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What Are the Visual Elements of a Poem?


A poem, unlike a piece of prose, communicates through its shape on the page as well as its language. The poet uses the page rather like an artist uses his canvas. The reader immediately takes in the length of a poem, how long the lines are and the number of stanzas. Many formal poems, such as a sonnet, have regular line lengths and a predictable number of lines. Free verse, however, can take more liberties with form and this sometimes produces some surprising visual results. Concrete poetry takes the visual aspect of a poem even further, with the words laid out in picture form to reflect the poet's subject matter.

Lines

Lines in a poem might be long and regular, short and regular or a poem might have a mixture of both long and short lines. How the poet chooses to structure the words in terms of line length helps shape the poem. Sometimes a continual use of short or long line lengths is purposeful, designed to match the theme of the poem. For instance, short lines can express speed or dislocation. The reader's eyes draw information from the overall visual effect of the line length.

Stanzas

Stanzas break up the poem on the page. If the poet writes in a block, without stanza breaks, it can make the poem appear dense. Four-line verses, or two-line couplets, favored by children's poets, give the poem a regular visual form that can be reassuring. The use of regular stanzas provides symmetry. Sometimes a poet chooses to write a block of lines, followed by a space and a single line or couplet for emphasis. This white space around the words also serves to contribute to the visual appearance of the poem.

Fonts and punctuation

Some poets use a combination of different fonts as part of the visual appearance of a poem. For instance, some lines might be bold or italicized, particularly if there is dialogue in the poem. Occasionally the poet will use capital letters as a visual effect or change the font size to accentuate something in the text. Punctuation devices, such as ellipsis, question marks and exclamation marks, can be effective visual devices to add interest to a poem.

Concrete poetry

Concrete poetry takes the visual element of poetry even further. In this type of poetry the arrangement of words on the page looks like the object described, such as a bird or a boat. The poet uses all visual devices available, such as typography, punctuation and white space to create a word picture.

About the Author

Based on the south coast of the U.K., Sally Nash has been writing since 1988. Her articles have appeared in everything from "Hairdressers Journal" to "Optician." She has also been published in national newspapers such as the "Financial Times." Nash holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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