Writing by Ear: Rhythm in Poetry

Writing by Ear: Rhythm in Poetry


Read a poem, any poem, silently. Then, read it aloud. If a recording exists or you know someone with a flair for reading, listen as someone else reads it. That very same poem might come across quite differently in the transition from words to sounds and even from one performance to another. Though we don’t always encounter it in this way, poetry is meant to be performed out loud. It can be helpful to keep that in mind as you write a poem.


What sounds good to you?

Let that question guide you as you create. Remember, poetry, in its diverse forms and styles, gives you room to play with language. If you haven’t yet found a kind of poetry that suits you, there’s no rule against creating your own or combining elements you like from various types. You can do your own thing.


And, when you get down to it, you can make the rhythm, the phrases, the words work your own way. When it comes to rhythm, you can follow an established pattern or create your own. One of our staffers sometimes uses syllables to guide her rhythm, modeling the poem after the first line she wrote and choosing whether she’d like to use the same syllable count for each line or create a varying pattern. You can also manipulate words and phrases to fit your chosen rhythm. For example, you might break up a phrase or word between lines to stay in pattern. (Just try not to do this frequently unless it contributes to the meaning of your work because several breaks can cause difficulty for readers.)


Creating rhythm in writing can go far beyond syllable counts and phrase/word positioning if you choose to get more technical, in which case you’ll want to check out next week’s blog post about quality websites dedicated to poetry. We also recommend reading poems from many writers out loud to develop an ear for various techniques poets use to bring rhythm to their work.