"3 Tips for Developing Theme within Poetry"

My craft article was published at Women on Writing today. Enjoy! :)

“3 Tips for Developing Theme within Poetry”

By: Melanie Faith

I started as a fiction writer before discovering the wonders of poetry at the grand age of 17. (Thank you, Mr. B!)


One quality shared by resonant poems I read in literary journals, anthologies, and from my students' pens is a strong theme.


How can we explore theme to deepen our own poetry?


1. Imagery is where it's at. As poets, we are all about compression. Can we say it in fewer words? Can those few chosen words be rich in the five senses? Can the chosen diction include a symbol for a bigger idea? All of these questions help lead us to imagery that razzle-dazzles our readers.


If I wanted to write a love poem about tentative love, it's unlikely my readers will be as stirred by my flat-out stating, "We were on-again, off-again," as they would with a simple mention of a flickering candle on the windowsill.


Imagery is economical and meaningful. It also creates vivid pictures in your readers’ minds that they’ll remember long after reading your work and, in many cases, invite them back for further reads.


2. Characterization and setting can get the job done. I hear a boatload of discussion in fiction and nonfiction classes about creating realistic characters, and for good reason. This same technique can be applied to poetry to create fantastic engagement from readers and underscore your theme without the dreaded (drumroll, please) telling instead of showing [shiver].


Writers can create poems from numerous characters’ POVs to underscore theme. Persona poems develop a narrative and can be read as individual works of art, such as Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” or paired together to develop a longer narrative, conflict, and/or setting. Great examples include Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 classic Spoon River Anthology, Traci Brimhall’s Saudade (2017 Copper Canyon Press), and poems in my most-recent collection, This Passing Fever (2017 FutureCycle Press).   


Paired poems may move back and forth through time and setting (as they do in Brimhall’s work and my work) or remain in one town or place (as in Masters’ collection). 


3. Subtlety is your friend.


Sometimes, once we have chosen a theme for our poem, we excitedly write lines that spell out our meaning with all the charm of a doornail. For instance, using the word “grieving” and “died” in a poem whose theme explores death, or stating “flowers always make me happy” in a poem about the therapeutic powers of gardening.


Many poems I see that run off the rails do so when poets begin to explain (or over-explain) rather than trusting readers to intuit the theme on their own.


How can we provide clues for our readers so that they will be sure to deduce the theme?


Glad you asked: figurative language aplenty. Figurative language is understated yet satisfying. Similes and metaphors are often great indicators of theme. As are usage of symbols and imagery. Incorporating sound effects, such as words with hard d sounds for dramatic or tense themes or words with soft m or n sounds for quieter or peaceable themes, can other excellent thematic indicators.



Try this prompt: Choose a poem where you have stated part or all of the theme directly in your poem. Make a list of three images, symbols, characters, or settings that could highlight your theme instead. Pick one detail from your list and, after omitting your theme-stating line, add in details related to your chosen image, symbol, characters, or settings. Compare drafts.

Looking for inspiration to jump-start your Muse in early 2019? Have I got a class for you! Vigorous and Vibrant Verse: an Online Poetry Workshop.


Photo courtesy of Eric Tompkins, https://unsplash.com/photos/B22JxzOkjYs

Photo courtesy of Eric Tompkins, https://unsplash.com/photos/B22JxzOkjYs

10/10 Book-Lovers and Creative Folks Agree...

Books and prompts make the BEST holiday presents.

Get a jump-start on your shopping with one of my three AWESOME books and some prompt cards to boot. Hey, stockings also have to be filled, right? ;) I’ll be happy to sign the books with any inscription you’d like. :)

Peruse these classics, make your list, and no need to stand in line or check twice! :) Just break out your gift wrap and surprise them with these inspiring treats:

Image courtesy of freestocks.org at unsplash.com

Image courtesy of freestocks.org at unsplash.com

Catching the Send-Off Train

Looking up a link to my themed chapbook, Catching the Send-Off Train, that was published in 2013 to share with my poetry class this afternoon, I stumbled across a beautiful review on Goodreads by a reader I don't even know. [Open hanky, commence weeping.]

"Wow! This powerful chapbook of poems, following a woman whose husband is called to duty in World War II and her son dealing with his absence, speaks of and for those left behind. Pathos without maudlin sentimentality is present in every line, making this little collection speak as if set in any war, for any family."

What a moving, unexpected experience for an author on a paperwork-clogged, rainy Monday. Our writing makes a difference in this world; never forget it! :)

By the way, this collection, called Catching the Send-off Train, is still available for free for anyone interested in reading the poems and/or using them in your classroom(s) or workshops. Kindle editions also available. With Veterans Day around the corner, this book might be just the thing. #authormoment #pinchme #writerdreammoment #thiswritinglife #writeon

Another, earlier review of the poems in this collection : “Terrific book…. Firm language, and tremendous suggestive facility with visuals. This book often tells more by what it is not directly said.”

Photo by  Alfred Eisenstadt , April 1943  (first printed in  LIFE,  February 14, 1944)

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt, April 1943
(first printed in LIFE, February 14, 1944)

November News: Poetry and Photos Published :)

New month, new publication news! As the leaves do their twirl-dance from treetops, I have some new work dropping as well.

The Australian journal, Meniscus, is featuring a poem in their current (volume 6.2) issue.

Also, six of my photos were published in the current issue (issue 5) of And So Yeah literary magazine.

Found Poem Nixa Walk bright.jpg

It's Publication Day! :)

It's my book birthday! Welcome to the world, Poetry Power!

Photo courtesy of Kyle Head at unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of Kyle Head at unsplash.com

My subtitle says it all: “An Interactive Guide for Writing, Editing, Teaching, and Reflecting on the Life Poetic.”

Write poetry? You know you need some new prompts. Teach? Your students will thank you for this advice and for the publishing tips. Have some poet friends in your workshop or writing group? I hear that their birthdays and the holidays are just around the bend.

Signed copies available (pm me).

Ebook and tactile copies available at Amazon and Vine Leaves Press.

Poetry Power 10-26-18.jpg

Exciting Spring Class! Register Now-- Photography for Writers :)

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be teaching my four-week Photography for Writers class again this spring.

Beginning on April 5, 2019, this class is tremendously fun and a great way for writers to sharpen their photography muscles and vice versa. No photography experience necessary, and you can use whichever kind of camera (including camera phone) you’d like.

For more details and to sign up to reserve your spot in this cool online workshop now, please visit: Imagery Power: Photography for Writers. Feel free to message me with any questions.

Photo courtesy of Alfonso Reyes, https://unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of Alfonso Reyes, https://unsplash.com