That being said, I’ve come up with a method to write metered poems, and I thought I’d share it because my ideas for Writer’s Life topics are running a little thin this week. No worries, for now we can chat about poetry! This can be adjusted for any kind of poem you want to write, but today I’m going to work with a poem in iambic tetrameter. Let us begin.
1. Turn on Those Jams (Optional)
I rarely write when I’m not playing music, so this is natural for me. I can imagine that other people would find it super distracting to be trying to write a poem while a poem is being sung to them; therefore, it’s optional.
2. Open the Fearsome Foursome
I have four sites open while I write my poem, and I use them all.
dictionary.com—writing with meter depends on stressing the right syllables at the right time, which the site helpfully notes in its pronunciation guide
thesaurus.com—sometimes my ideal word doesn’t fit, and so instead, I have to look up for something with a similar meaning and an appropriate syllable
rhymer.com—not all of us are Dr. Seuss and can rhyme a million words on command; this is my backup
translate.google.com—this might be the odd one; when I put it to English/English, I can put a word through if it’s plural or conjugated to listen for the stress (as the dictionary doesn’t deal with either)
3. Create the Grid
So, for anyone who doesn’t know, an iamb is a stress pattern that goes da-DUM. And if you do it in tetrameter, you do it four times: da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM. For this pattern I created eight columns for the eight syllables per line, and then highlighted the stressed syllables. (The visual thing really helps me.)
4. Fill in the Grid
This part can be tricky to get used to because you’re writing in syllables, not words. Also, it can look weird if you don’t use punctuation (I always fill mine in later).
Sometimes it helps to fill in rhymes you want to use later and approach them later.
Other times, it helps me to work backwards from the rhyme to the beginning of the line.
Or, if you wanted, you could just work from the middle.
5. Edit Stuff
In the last stanza, the rhymes I was trying to make weren’t working for me, so I altered them to fit better—and I ended up liking the revisions much better.
6. Transcribe ItNow, type it all up with words, punctuation, etcetera, so that it looks like normal writing.
7. Translate ItWhat I like to do last is run it through Google Translate, English to English. I’m sure there are other sites that read text out loud for you, but Google Translate is right there and I’m familiar with it and everything. For this poem, I listened to one stanza at a time and kept track of the da-DUM sound throughout the lines—if you listen to it twice it slows the voice down so you can track the beat a little more easily. Alternatively, if you listen to it fast you can keep track of the rhymes better. So listen to both.
8. Touch UpIf you feel like something sounds off or you realize that the syllables are off, then you go back and figure out a new way to work the line. However, sometimes it’s up to you whether you want to choose it or not. In the second line of my first stanza, I use the phrase, “men Death meet,” which is more of a DUM-DUM-DUM sound than the traditional iamb. However, since it emphasizes the fact that people are dying, I’m willing to keep it that way, because death is super serious and all that good stuff.
9. Own ItNow you have a poem. Go stuff it in people’s faces and be like, “I WROTE A POEM, LOSERS.” But maybe not call them losers because that is mean.
This is the one I finally ended up with:
‘Twas Fate that flew o’er battle grounds
and watched with pity men Death meet.
Aghast at frames in hasty mounds,
she picked one shrouded in deceit.
The One called men from near and far,
to conquer their unwelcome guest.
With One and Fate they shone like stars,
blind to the bolt that pierced One’s chest.
“Our leader fell!” the men all cried,
and Fate smiled from her perch unseen.
Although they mourned the One who died,
quite soon they learned that Fate had lied,
and owed their triumph to a queen.
Admittedly, this is the fourth poem I’ve ever tried to write using meter so I’m aware that especially in the last stanza there’s some stuff that’s not super-perfect. Still, I think the system works, and I’m willing to try again.