Poetry is a broad literary category that covers everything from bawdy limericks to unforgettable song lyrics to the sentimental couplets inside greeting cards. A poem is a singular piece of poetry.

  • Show, don’t tell. The goal is to provoke an emotion in the reader.
  • Less can be more. While it’s perfectly acceptable to write long, flowery verse, using simple, concise language is also powerful. Word choice and poem length are up to you.
  • It’s OK to break grammatical rules when doing so helps you express yourself.

The key elements that distinguish poetry from other kinds of literature include sound, rhythm, rhyme, and format. One thing poetry has in common with other kinds of literature is its use of literary devices. Poems, like other kinds of creative writing, often make use of allegories and other kinds of figurative language to communicate themes.

Chasing the Sounds

Sometimes poetry is most impactful when it’s listened to rather than read. Take the next example:

The Cold Wind Blows by Kelly Roper

Who knows why the cold wind blows Or where it goes, or what it knows. It only flows in passionate throes Until it finally slows and settles in repose.

Poets create sound in a variety of ways, like alliteration, assonance, and consonance.

Units of Poetry

Syllables are grouped together to form feet, units that make up a line of poetry. A foot is generally two or three syllables, and each combination of two or three stressed and unstressed syllables has a unique name.

One of the many kinds of rhythm is Iambic Pentameter which was used frequently by Shakespeare. An iamb is a two-syllable foot where the second syllable is stressed: duh-DUH. A pentameter means that each line in the poem has five feet or ten total syllables.

Not Everything is Stressed

Stressed and unstressed syllables aren’t the only way you can create rhythm in your poetry. Another technique poets frequently embrace is repetition. Repetition underscores the words being repeated, which could be a phrase or a single word.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.

Time to Rhyme

With poetry, rhythm and rhyme go hand in hand. Both create musicality in the poem, making it pleasurable to recite and listen to. Rhymes can appear anywhere in a poem, not just at the ends of alternating lines.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol

One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.


Poems are not formatted the same way as prose. Sentences end in weird places, there are blank lines between the different sections, one word might have a line all to itself, or the words might be arranged in a shape that makes a picture on the page.

A stanza is the poetic equivalent of a paragraph. It’s a group of lines that (usually) adheres to a specific rhyme or rhythm pattern.

Literary Devices

  • Figurative language
  • Juxtaposition
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Puns
  • Chiasmus
  • Imagery
  • Hyperbole
  • Mood
  • Motif
  • Personification