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Writing a Poem: Creating Effective Imagery and Tone 
 
by Amy J. Grier May 26, 2005

Poetry allows us to use language as creatively as possible. When we choose our words thoughtfully, we have the power to craft vivid and effective imagery and tone.

Poetry is an art which allows us to explore our inner and outer worlds with the most creative use of language possible. Poets combine words in ways that in other forms of writing might seem nonsensical, inappropriate, or at least grammatically incorrect. We may write in incomplete sentences, choose whether or not to use form or rhyme, and put voice to unusual and unlikely ideas: how the color red smells, what sound a dandelion makes when someone steps on it, or what anger tastes like.

As poets, however, we do have an imperative to choose each word carefully. Word choice can significantly alter the tone, imagery, and entire experience conveyed by a poem. The following are a few tips that can help poets become more aware of the power of judicious word choice:

  • Play around with pronouns
  • Use the senses
  • Avoid cliché
  • Imagine senses and objects in unusual ways
  • Edit

1. Play Around with Pronouns

To begin, let’s put together the opening of a poem. For our first line, we’ll use:

I watch the sun set.

There is nothing wrong with using the pronoun “I.” It is a very useful word, and sometimes the necessary choice. But if you notice that your work nearly always begins with “I” or is written in the first person, take some poems and rewrite them using another perspective: “he,” “she,” “we,” or even “you” can entirely alter the energy and intent of a poem.

Consider our phrase—“I watch the sun set.” Here, we have the speaker of the poem telling us what he or she is doing. If we write, “You watch the sun set,” we have a speaker watching someone else as he watches the sun. Now we have two people in play: the speaker watching the person who is watching the sun. This adds immediate complexity to the poem’s experience. Will the speaker be writing about “you,” “the sun,” or both? Is the poem possibly about a relationship?

He/She watches the sun set” is similar to “you” in that there are two people implied: the speaker watching someone else watching the sun. However, it is not as personal as “you.” There is less of a connection implied between a speaker and a “he” or “she.” If the speaker addresses a “you,” there is more urgency in the tone; the speaker feels compelled to address this person directly.

We watched the sun set” provides a mystery as to how many people are involved—we only know there are more than one—and implies a connection between the speaker and the other person or people. They are all, including the speaker, watching. Be sure to choose the pronoun that best suits the intent of your poem. Each offers a different entry into the poem, and therefore a different tone and expectation.

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