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Writing Poetry with Rhythm and Meter

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Justin Hibbard

on 18 September 2014

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Transcript of Writing Poetry with Rhythm and Meter

Techniques of Writing with Rhythm & Meter
Use words that extend past the natural meter
If you're writing in Iambic Pentameter or something similar, it's easy to use words with one syllable or even two syllables to make it fit the meter. Challenge yourself by using words that are multi-syllabic and extend beyond the natural meter. It will make your poem much less predictable and juvenile.
Use tortured syntax if necessary
Sometimes we can't quite get the poem to say what we want to say and still keep the meter and rhyme. The trick is to use what's called "tortured syntax." It's rearranging the words so they don't sound natural but say what you want to say while maintaining the rhyme and meter.
Alter your rhythm
Changing up the rhythm can add a dramatic effect to your poem. Instead of it being predictable, it can have dramatic pauses, be jerky, or speed up.
Writing poetry is like driving a car. Anyone can put a car in gear and press the gas. But not everyone has the finesse to ease on the gas, break, and clutch to make the ride smoothe. Rhythm and Meter are essential to poetry and learning how to control these can elevate your poetry (and all your writing) to the next level.
Extend the thought beyond the line
Even though you may need to end the lines of your stanzas with rhyming words, challenge yourself by not just ending the thought or sentence at the end of the line. Bring it through to the next line to avoid the sing-songy effect that can often label poetry as juvenile.
Creative Writing with Mr. Justin Hibbard
Control the speed of your work
Words, rhythm, and meter can act as accelerators or as speed bumps. By using certain rhythms and meters, you can speed your poem up, make it jerky, or bring it to a hault. Use these techniques effectively whether you're writing in poetry or prose.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
"A Dream within a Dream" by Edgar Allen Poe
Notice how the following phrase keeps the poem moving rather than making us stop at the end of the line and giving the sing-songy sound.
"How few! yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep."
Sometimes the most beautiful poetry is where you don't even notice the rhyme because the thought extends beyond the line.
My dear, I’ve painted thy face in my dreams
A thousand times before that my heart knows
And sees you more so than my eyes it seems,
As though your kisses compliment thought flows.
-Sonnet 13 by Justin Hibbad

She sees in me a castle sweet and strong
Of magical enchantment glowing bright
With brilliance pure, perfect, praised in song,
That never falters, rising tall, upright.
-Sonnet 18 by Justin Hibbard
Notice how the second line not only has 2 syllable words but also 3. Magical is a trophee word (stress on the 1st & 3rd syllables), Enchantment is a natural Iamb (stress on the 2nd syllable), and glowing is a trophee (stress on the 1st syllable). When words fall in between the natural stress of the poem's meter, it creates beautiful complexity.
"Of / ma /gi /cal / en /chant /ment / glow /ing / bright"
One type of tortured syntax is to use an apostrophe to add a syllable to a word or to take away a syllable...
Over (2 syllables)
O'er (1 syllable)
Removed (2 syllables)
Removéd (3 syllables)
Another way is to switch around the words in an unnatural way...
The stars and stripes
were streaming
over the ramparts
throughout the fight
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
thru the perilous fight
o'er the ramparts we watched
were so gallantly streaming
"Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key
If you're using a prescribed rhythm like iambic pentameter, you can use single words (like spondees) and trophee rhythm words as well as commas.
BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
"Notice how knock, breath, shine, and seek to mend" are spondees that break up the pretty meter. Most importantly the effect accomplishes exactly what John Donne is talking about.
-Holy Sonnet: Batter My Heart... John Donne
If you're writing a poem without a prescribed meter, try writing lines in different meters. This can add a dramatic effect to your poem.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This villanelle has an iambic pentameter meter to it, but in the final line - "rage, rage" acts like a spondee pulling us from the gentle meter.
Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night - Dylan Thomas
BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
-Holy Sonnet: Batter My Heart... John Donne
Single syllable words and commas can act as speed bumps.
Multiple syllable words, words that extend beyond the natural meter, and thoughts that extend beyond the line can cause the poem to speed up.
Repetition, conjunctions, and sticking to the natural meter can slow your work down and bring it to a resolved end.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
Notice how "so long" and "this" are repeated. Notice how and is placed right in the final sentence separating two independent clauses. This causes the poem to slow down and brings it to a resolved conclusion.
Notice how all of those single syllable words and commas give the poem a choppy, speed bump feel.
Sonnet 18 - William Shakespeare
I stare at heaven painted on your face,
A heaven full of wonder, far from here,
Which I can’t understand; too good its grace
To let my prostituted heart come near.

Notice how many of the multiple syllable words are trophees (stress on the 1st syllable), even though this is iambic pentameter. Some of the words are 2, 3, and even 4 syllables. Combine that with how the phrase continues beyond the line, and it causes the poem to speed up.
If you're using a anapestic or dactylic meter, ending with a trophee or iamb can help bring your poem to a natural close.
This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock
791. Evangeline A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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