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by Gail Ghai

A         CONTENT

  • Try going for the singular.  A single rose is more powerful than a bouquet.

  • Begin with the concrete and then work into the metaphor & use a central metaphor.

  • Use specific images, not a sparrow but a Song sparrow. 

  • Be prepared to cut what isn’t necessary.  Often this means the first 3 lines & the last 3 lines of the poem.  Sometimes a poet will need a warm-up before the poem begins.  Also, poets tend to write a summary in the last few lines whereas the poem ended earlier. Change the verbs to active verbs.  Use descriptive nouns.  Remember that nouns and verbs are the heart/blood of the poem.

B         SOUND

  • The poem is a musical construction.  It must have a unity of sound.

  • Try to include repetition and/or alliteration.

  • Sound can determine the mood/line breaks/movement in the poem.

  • Vowels go up thus creating a lighter mood: “The long hours go by/I think of those who love me.

  • Consonants, particularly, d, k, t, have a hard sound thus the mood goes down: “Picked up the cold-drill/Pick, singlejack and sack of dynamite.”



  • Whether using Simile (A is like B), “the kingfisher strikes like passion” or Metaphor (A is B), “Happiness is the uncle you’ve never met” the results should be unexpected.

  • When using metaphor, focus on a central metaphor.



  • Read the poem aloud.  When you reach a natural breath pause, put in a line break.

  • Keep words with similar sounds on the same line.  It builds music in the poem.

  • Try to get a surprise with your line break. 

  • Don’t end the line on a weak word such as: and, or, in, etc.

  • Enjambed (the running on of the thought from one line or stanza to the next without a syntactical break) is a powerful way to push the poem forward.  Run the lines into each other, but they must carry a similarity of content, sound, image or emotion.

E          LANGUAGE

  • There are two kinds of language in a poem, imagery and discourse.  Take out the explanation; this is prose.  If the language is weak, the content is weak.

  • The language should energize and mirror the content.

  • Find the best part of the poem and use that language to carry it.

  • Try to surprise in your poem.  The meadow should not be beautiful but unfriendly.



  • Dialectic Method: Question & Answer.  Ask a question; “What could I do?”  Then answer it later in the poem: “But laugh and go.”

  • Anaphoric Method: repetition of the same words at the beginning of a stanza to achieve an artistic effect)

  • Use conjunctions while or as to build parallel happenings.

  • Use but to build contrast which adds tension to the poem.

  • Use the inside/outside technique.

  • Use active verbs to add action and movement in the poem.


G         TITLES

  • Name the poem after it’s finished not before.  It may take another turn.

  • The title should not give away any surprises in the poem.  It should pull the reader in, but not tell everything.

  • Numbers always intrigue a read.  Add a number to your title.  For example: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

  • Add some tension in the title to make it more interesting.  For example: “The Yellow Finch” is not that interesting, but “The Trouble Making Yellow Finch” gets our attention.

  • If stuck for a title, try using one of the strong lines in the poem or use the first line as the title. 


by Gail Ghai


The good news about the rules of free verse poetry is that there are no rules. There is no set rhythm, no rhyme, no strict meter. As Robert Frost noted: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” Thus, the student writer is able to avoid rigid structures that inhibit their ability to express themselves, often forcing them to write the word “moon” because it rhymes with “spoon” rather than finding the word that best expresses their thoughts and feelings. Poetry is after all, the perfect word in the perfect place.


Students tend to write more serious, personal poetry with free verse because they do not need to concentrate on form, and expression comes easier and more powerfully. In addition, most major contemporary American poets do not rhyme their poems. When students realize that free verse is an important, accepted form, they take to it quite naturally and enthusiastically.

And when students understand that any subject or topic can become a poem, they feel free to dig in and write.

Here’s an example of free verse with an ordinary subject, a fork, written by Charles Simic who turns it into the extraordinary, a poem.



This strange thing must have crept

Right out of hell.

It resembles a bird’s foot

Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,

As you stab with it into a piece of meat,

It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:

Its head which like your fist

Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

So encourage your students to “play with the net down,” and be amazed

at their outpouring.

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