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How to Write a Poem for School

by Anthony Fonseca

Writing a poem may be one of the most difficult assignments you will face as a student. Students new to writing poetry will find this nerve racking because they may view writing a poem as putting their true selves on display. Seasoned poets may not find an assigned poem provokes anxiety, but they may find the assignment specifics challenge them beyond their comfort levels or force them to change their styles completely.

Understand Poetry

The first step towards overcoming the nervousness of writing a poem for school is to familiarize yourself with the rules of poetry. They can help you to place the assigned poem into a larger context. You will learn that poetry does not have to be personal; like short stories and novels, poems can have narrators. This means that an assigned poem doesn't have to be about your life or feelings. You can choose a character to narrate your poem and write from her point of view. Knowing the rules of rhyme, rhythm, meter, fixed forms, free verse and imagism will make you feel in control of the poem.

Understand the Assignment

Some poetry assignments require you come up with your own topic. In such a case, using creative writing prompts are suggested by Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward. Other poetry assignments will assign topics that range from writing about a childhood incident, to writing about an important historical event that you witnessed, to writing a dialogue set in a barroom between two fictional characters (or perhaps two historical characters). Students who have taken poetry writing courses have faced these assignments, and even though they were thrown for a loop at first, once they started writing within the parameters of the assignment, they found that the poem took shape.

Take the Assignment Seriously

Sharing your poem in class is the best way to perfect it.

When you begin a poetry assignment, work on the technique it emphasizes. An assigned poem that calls for you to use a controlled pattern of strong (sometimes called perfect) rhyme, or one that requires weak (also called slant or imperfect) rhyme, or one that allows for free verse will teach you about a specific technique. Over the course of writing poems for classes, you will perfect techniques, especially if you research poets who use those techniques. This will make you even better at writing assigned poems, since emulation is an excellent method of learning.

Practice a Technique

Music students learning the bass guitar for the first time know that first they need to learn fingering, then hammering, then scales, then chords, and finally, they have to play in front of others to get feedback and advice. Writing poetry is no different. Poetry assignments in school are designed to get you beyond the beginning skills levels. One way to get better at writing poems for class is to practice writing your poetry, or at least practice the type of poem that an assignment calls for. Like all writing, poems should go through many drafts.

Share Your Work

The final step to writing an assigned poem is to compare and share your work with others. Group learning is advantageous in many fields, and in creative writing, it is essential. It allows you to get a larger perspective on your poem, and perhaps one of your classmates will help you find that perfect image or line that every good poem needs. The important thing to remember is that a critical comment is meant to be constructive and help you improve your poetry.

About the Author

Anthony Fonseca is the library director at Elms College in Massachusetts. He has a doctorate in English and has taught various writing courses and literature survey courses. His books include readers' advisory guides, pop culture encyclopedias and academic librarianship studies.

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