Writing poetry can be like solving a problem from math or engineering class. Math and engineering problems often have a set of parameters or design parameters (mass, weight, velocity, acceleration, distance, time) asking you to solve for something specific like the missing parameter. Think of the classic, “two trains leave different cities heading toward each other at different speed, when and where do they meet?”
Poetry is no different. In poetry, you have design parameters of rhythm/cadence, rhyme scheme, the number of lines, the and the number of syllables per line asking you to “solve” for a poem that either creates and image or tells a story. For example, the English Sonnet or Shakespearean Sonnet is a 14 line (the number of lines) poem divided into three sets of 4 lines and a rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter (rhythm/cadence) with the rhyme scheme of abab/cdcd/efef/gg. If you’ve read Shakespear, you’re familiar with the English sonnet and the stories and images that can be created like the famous Sonnet 18 which opens “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.”
A limerick is another form of poetry that you may be familiar with that has similar design parameters as the English Sonnet, but a completely different poem you are trying to “solve” for or objective. A Limerick is supposed to a comic or humorous poem. It also has a restriction in length, but instead of 14 lines asks for a much shorter poem of five lines with a rhyme scheme aabba. The rhythm/cadence is not specified for a limerick like a sonnet; however, the first, second and fifth lines are longer and rhyme together, while the third and fourth lines rhyme together and are shorter.
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!
(From “There was an Old Man with a Beard” by Edward Lear)
Now that you are more familiar with how similar writing poetry is to solving the engineering and math problems that you are all comfortable with from you too can write poetry. Why not start with something short and simple as a haiku. A haiku is nonrhyming, three line poem. You often hear that the first line has five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five syllables again (5/7/5). This rule is not set in stone and allows writers of modern haiku greater flexibility and creativity for writing poetry of different variations (4/6/4 or 3/5/3). The haiku is often about nature and the seasons, but try writing about the modern nature that surrounds us (technology and machine) and tweet me your creations @jennsealscooper and @zennjenn.
we write onward
(Haiku from the STEM Poetry Presentation at the Society of Women Engineers Region D Conference March 10, 2017, by Jennifer Seals Cooper)