Poetry Craft Lessons Structure


Line breaks are important to free verse poetry. There are no set and fast rules for where to break a line in free verse.

Rules of thumb for line breaks:

  • Keep words that belong together on the same line.
  • Sometimes your line ends with punctuation, but often the words will run over to the next line.

Break a line when you want to do the following:

  • Emphasize a word or phrase–put it at the end of a line or possibly on a line by itself.
  • Create suspense or surprise but carrying a word or phrase to the next line
  • Create a desired visual effect with the alignment of your lines
  • Create a feeling that seems intuitively right to you.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you must have reasons for putting certain words on certain lines. Make sure that when you revise you pay attention to line breaks. A good way to do this is to read the poem aloud carefully. You will hear things you would likely miss otherwise.

Model Poems: Notice and observe the line breaks


Additional poems for observation of line breaks:

A Process to To Help You With Line Breaks:

Write your piece out like prose first if you need to. Tinker with the words sharpening the images and language. Put a slash mark where  you think line breaks might go. Put the words on your document in a form with your line breaks.  Rearrange and revise further. Change breaks or lines to fit your larger purpose and effect.

YOU TRY: Write your poem making purposeful, improved line breaks in your poems from here on out. Your poem should be eight lines or more. Choose one of the topics below.  Use vivid sensory details that bring out the picture images.  Each line should have a strong image. The poem should make sense on a literal/ concrete/physical level, as well as the thematic /symbolic level. Use the  poetry toolbox and the Six room poem brainstorming tool to help you get going.

  • Write your own confession poem based on William Carlos William’s poem, “This is Just to Say,” This is the one I suggest you do if you feel you’re stuck. Use the same title, but pick your own topic of something to “apologize” for.
  • FIVE WORDS you use the five words given here to create a poem. See this Google Presentation of images to help you find words.
  • Charades,” William Stafford. Read the poem here and then use its structure to help you write your own poem.
  • Write a poem about a food, see examples of food poems here: “The Olive Tree,” by Frank Gaspar, also “Ode to the Watermelon,” by Pablo Neruda. “Blackberry Eating,“Galway Kinell.
  • Write a poem about something you dream of, see an example of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Dream Variations,” and imitae it or build your own idea off of it.
  • Write a definition poem, define something, and use these poems as a model to help you: “Leisure,”W. H. Davies,  “All the True Vows,” David Whyte, “Her Smile,” Michael L. Newell.

THE POET’S CRAFT LESSON: Shaping the poem–stanzas, sections

Skill focus: Stanza breaks and Structure: overall purpose, line breaks, cutting extra words, words that fit the purpose– specific images and word choices, use of concrete language.

Stanza Breaks: what they are and how to use them. Example: “Until I Saw the Sea,” Lilian Moore

Sections in a Poem. Example: Looking at something from different perspectives: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Wallace Stevens

Other Model poems poems with stanzas

Other Model poems with sections:

You Try:

  • Write a poem about how something in nature transforms. Each stage in the transformation can be a different stanza.
  • Write a poem in which you try and understand something you are curious about. See this poem, “Atlantis–A Lost Sonnet,”by Eavan Boland for an example.
  • Postcard Poem. Write a poem with sections in which each section shows a different view, like a different post card of the place. For example, show the place in different seasons, from different times of day, from different peoples perspective who are different ages or different occupations. Example student postcard poem: “Postcards from Canada,” a student poem.
  • Place Poems. Write about a place you and your family have visited or taken a special trip to. You might write a poem about a sculpture you seen in a city.  Look at a photo of the place or a post card if you have one and create a word bank of the place using your five senses to help you get started. Example and additional idea: “Root Cellar“–a poem with some guidelines for you to use. Another example: “The Sacred,” by Stephen Dunn, a poem about a car. A student example: “A Home Amongst Trees.”
  • Silent Loud Eternal,” a poem using sections. Write a poem with sections in which you show three silent things three loud things and three eternal things about your topic. Create a new section for each of the different perspectives (silent, loud, eternal.)
  • Thirteen Ways Poems. Write about an object from different perspectives using Wallace Steven’s poem as a model.

Concrete poetry:
Concrete Poetry

Model concrete poems:

You Try:

Lesson: The Poet’s Craft Skill focus:  SOUND PATTERNS and REPETITION, METER and RHYTHM


Poetry is sound–other things too, but sound is important to writing a poem–individual sounds and the sound together that create the music on the page. Read words aloud. Listen to sounds. Collecting words can make you more attentive to the sounds of words.

Repetition. Helps hold a poem together and create music. Example: The Dragons are Singing Tonight. Poe’s poem, Annabelle Lee, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem, I Am Waiting.

Types of Repetition Repetition can be used with a word, line, phrase, or stanza. Repetition can emphasize an idea, a feeling or a structure.

Meter: is the number of beats in a line. You can feel the beat by where the accented and unaccented syllables fall.  The combination set of syllables is called a foot. Here are some examples:

iamb            tee TUM
trochee      TUM tee
anapest      tee tee TUM
dactyl          TUM tee tee
spondee     TUM TUM
pyrrhic       tee tee  (this type of pattern is usually followed by a spondee, thus creating a unit of two feet)

Model Poems:

Poems that contain repetition for emphasis:

Chant poems

Poems with Formal Repetition Patterns:

Use of repetition in music:

Now You Try:

Lesson 9: The Poet’s Craft: BEGINNINGS ENDINGS and TITLE


Model poems:

You Try:

POETRY READING LESSON: Focus: Noticing Compare and Contrast While Reading Poetry

Mini-Lesson Example Poems:

  • “Oh, When I Was in Love With You,” A. E. Houseman. What words define the before state. What words define the after state? Where are the turn lines. What’s the main idea?
  • Every Cat Has a Story,” Naomi Shihab Nye. (Compare and contrast the attributes of the cats described in the poem. What is suggested about the cats through the details given? Make a claim for two to three of the cats described. What lines show these ideas?)
  • What We Might Be, What We Are,” J. Kennedy
  • Sideman,” Paul Muldoon reads his poem.
  • “Famous”, Naomi Shihab Nye Is this a poem that shows contrast?

More challenging poems of comparison:

Partner work turn and talk:

Compare and contrast the attributes of the main subject of the poem in one of the poems below:

  1. “When it is Snowing,” Siv Cedering Compare and contrast the sensory details in the poem. What idea about the subject is suggested or inferred?
  2. “Poppies,” Roy Scheele Compare and contrast the sensory details in the poem. What idea about the subject is suggested or inferred?
  3. “We Lived Happily During the War,” Ilya Kaminsky (What does the poem look like on the page? Design and white space. Mood. Surface and deep levels, theme. Implied contrast?)
  4.  “Curtains,”  Sandra Cisneros (What does the poem look like on the page? Design and white space. Mood. Surface and deep levels, theme. Implied contrast?)

Individual work:

Compare and contrast the way the author talks about the two roads differently. What is happening on the surface level? What is the poem about on the deeper level? What theme or idea about the topic the writer is suggesting?Make a claim.  What lines lead you to this idea and show your claim? How does the one writer develop his/her idea about the subject through line breaks, white space, word choice, imagery, sounds of the words, poetic devices, figures of speech, symbols, or other elements?

  1. The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost
  2. “My Papa’s Waltz”, Theodore Roethke

Now you try writing a contrast poem:

You might try your own idea of a contrast poem using the following suggestions as a starter. Use the  poetry toolbox to help you get going.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s