?

Free verse is not considered to be hard to Compose. You can Compose what you want, however you want, whenever you want. Sometimes poetry with no rules is not as impressive to some people, but is even more impressive to others because it foregrounds connection with reader.

See Hera Lindsay Bird (NSFW) for some examples!

How to Compose an A+ Poem for a Creative Writing Class

Composing anything creative takes more than just the ability to string together words — it requires finesse, time, and a well-used thesaurus.

Poems come in all varieties, and markers are used to seeing everything from the most simplistic rhyming quatrain to complex pieces that wouldn’t strike the everyday reader as poems at all. If you want to get the A, you’re going to need to pull out the skills of a professional poetry composer.

An A-grade poem uses exposition economically. Instead of explaining every detail or spelling out each scene and the emotions it triggers, a well-received poem gives hints.

Sure, sometimes certain events have to be explained, but the greats know how to show the reader a scene without telling them exactly what they’re seeing. Showing vs. telling is a technique used in all forms of upper-level creative writing.

A poem deserving of an A should be engaging, with an original voice and point of view. The reader should have the sense that the author discovered something while writing the poem, and that ability to discover something with the author will pull the reader farther into the poem and make them feel more attached to it.

The reader needs to be able to relate to the poem and feel a deep connection to what the author is describing, even if they’ve never experienced it before.

In order to accomplish this, you have to really focus on constructing your sentences and lines in a way that is both coherent and interesting. Many poets achieve this by using melodic poetry — that is, they write their poems in such a way that they have a rhythm and melody, not unlike lyrics.

This rhythm can tie a poem together, but beginner poets should understand that rhythm does not mean structure.

Structural poems focus on having accents and rhymes in the same places; they have patterns. Rhythmic poems have a beat throughout that can sometimes change depending on the intensity of emotions the poet wants the reader to experience.

A true A+ poem should be complex, and there should be multiple interpretations possible. If the only thing your professor can get from your poem is that you went to the zoo, you’re doing something wrong.

You need to link it to something else, whether in your life or another’s, to give the poem depth. It doesn’t have to be an intense link, but there should be something else there to make the reader pause. You want them to be thinking about your poem long after they read it.

Finally, it is important to remember that a great poem isn’t necessarily separated line-by-line. Some of the most popular poems are actually prose poems, which are structured much like a flash fiction piece or short story.

They are set in paragraphs, not lines, and they can utilize the same jump-cut techniques found in filming. Creating a true work of art is difficult and time-consuming. Don’t expect to have an A+ piece without plenty of thought, practice, and rewriting.

Writing poetry is a craft, and should be treated as such.

One Last Piece of Poetry Composing Advice for Class?

Remember your audience. You aren’t writing for a friend or your classmates — you’re writing for your professor. Revise, revise, revise. Take your time, think it through, and you’ll get the A.

See some of the best ways to write obstacles here!

We believe in the importance of literature and new writing. If you have a story or poem ready to go, make sure to take a look at our Letter Review Prize for Short Stories, and Prize for Poetry. Both offer great prize money, and publication at Letter Review. All entries are considered for publication. You can also submit to our regular submissions all year round.