In the last Rhythm in Poetry lesson, we talked about the “iamb,” a two-syllable poetic foot with the stress on the second syllable. The reverse of the iamb is called the “trochee” (pronounced TRO-kee). Like the iamb, the trochee is a two-syllable foot. But instead of being stressed on the second syllable, trochees are stressed on the first syllable. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because we emphasize the “day” not the “to.” (That is, we say “to-DAY,” not ‘TO-day.”) But the word “candy” is a trochee, because we emphasize the “can” and not the “dy.” (It’s pronounced “CAN-dee,” not “can-DEE.”) Look at it like this:
If you ever find yourself writing a poem that involves music, especially a list poem, you may find it helpful to have a list of musical instruments and musical terms that rhyme with one another. Here are some common ones that you could use:
Autoharp / harp / sharp
Bach / rock
Band / baby grand / band stand / grand / music stand
Here’s a type of poem that absolutely anybody can write, even if you’re sure that you have no idea how to write a poem. That’s because it’s a poem about not being able to write a poem! You won’t even have to think up a title for this poem, since you can use the very first line as the title.
The key to success in writing this type of poem is to let your imagination go wild. Your poem might start off with an ordinary excuse, but as the poem goes on, the excuse can get crazier and crazier.
Here are a few different first lines you could use to begin your poem:
When poets write rhyming, metrical poems, they usually count “feet” instead of syllables. A foot is a group of syllables that, most of the time, contains a single stressed syllable. (Read Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, and You Can Scan, Man for more information about stressed syllables and poetic feet.)
Meet the Iamb
The most common poetic foot in the English language is known as the “iamb.” An iamb is two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because the stress falls on the second syllable, like this:
When a poems is written using iambs, we say that it is “iambic.” For example, the following line is iambic.
As I explained in Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, some syllables in English are “stressed” – pronounced louder or with more emphasis than others – while other syllables are “unstressed,” meaning they are not emphasized. Knowing this, you can create patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in your writing to create a rhythm in the words. Having rhythms in your poems make them more fun to recite and easier to remember.
To make it easy to spot the stressed and unstressed syllables in the examples I gave, I wrote them in UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, like this:
my PUPpy PUNCHED me IN the EYE.
The trouble with using this method is that it is awkward to write or type this way, and it makes the poem more difficult to read. Also, if you have a poem that is already printed on paper, you wouldn’t want to have to rewrite the entire thing just to show the rhythm.
Wouldn’t it be better if could make marks to show the stressed and unstressed syllables? Indeed, there is such a system that is commonly used, and it’s called “scansion” (pronounced “scan-shun”). The process of marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called “scanning.”
When you read rhyming poetry, one of the things you might notice is how the words often have a nice rhythmical quality. That is, there is a pattern to the rhythm of the words that makes them fun to say and easy to remember. Sometimes the rhythm is a simple one, and sometimes it’s more complex, but it’s not there by accident. Poets arrange their words in such a way as to create those rhythmical patterns.
When rhyming poems also have a rhythm in the words, they are much more fun to read. By contrast, rhyming poems that do not have a rhythm are usually not as enjoyable to read.
Over the next several lessons, I’m going to show you how to identify the rhythms in poems and how to write rhythmical poems of your own so that others will enjoy reading them.
A fun and easy kind of poem to write is what I call an “alliteration poem.” Alliteration is when you repeat the beginning consonant sounds of words, such as “big blue baseball bat” or “round red robin.”
Writing alliteration poems is a terrific creativity exercise. Not only is it an easy way to write a poem, it’s a great way to get your brains working. You’ll need to think of a lot of alliterative words, and then form them into rhyming sentences.
Writing an Alliteration Poem in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: To write an alliteration poem, first pick a consonant. It can be any letter of the alphabet except for the vowels a, e, i, o, or u. For example, let’s say you choose the letter “B.”
If you are writing a poem, especially a list poem, that includes things a person is wearing, you may find it useful to have a list of clothes, fabrics, and clothing accessories that rhyme. Here are a few that I have collected:
Here’s a quick and easy poetry writing lesson that can be used as early as first grade. I call it a “playing with your food” poem. It’s a list poem about playing your favorite sports with your favorite foods.
Step 1: Create a list of five of your favorite sports, like this:
It’s famously said about writing that you should “write what you know.” Unfortunately, this can mean a lot of different things, and can be easily misunderstood. For example, you might think it means to only write about things you have actually experienced. But that would be like saying you can’t write about someone driving a car if you’ve never driven a car yourself. Obviously that doesn’t make sense.
So instead of telling kids to “write what you know,” I like to say that “the easiest thing to write about is your favorite thing,” because that is what you know the most about. If you love playing video games, you probably know a lot about them. If your favorite thing happens to be karate, or soccer, or pizza, you probably know a lot about that.
This doesn’t mean that your favorite thing is the only thing you should write about, but if you are ever stuck for an idea, just ask yourself what you like and then write a poem about it.
In fact, if you have a lot of things you like, you can even make a simple list poem of all of your favorite things. Here’s how.