Types of Dialogue Poems
Dialogue poems are composed by recording a conversation between two or more entities to discuss a controversial, or multifaceted, topic using poetic elements and techniques. While a conversation at its root, a dialogue poem should still reflect the spirit of poetry, being pleasant to the reader’s ear, rhythmic and thought-provoking.
Tagged and Untagged
Dialogue poems may be tagged or untagged. The term "tag" refers to the “he said” or “she questioned” phrases that often precede or follow dialogue. A tag line is used to identify the speaker of each line more clearly for the reader. A tag line might also be used to provide additional information about the speaker and his emotional state, or even surroundings. Samuel Daniel’s “Ulysses and the Sirens” is an example of a tagged dialogue poem. Some poets choose to write dialogue poems without tag lines. This technique can quicken the pace of the poem and keep the focus only on the conversation. “Wapping: Conversation Piece” by Cicely Fox Smith is an example of an untagged dialogue poem.
Dialogue poems may express a conversation between two characters. The typical dialogue poem is written with two distinct characters engaging in a conversation about a somewhat controversial topic. One narrator generally takes one position on the subject matter, while the second narrator holds the opposing viewpoint. While not all dialogue poems are controversial, the conversation should be complex, allowing for a resolution between the two narrators. The two narrators should also be developed enough that the reader is able to distinguish between them. Shel Silverstein’s “The Meehoo with an Exactlywatt” is an example of a dialogue poem with two distinct narrators.
Dialogue poems may occur with only one character. For example, some poets capture the conversations that occur in the mind of an individual narrator. In this case, the ideas and themes explored are usually intellectual or emotional. The battle between mind and body, desire and duty or spirit and flesh are common themes for the dialogue poem with one narrator. Another common subject is the examination of nature. One example is the Friar’s monologue in Act II, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Dialogue poems may explore abstract ideas. This subset of dialogue poems may consist of one or two narrators, but the narrator is usually an abstract idea or concept. For example, Margaret Cavendish’s poem “A dialogue betwixt Wit, and Beauty” reveals a conversation between Wit and Beauty personified. Personification is a common poetic device used to give voice to abstract entities. Another example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “A Dialogue,” which reveals a conversation between personified Death as one character and a Mortal as the second narrator.
- University of Minnesota, The Center for Advanced Research of Language Acquisition: Dialogue Poems
- The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Dialogue
- University of Saskatchewan: Selected Poems of Margaret Cavendish,
- Poemhunter.com: Wapping: Conversation Piece
- Poemhunter.com: Poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley -- A Dialogue
Based in West Palm Beach, Fla., Emily Layfield has been writing and editing education-related work since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English and English/ language arts education and a Master of Arts in secondary English education from Auburn University.