Write a poem | English homework help


What to Do:
Write two lyric poems, one conforming to a specific prompt and one in a form and topic of your choice. Both poems should use extended metaphor (one metaphor that runs throughout the entire poem and shapes its theme). Examples of poems using extended metaphors include “Poetry Should Ride the Bus” and “How Poetry Comes to Me.”  

How to Do It:

POEM ONE should respond to the following three-part prompt:

  1. Describe a natural object that interests you (a pinecone; a rabbit; a black hole). Do not make any comparisons yet; just describe it in as much detail as possible. This may be in prose or verse.
  2. Take the natural object you chose and use it to describe one of your parents or siblings. In other words, indulge yourself in comparisons. Again, this may be in prose or verse.
  3. Write a poem which, though it is a description of the natural object above, is really about your parent or sibling. (This must be in verse, though the form is up to you. For example, you may choose to write using rhythm and rhyme, or you may choose to write in free verse. You may choose short, compact, haiku-like lines as William Carlos Williams does, or you may write big, sprawling lines!)

Please turn in all parts, even though the finished poem from number 3 is the goal.

POEM TWO is open form and topic. However, that doesn’t mean this poem should be formless; you should develop a form that is appropriate for your topic and your extended metaphor. Well-written poems (at least ones for an audience other than yourself) are made not by putting all of your feelings (or thoughts) onto a page in unformed fashion; instead they should be thoughtfully crafted. Every choice should be deliberate. Use the best word. Use the best line break. Consider everything! 🙂

Other considerations:

AVOID CLICHÉ in language, topic, mood, & metaphor. Clichés empty language of meaning because they are exceedingly overused. Some are groan-inducing because we’ve heard them so often, they sound a bit like advertising slogans (“plenty of fish in the sea”). Poetry is about using language in a fresh and unexpected way, so cliché is deadly. There are cliché topics (unrequited love), moods (excessive pathos, AKA melodrama), and metaphors (see below).

Examples of cliché metaphors include: love is blind; life is a highway; it’s the journey not the destination; skin white as snow; she’s a delicate flower. (See Shakespeare’s poem “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Links to an external site.) for a fun parody of the poetic clichés of his day.) Think of original turns of phrase and original metaphors, or turn a cliché on its head by radically revising it. Surprise your reader; surprise yourself. (Robert Frost said “no surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.”)

CONSIDER SOUND & SENSE. Poetry is a musical genre, as much about the sound of words as their meaning. Alexander Pope put it this way: “the sound should be an echo to the sense.” In other words, think carefully about how you can use sound to support and advance your meaning. (For example, a funeral elegy would probably not work well in limerick form; a humorous topic needs a rollicking rhythm, not a slow plod. Also, a formal word such as “empurpled” would probably not be the best choice in a contemporary sonnet about Facebook.)

Think about sound when it comes to diction (word choice), rhyme, rhythm, line breaks, stanzas, and the length of lines.

Note: rhyme and rhythm are not required in this assignment; you may write in free verse. However, if you do choose to use rhyme and rhythm, be sure that you use them deliberately and think about how they support your meaning.

BE CONCISE AND DELIBERATE IN LANGUAGE. In poetry, every word counts. This is true in prose as well, but it’s especially true for poetry, because poems are concise but packed with meaning and metaphor. Edit out unnecessary words and bulky phrasing; don’t overuse adjectives or adverbs; think of yourself as an artist who has only so many words available to decorate your canvas.


Here are my criteria for evaluation:

  • Do both poems develop an interesting extended metaphor?
  • Does poem one respond fully and in an original way to the prompt?
  • Do both poems consider sound and sense? Has the poet developed a form and used language appropriate to the poem’s topic and mood? Has the poet thought carefully and deliberately about diction, line breaks, line lengths, and stanzas? Has the poet thought deliberately about whether or not to use rhyme or rhythm?
  • Do the poems avoid cliché language, metaphor, and topic? Do they develop fresh, unexpected metaphors and turns of phrase?
  • Do the poems carefully consider every word? Are there unnecessary or overly bulky words, or is the poem concise and meaningfully elegant?
  • Is there a clear topic and/or theme?
  • Has the poet thought carefully about how to begin and end?
  • Do the poems have provocative and interesting titles?


A complete, typed, and polished draft of both poems is due on Canvas before the start of class on Wednesday, October 16. Late submissions will be penalized by one full letter grade per day.

You also have the opportunity to workshop your poems with the class! 🙂 If you sign up for Poetry Workshop, please also upload an electronic copy of your poems to Canvas (“Discussions” –> “POETRY WORKSHOP”) before class. Please remember that you need to sign up for two of the three workshops this semester. That means that if you did not participate in Short Story Workshop, you must participate in the Poetry Workshop.


Whether or not you choose to workshop your poems, please keep in mind that workshop days are very important to your classmates as well as to your Attendance, Participation, & Workshop score! Thank you! 🙂

In order to get full points for workshop, writers need to submit their poems to Canvas on time and graciously and quietly listen to feedback. Responders need to be present and on time, and need to provide thoughtful, gracious, and typed comments.

Please see the handout titled “some guidelines for how to give feedback that is helpful, constructive, and encouraging” for more details about how to give good feedback.

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