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How to Write a Dialogue Poem


A dialogue poem is a poem composed of a conversation between two fictitious speakers, each of whom expresses a different viewpoint. There is typically no narration or “authorial voice.” Dialogue poems have a long history -- the Roman poet Virgil’s “Eclogues” is an early example of the form, and the debate between the soul and the body was a popular subject for dialogue poems during the Middle Ages. (see reference 2)

Different Perspectives

The advantage of a dialogue poem over single-speaker forms of poetry is its ability to express and explore different viewpoints in a single poem. Choose two speakers who hold different perspectives on an issue, event or topic. You should understand each perspective as fully as possible -- if necessary, research perspectives you are not familiar with. Whether you find yourself agreeing with one perspective more than the other, you should present each of your speakers’ viewpoints accurately. (see references 1 and 2)

Tagged Vs. Untagged

Dialogue poems can be either tagged or untagged. Tagged dialogue poems identify who is speaking by listing their name, sometimes followed by a colon, before each speaker’s lines. Andrew Marvell’s poem “A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body” is an example of a tagged dialogue poem. Untagged poems do not directly identify their speakers, but often give some other indication that the speaker has changed -- for example, by a change in typeface. The anonymous Chilean poem “Two Women” is untagged. (see references 1 and 3)

Conflict and Tension

The coming together of two different perspectives often generates conflict or tension in a dialogue poem. Even though the issues discussed do not have to be controversial, the reader should wonder how the speakers will resolve their differences. Do not write dialogue in which the speakers simply insult each other or disagree without offering alternatives. Remember that the point of a dialogue poem is to explore different perspectives; the conflict should ultimately be constructive, for the reader if not the speakers. (see references 1 and 2)

Voice

“Voice” in a dialogue poem refers to how your speakers speak -- particularly their word choices and the rhythms and structures of their sentences. The voice of each of your speakers should be distinct enough that a good reader could tell them apart without needing to be told which speaker is speaking. Consider what a speaker’s voice tells readers about the speaker: a speaker who uses long complex sentences with lots of obscure words might be pompous or a show-off, while a speaker who uses simple, direct sentences with strong verbs might be more down-to-earth. (see reference 1)

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.

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