Poetry is the kind of thing poets write. — Robert Frost
Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know. — Louis Armstrong

A poet is limited in the materials he can use in creating his works: all he has are words to express his ideas and feelings. These words need to be precisely right on several levels at once:

• they must sound right to the listener even as they delight his ear

• they must have a meaning which might have been unanticipated, but seems to be the perfectly right one

• they must be arranged in a relationship and placed on the page in ways that are at once easy to follow and assist the reader in understanding

• they must probe the depths of human thought, emotion, and empathy, while appearing simple, self-contained, and unpretentious
Download a 9-page PDF handout containing dozens of terms and definitions, neatly organized in an attractive format.

Fortunately, the English language contains a wide range of words from which to choose for almost every thought, and there are also numerous plans or methods of arrangement of these words, called poetic devices, which can assist the writer in developing cogent expressions pleasing to his readers.

Even though most poetry today is read silently, it must still carry with it the feeling of being spoken aloud, and the reader should practice "hearing" it in order to catch all of the artfulness with which the poet has created his work.

the SOUNDS of words

Words or portions of words can be clustered or juxtaposed to achieve specific kinds of effects when we hear them. The sounds that result can strike us as clever and pleasing, even soothing. Others we dislike and strive to avoid. These various deliberate arrangements of words have been identified.

the MEANINGs of words

Most words convey several meanings or shades of meaning at the same time. It is the poet’s job to find words which, when used in relation to other words in the poem, will carry the precise intention of thought. Often, some of the more significant words may carry several layers or "depths" of meaning at once. The ways in which the meanings of words are used can be identified.

ARRANGING the words

Words follow each other in a sequence determined by the poet. In order to discuss the arrangements that result, certain terms have been applied to various aspects of that arrangement process. Although in some ways these sequences seem arbitrary and mechanical, in another sense they help to determine the nature of the poem. These various ways of organizing words have been identified.

the IMAGES of words

A poet uses words more consciously than any other writer. Although poetry often deals with deep human emotions or philosophical thought, people generally don’t respond very strongly to abstract words, even the words describing such emotions and thoughts. The poet, then, must embed within his work those words which do carry strong visual and sensory impact, words which are fresh and spontaneous but vividly descriptive. He must carefully pick and choose words that are just right. It is better to show the reader than to merely tell him.

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