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Evoking the Senses: How to Capture an Atmosphere in Your Poem

See Hear Speak

The best poems draw in their audience, and spark the imagination.  If you want to conjure up a complete world for the reader when writing about a particular place or time, you can call upon each of the five senses to create the correct atmosphere.

This short lesson will give you an example of how you can use this technique in your own poetry!

Planning Your Poem

First, you will need a topic.  This could be a time of year, a special day, a period in history, a favorite place, a scary place… any time or place that inspires you!  These can be real times or places from your life, or they could be things you’ve learnt about in History, Geography, or on TV.

Next, we are going to build some lines, so write out 5 sentence headings – ‘I See’, ‘I Hear’, ‘I Smell’, ‘I Touch’ and ‘I Taste’

Imagine all the different things you might see, hear, smell, taste or touch in your chosen time or place, and write at least one noun* by each heading.

For example, if I choose ‘Spring’ as my topic, I could write:

I See… blue skies
I Hear… baby birds
I Smell… flower buds
I Touch… new leaves
I Taste… easter eggs

Now we need a bit more description, so add the next part to each line: ‘The sight is…’, ‘The sound is…’, ‘The smell is…’, ‘The feeling is…’ ‘The taste is…’

Add a word to complete your 5 lines!

I See… blue skies.  The sight is…beautiful
I Hear… baby birds.  The sound is… chirping
I Smell… flower buds blooming.  The smell is… fresh
I Touch… new leaves.  The feeling is… soft
I Taste… easter eggs.  The taste is… chocolatey

When we are writing poetry, we can use a 6th sense – emotion.  So finally, add one more heading – ‘I Feel’. Is it a good feeling, or a bad one? Find a noun to name that feeling. (For example, if you are ‘excited’ the noun is ‘excitement’.  If you are ‘sad’, the noun is ‘sadness’) Spring makes me feel adventurous, so…

I Feel… adventure

Mixing it up

This is the fun part, that makes what you have written more interesting – you are going to chop up your lines and mix them together!  You need to swap round the underlined words in each line, and take out the middle part (So ‘I see blue skies. The sight is beautiful’ becomes ‘I see beautiful blue skies’)

Now you’re going to get really crazy, and mix up the senses!  (If you want to impress people with your vocabulary, the word for this is synesthesia).

You need to swap the first and the last heading, then the 2nd and the 5th, then the 3rd and 4th.

Putting it Back Together

My poem now reads:

Spring

I feel blue skies.
I taste the chirping of baby birds.
I touch fresh flower buds blooming.
I smell soft new leaves.
I hear chocolatey easter eggs.
I see adventure.

You may notice that I changed my second line slightly, so that it doesn’t sound like I am eating the baby birds, but tasting the sound they make!

Now you know the basic technique, you can adapt it to suit you.  Try a whole poem written this way first, but then don’t forget that you can use the sensory mash-up in other styles of poem too, whenever you want to create a particular atmosphere.  The more creative, the better!