Poetry: The Poem as Craft - Overview of Poetic Elements

Contributed by:
Presenting poetic elements which evoke and expose meaning when crafting poems. When crafting poems, poets evoke and expose meaning, in part, by means of the following Poetic Elements: Music – Meaningful poems are pleasing to the ear.

1. The Poem as Craft: Poetic Elements
“She was in a class all by herself.
It is not often that someone comes along
who is a true friend and a good writer.
Charlotte was both.”
Charlotte’s Web — E.B. White
1. Overview and Definition of Poetic Terms —
Written by: Willow Hambrick ~ Educator, Literacy Coach, Writing Coordinator
Royal Spring Middle School Georgetown, KY
The most memorable poetry balances evocation and exposition. Poems evoke meaning and
emotion in subtle, figurative ways, and yet also expose or describe an image, an idea or a
moment more directly and literally to communicate meaning. Both evocation and exposition are
essential to effective poetic communication. When crafting poems, poets evoke and expose
meaning, in part, by means of the following Poetic Elements:
Music — Meaningful poems are pleasing to the ear. Poets use Sound Devices to interpose
music into their poems.
+ Alliteration — repetition of the initial sound in a line of verse
Assonance ~ repetition of vowel sound in a line of verse
Repetition / Refrain / Chorus / Anaphora
End Rhyme / Eye Rhyme / Internal Rhyme
Onomatopoeia — when the word mimics the actual sound
Meter — the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables
Emotion — Meaningful poems invite or evoke an emotional response. They have a distinct tone
or mood that may change as the ideation of the poem progresses.
+ Irony ~ When the unexpected happens, or is said
+ Satire— Making fun or light of a person or situation
+ Tragic / Uplifting / Astonishing / Mysterious / Mournful / Exhilarating / Joyful /
Humorous / Sardonic / Witty / Sarcastic / Playful / Depressing / Witty / Ominous

Imagery ~ Meaningful poems create word pictures in the mind of the reader or listener by
means of precise, unique, imaginative vocabulary, interesting word combinations
(juxtaposition / oxymoron), and by means of the following Figurative Language:
2. + Symbolism - When something represents something other than itself
+ Metaphor - The comparison of two different things without using the words like or as
Metaphors invite reader inference and active participation in the rendering of the
comparison, whereas a simile is a more direct, straightforward comparison.
+ Simile - The comparison between two different things using the words like or as
+ Hyperbole - exaggeration for dramatic effect
+ Understatement - purposefully downplaying a situation, event, or impact
+ Personification - giving inanimate objects life-like characteristics
Journey - Meaningful poems take the reader to a new place of knowing, seeing, or
understanding - like Alice down the rabbit hole.
+ Theme - The nugget of meaning; the vision, the life-lesson, the observation, or universal
truth about life and/or the human condition that can be made based on the experience of
the poem.
+ Reflective Thought - The essence that lingers after the poem's end / What remains to
ponder / What has challenged, inspired, or astonished the reader / how the poem changed,
enlarged, or enriched you as a reader. How does the poem resonate with you?
Meaningful poems have a form that complements the poem's intentions. The ordering
of the lines of verse adds significantly to the poem's effect and meaning, as does the white space
between the stanzas and words, the punctuation that is used (or not used), and even the way the
poem is placed on the page.
Free Verse or Classical Form?
The “type” of poem often dictates, in part, how the poem takes shape. Examples of
Poetic “types” are: ballad / haiku / limerick /sonnet /concrete poem /ode /cinquain, villanelle
epic poem /free verse / lyric
*A haiku has three lines and just 17 syllables / A limerick has 5 lines and a regular meter and
thyme scheme
*A conerete poem visually takes the shape of the poem’s topic or theme
*A sonnet has 14 lines, as well as the possibility of quatrains, sestets, octaves, or couplets.
*In addition, some poems have regular thyme schemes and rhythms that give the poem an
anticipated pattern and shape; and yet, free verse poems tend toward enjambed lines, and
a more spontaneous journey across the page.
3. Here are some other terms that help the understanding of “form” as a poetic element:
+ End Line ~ Where a poet chooses to “break” or end a line can add white space to a poem
that offers a pause, suspense, drama, or a time for the reader to think or to absorb a
moment of irony, humor, or pathos.
+ Enjambment— The poet chooses to end the line in a way that breaks the normal
expectation of where the reader might otherwise “break” the line. The flow of verse
simply continues into the next line without the break of a period or a comma.
+ Couplet — Two lines of rhyming verse intentionally meant to operate “as a couple.”
+ Stanza — How a poem groups and orders the lines of verse — for example two line stanzas
are called couplets, four line stanzas are called quatrains etc. Often, stanza breaks come
at a moment where the poem takes a turn, begins a new emphasis, or offers a kind of
pause or progression.
+ Intentionality of Placement — How individual words, lines of verse, or stanzas are
placed on the page enriches and complements the meaning of the poem.

The most meaningful poems communicate the following as a by-product of the
effectiveness of the music, emotion, imagery, journey, and form inherent in the
poem: Clarity / Complexity / Astonishment
Clarity - The purpose of all writing is to communicate effectively. Robert Frost says that the
poems with the most clarity and resonance "say the most they can in the fewest words
Poems reach for clarity in many ways, including the following:
+ Transparent - Poems that are easily accessible and easy to understand achieve clarity in
a transparent way. Narrative poems and many lyrical poems tend towards literal
interpretation. These poems are most often appreciated rationally, or with a simple
“taking-in” of the essence of the poem. With transparent poems, there is a danger of
over-manipulation of the reader's mind or emotions with over sentimentality, or there is a
lack of white space in the poem needed for free interpretation.
+ Translucent - Poems that are translucent are interpreted more figuratively than
literally. In translucent poems, there is an infusion of symbolism, metaphor, and
personification. The reader must be more reflective, intuitive, imaginative, and
thoughtful to ascertain the poem's deeper meaning. Much poetry we call free verse is
translucent in nature. A poem can be appreciated on many different levels. Sometimes
4. the beginning of a poem is more transparent, and then a poem moves into an area of
white space or translucence - and then the poem ends leaving the reader with something
to savor, re-visit, or think about. White space, or areas in a poem that invite reader
participation in ascertaining the poem's essence or vision, allow great variation in
interpretation. These poems tend towards intuition, and move a bit away from the
rational. Most well-remembered poems are translucent in nature at some point in the
+ Opaque - Opaque poems are written with such a sense of mystery, free association of
thought, or private myth-making and symbolism that sometimes even the most astute
readers have difficulty "taking in" the poem rationally. The beauty of these poems, or
poetic lines, lies in the realm of the imaginative, the intuitive, the metaphysical. Stream
of consciousness poems are in this category. Sometimes poems or poetic lines are best
appreciated for the stream of ideas and the sound combinations rather than for the reader
to come away with a logical, coherent, rational meaning. Carried to extremes, the reader
may leave the poem feeling isolated from the poem's "meaning" and intent.
+ Meaningful poems are richly layered and evoke a myriad of thoughts, feelings, and
responses. (See the discussion on transparent, translucent, and opaque.)
+ Meaningful poems invite the reader to enter into the poem and to add their own life
experiences and imagination to the interpretation of the poem.

+ Meaningful poems are literal and figurative, real and surreal, grounded in the every
day, and yet through metaphor and symbolism they transcend into areas of thoughtfulness
and contemplation.

+ Meaningful poems have Implicative Lacunae - a Greek term meaning to have multiple
layers of reception and perception. In other words, the best poems are multi-layered and
can be perceived and received by readers in a variety of ways to offer many different
interpretations and emotional and intellectual response:
+ Meaningful poems often have a surprising turn, a hinge moment, or a volta where
the poem takes a new direction, challenges the reader's expectations, or leads the reader
into the realm of mystery or white space where the literal gives way to the figurative.
+ Meaningful poems have one or more "meta" moments, or places where the poem
leaves the earth and enters into a higher plane of thoughtfulness or appreciation, again
where the literal gives way to the figurative.

+ Meaningful poems make use of the notion of caesura or dramatic pause, often by
means of a stanza or line break. These dramatic moments allow the reader to experience
5. the full power, intensity, or intention of a single word, or an entire line or stanza of the
Meaningful poems make good use of the liminal line - The term liminal means
threshold. The end of every line of verse is pregnant with possibility. There is drama, or
some type of anticipation that builds at the end of every line of verse. A poem with
effective line breaks adds complexity to a poem, and offers an almost intuitive level of
appreciation to the poem.
Meaningful poems generate astonishment. Astonishment often comes through irony,
dramatic moments, humor, or suspense. Often the juxtaposition of imagery, the push and
pull of line breaks, unique word choice, or the beauty of the poem's music adds to a
poem's astonishment.
The temple bell stops ~
but the sound keeps coming
out the flowers.
Basho (1644-1694)
(translated by Robert Bly)