Directions for Writing a Personification Poem
Personification -- attributing human characteristics or qualities to a nonhuman -- is a powerful rhetorical tool for revealing unconsidered qualities of both humans and the nonhumans to which they're being compared. Writing a personification poem lets you explore these qualities.
Identifying the Subject's Attributes
As with any example of personification, a poem starts with the object, animal or idea that will be the subject or theme. Identify the main attributes it can share with a human. For example, an oak tree grows slowly, is very tall and is hard. These attributes will become the basis for how you personify your subject in your poem.
Selecting Strong Words
Using your subject’s attributes as a starting point, select strong words that describe the subject or its actions, using adverbs, adjectives and verbs. For example, you might select adjectives that describe an oak tree such as firm, resolute or stoic, while also selecting verbs that describes the actions of an oak tree such as prevail, remain or endure. These strong words start to generate a personified image of your subject that goes beyond mere physical description. In the case of the oak tree, words such as “firm,” “resolute” and “endure” suggest the subject is brave and powerful, perhaps a soldier of some kind.
Choosing a Poetic Form
From the highly structured sonnet to the more structurally forgiving free verse poem, you can choose from dozens of poetic forms. Novelist and poet Stephen Dobyns advises to first choose the poetic form with which you are most comfortable. For some, this means a highly structured, rhyming form in stanzas. Others might prefer a more stream-of-consciousness formlessness. In his book “Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry,” Dobyns also recommends choosing a form that fits the subject. In the oak tree example, a more structured form might be called for, while a poem about a more nebulous or shifting subject, such as wind or love, might demand a freer, less rigid form.
According to David Bartholomae and Tony Petrosky, professors of composition and education respectively, all writing, particularly creative writing, spends most of its “life” in the drafting phase. Their reasoning is that no piece of writing is ever truly finished; the author just decides when he is finished working on it. The same holds for a personification poem. When you’ve selected and identified your subject, gathered together some powerful words and chosen a poetic form, you could spend a lifetime trying to perfect your poem by moving words around, rejiggering the lines and changing your themes and concepts. Bartholomae and Petrosky recommend saving all versions of your writing, as well as sharing it often with charitable and kind peer reviewers.
- "Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry"; Stephen Dobyns; 2011
- "Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (9th Edition)"; David Bartholomae and Tony Petrosky; 2011
Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.