One of the greatest factors in the impact and effectiveness of a poem is its perspective. By this we mean its subject matter, its voice, and the setting chosen to address the topic. Attention to these details can make a tremendous difference in the effect a poem has on an audience.
The first task that arises when writing a poem is to select a theme—in other words, to answer this basic question:
What will the poem be about?
There are no right or wrong answers to this question. The best approach is usually to write from the heart about whatever moves you at the moment.
But for those who are feeling low on inspiration, consider some of these prompts to get you unblocked:
- Take a walk and write about it.
- Write a historical poem in letter form.
- Write a poem addressing a current issue.
- Write a poem in honor of someone you know.
- Write a poem personifying the place where you live.
- Share something you want future generations to know.
- Write a poem based on a scene or an idea from the last book you read.
- Make a list of ten words that rhyme and use that as the basis of your poem.
- Choose a random word from a dictionary or thesaurus and use it as an inspiration for a poem.
- Set a timer for five minutes and write down every word, phrase, and concept that comes to mind without censorship; when the time is up, select a topic from this list.
You probably remember studying “person” in grammar:
- First person: “I” or “we.”
- Second person: “You.”
- Third person: “He,” “she,” “it,” or “they.”
Obviously, this is good information to have in the back of you mind when writing. (Of course, you can change viewpoints throughout the poem, but you may want to cue your readers or listeners.)
However, you have more options than this when it comes to developing your speaker:
- Your story can be told by an impartial, virtually nonexistent narrator.
- You can put words into the mouth of a historical character, famous or not.
- You can personify an animal and have it speak its own mind.
- You can assume the character of a fictional person that you have created.
- You could even introduce multiple speakers into the same poem and have a diaglogue.
Think about how your speaker fits into your theme. An independent or first-person narrator is quite common and versatile. On the other hand, introducing a less conventional character presents unique opportunities for exploring different viewpoints. How about a tale of the Pony Express told by a horse?
The setting is the place and time in which the poem occurs. For a historical poem, obviously the narrative will be set in a particular location and on a particular date (or range of dates). More imaginative works can occur in places and times you invent.
The big thing with setting is to keep it in context. People in particular places and times think, dress, eat, interact, learn, work, and play in particular ways. For accuracy, you will want to be careful to research the setting you are interested in. If you are creating an imaginary setting, you can develop it in whatever way you choose, of course. Just remember to be consistent and to offer tantalizing details here and there to give your audience the flavor of this unique time and place.
Also, be aware of the vocabulary of each place, time period, and way of life. Use dialect and colloquialisms carefully to avoid introducing incongruities.
Any given subject can be addressed with any number of moods and tones. When contemplating a powerful storm, for instance, we could easily focus either on its awe-inspiring majesty or on its tragic destruction.
Often a particular combination of theme, speaker, and setting will practically beg for a particular mood. A widow writing of death on the Oregon Trail will likely take a somber view of things.
However, a heightened effect can sometimes be achieved by choosing an unexpected mood for irony or contrast.
This is the stage at which you are most likely to give your readers offense, so exercise caution. You may have particular reasons for defying conventional sentiment, and that is of course your choice. But certainly don’t inadvertently cause unwanted angst through a slip of the pen!