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How to Write a Really Descriptive Poem


A descriptive poem deals with a person, place or architecture; however, instead of focusing on the felt-emotion of the observer, its main purpose is to describe these subject matters as its primary goal. For example, if a poet is describing the Grand Canyon, the depiction of the landscape itself should dominate the poem, and not what the landscape made her feel, which is a secondary focus. In a really descriptive poem, the personal element is not as essential as the depiction of the landscape itself—the dominant and central focus of the poem.. In "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, note how the speaker of the poem hides his internal subjective personal feeling in order to render “nothing but things as they are” : “so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow/ glazed with rain / water / besides the white chickens .”

Choose a Familiar Subject

As Williams shows above, it is not always necessary to choose lofty subject matter for a descriptive poem. Poets write about mundane experiences in life, such as their subway commute, grocery shopping, daily routine and other observations. At the same time, they can choose unforgettable events or moments in life as far as their description focuses on the events or moments rather than on how these events or moments made them feel. For instance, when a poet describes the Grand Canyon, she can focus on the Colorado River, all the visitors, the mule ride, the size of the park and the geological wonders.

Setting of the Poem

The setting of the poem works similarly to the introduction of an essay: the more the reader knows about the context of the poem, the better she will understand what is going on in the poem. For example, in “The Red Wheelbarrow” above, the setting is rather simple: the speaker of the poem is observing the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens near the barn, perhaps. The setting is rural and domestic, all of which give the sense of unhurried life, peace and tranquility.

Body of the Poem

Once a poet has established the topic and setting of the poem, she will work on the body of the poem, using sensory descriptions: smell, touch, feel, sight and sound. Follow the natural rhythm of speech rather than a rigid traditional meter to avoid any sense of “metrical box-stuffing,” which makes your poem superficial and corny, lacking sincerity. In the above example, Williams uses the word “red,” to individualize the wheelbarrow; without the word “red,” it will lose its unique identity. The careful depiction in “glazed with rain water” further accentuates the scene, making it more immediate and alive through direct and instant involvement associated with tactile and visual imagery.

Edit, Revise and Proof Your Poem

As in Williams’ poem, a typical poem is shorter than prose; as a result, every word counts in a poem. Each word or even a comma you choose is an integral part of the poem and its function is to enhance the overall theme of the poem. Thus a poet must make denotative word choices. To find exact word, a poet must revise and edit her poem as often as possible. Choose concise, precise, and factual words, such as “chicken,” “rain,” “red,” “white” and “water”—simple yet powerful words that faithfully depict the scene. By using such unadorned words, the speaker makes the reader feel as if she is there looking at the red wheelbarrow herself.

About the Author

Dr. Yoon Kim earned a Ph. D. in English from Oklahoma State University. His editing experience includes Ph.D. dissertations (English), and senior professor’s research articles (Psychology and Education) that are published in peer-reviewed professional journals.

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