Learning poetry, one stanza at a time

October 6, 2021 — by Sam Bai
Photo by Sam Bai

Deep ​​into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

These are a few lines from the poem “The Raven” by Edger Allen Poe. They are easy to read and understand, but not as easy to write.

When writing a novel or an essay, it is easier to convey what your theme is, whether it is a fictional story about aliens taking over the world or a history assignment about the Wright brothers flying their first plane. In poetry, however, it is hard to just jot down whatever’s on your mind and weave that into a poem.
Creating a poem takes careful planning, hand picking every single word to perfectly fit the flow and meaning of your poem.  In the end, you might understand it, but the reader might have no clue what you are talking about. 

It’s hard work, too. Remember when you had to write a poem for English class that was maybe 10 lines long? Remember how long that took? When I started learning to write poetry, I would stare at the blank piece of paper, jot down one word — if I was lucky — and stare at that one word for another few hours. 

After finishing one line, you can’t just start working on the next one. You have to make sure that the rhythm is correct and the poem rhymes, and you have to count the number of syllables. You can search online for what rhymes with what, but half of the time, the list of words will either make no sense in your poem, have the wrong meaning or ruin the flow of the line.

One day, while looking for a new hobby, I decided to  jump in and start writing poetry because it seemed like a fun distraction from school, with the added bonus of an end product to have others read. Writing poetry was difficult at first, like how a saw’s first cut into a piece of wood gradually deepens the groove with greater ease, but the more I wrote, the easier it became. Although the final product wasn’t perfect, I felt proud of myself for going out of my way to start a new hobby.

After writing that first poem, I searched online for inspiration about what to write about next. To my surprise, most of the poems I found had no rhyme and made zero sense. The words used in those poems sounded like they were included just to fit the needs of the poem. The words in the first poem I read were so long and odd that I quickly lost interest and scrolled to the next poem, as if I was scrolling through Reddit.

I also found the way poetry ignores English grammar conventions quite annoying. All of the award-winning poems had line indents and commas in weird places. One of the most basic English lessons is to capitalize the first letter of each sentence — but not in poetry, apparently.

Although it has been challenging, poetry has allowed me to be more thoughtful and less stressed regarding school work. Forcing myself to sit down and write a poem allows me to not think about school and homework but solely on what’s in front of me.

So if you want to write poetry

And you want to start it badly

Then go join poetry club

And have some English fun!