Food For Thought believes that a writer exists in each and every one of us. By offering knowledge with the hope of motivating you to explore new folds of poetry, Food For Thought seeks to broaden the horizon of what we see as possible to write. Today, we’ll be building upon the fundamental basics of stanzas covered in a previous article (which can be found here: https://electrifyinglylit.com/2021/02/17/back-to-basics-stanzas/).
From personal experience, I know all too well that writing stanzas can be easier said than done. There’s been plenty of times in my two years of writing poetry where stanzas have never come out in a well-rounded, professional sort of way. For every good stanza, it’s felt like I’ve written nine bad ones too—left abandoned across the metaphorical cutting room floor.
Obviously, it gets frustrating at times. You have all these images and ideas stuck in your head, but the outlets for them can feel sealed at times. Some of this is all part and parcel of writing, but most of the frustration can be avoided. How, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve acquired quite a few tricks of the trade from my university days when it comes to getting stanzas flowing. The techniques I’ll be sharing with you below have been passed from one generation of writers to the next, all of them are tried and true ways that might give your stanzas some direction to the next level.
First, lets take a look at ‘Freewriting’.
‘Freewriting’ is a straightforward strategy that most poets do as a warm-up exercise to get the creative juices flowing for longer writing sessions. This writing strategy was created by Peter Elbow in 1973 and is very similar to brainstorming. Freewriting involves writing stanzas without stopping. So, rather writing one line and then pondering over it for a few minutes, you are jotting down whatever thought or idea first comes into your head—worrying about spelling and grammar in a later stage of the drafting process.
Free writing is a good exercise for almost anything, and here’s why:
- Ideas will flow, and there’s less chance of you self-censoring good ideas.
- For those who don’t speak English as their first language, this exercise will improve your fluency in English (fluency is the ability to produce to written language easily, having nothing to do with accuracy).
After doing the freewriting activity for a short period of time (or for however long you wish), then you should have lines that are ready to be organised into your stanzas. As you were doing this freewriting exercise, you might have included stanza breaks into your written lines subconsciously. These indicate a shift of focus in your thought process as you were writing, which is a natural thing to happen since the human brain is always jumping from one idea to the next. Alternatively, the piece you have created from the exercise might feature little to no stanza breaks—which shouldn’t be a cause for concern either. No matter how much you’ve written, it’s a good start.
Next, read the lines you’ve written and start asking yourself these questions:
- How many stanzas are there already? If so, where are their breaks? Why do you think they’ve come out like this?
- Can you see any shifts in tone or focus that might warrant a stanza break?
- Is each of the lines you’ve made the start or end of a new stanza?
You don’t have to think about all these questions every time you free-write. But they might just spark off a good idea for one or more stanzas.
Try out a new form:
Freewriting your stanzas operates on the principle that your lines are written first, and arranging them into stanzas occurs at a later stage. However, this strategy doesn’t work for everyone out there. Some writers require a structure, something to obey that’ll force the lines into stanzas. During my first year studying Creative Writing I struggled to create poems without first figuring out its form. I found setting myself explicit boundaries relieving, since I had a clear mind of what I needed to do in my poem to make the stanzas really shine.
Most poetic forms have certain rules when it comes to the amount and length of their stanzas. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from disobeying these limits when you write a sonnet or villanelle, but it might be a worthwhile challenge if you try sticking to the rules for a form. You might enjoy what you created from adhering to a form!
Here are a few poetic forms that might help you to create organised and clear stanzas:
- Sonnet: Popularised by writers such as Shakespeare and John Donne, a Sonnet is a good poetic form for those who know little about stanzas. There are two kinds of Sonnets, with each obeying very similar and uncomplicated rules:A Petrarchan Sonnet divides its 14 lines between one eight-line and one six-line stanzas; The English Sonnet condenses its 14 lines into one 12-line stanza (equalling three quatrains), with a couplet—a stanza of two lines—acting as its conclusion.You can find more about the Sonnet here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
- Haiku: A haiku is a three-line poetic form originating from Japan. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line again has five syllables–Basically its three, very short lines. You can make this form more of a challenge by obeying more of its stringent rules. If you’re interested in this short and sweet form, follow this link: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/haiku-or-hokku
- Limerick: A very short form constituting of one stanza created from five lines. There are more rules when it comes to writing Limericks, the details of which can be found here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/limerick
- Villanelle: A Villanelle is constructed from three, five-line stanzas and one, final quatrain, with the first and third lines from the first stanza repeating alternatively in the following stanzas. You can find more about them here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/villanelle
Below are a few poems that are written in one of the styles above. All of them can be found on poetryfoundation.org :
There are thousands of forms for you to try out—too many to list here—so I’d really urge you to see what’s out there in your own time. Try whatever takes your fancy, because avoiding new styles or alternative ways of writing is counter-intuitive to the process of developing your style.
What should be apparent, especially for those who have read my Back To Basics article, is that writing stanzas is far easier than it appears at first glance. Fundamental control over the nature of stanzas lies with the writer’s imagination, or more specifically their vision for the final draft of their poem—whatever that may be. If you lack this, then it’s best to come away for a short while, before returning with an idea in mind for your next poem.
And on that note, I would like to end this blog here. I hope that I’ve provided you with some new and exciting ways to construct stanzas in your poems. Remember: Experiment, experiment, and experiment!