How to Write a Dialogue Poem
Dialogue poems vary in length and may involve arguments, conversations that tell stories, statements of varying perspectives and witty repartee. They usually involve two people who take turns talking. The conversation may sound natural or occur in rhyming verse, depending on the author. There are no precise rules for writing a dialogue poem; however, the poem is usually based on an exchange of dialogue between two people who approach a subject from different viewpoints.
Examining Dialogue Poem Types
The first step in preparing to write a dialogue poem is to read a variety of them. Conversational types include realistic discussions as in Robert Frost's poem "North of Boston," which focuses on a man's death, or fantasy exchanges, such as in A.E. Housman's "Is My Team Ploughing," in which a dead farmer talks with a disloyal friend who is alive. They may involve old traditions, such as the French form of love songs involving witty repartee. A modern example is the song "I Remember It Well," whose rhyming lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The song is a husband and wife's conversation that shows the different memories about how they met. Centuries ago, French troubadors amused aristocrats by verbally jousting about love in duets. Dialogue poems can also be face-offs about dramatic issues, including "Two Women," an anonymous poem about differing perspectives on wealth, poverty and social justice.
Partnering and Selecting Topics
When writing a dialogue poem for the first time, it may help to work with a partner. As you develop your topic, this makes it possible for each of you to take on a role in the dialogue. It may also make it easier to brainstorm topic ideas. Subjects can be serious and from everyday life, such as concern for a homeless acquaintance and questions of personal responsibility that a husband and wife discuss in Frost's poem. You can focus on current events, such as differing viewpoints about terrorism or epidemics. However, not all of these events need to be scary. Some may lend themselves to a humorous approach as in repartee about a local sports team in which one person praises and the other criticizes the team's record. Love-related topics may be light or heavy as in Hausman's poem, which is about guilt and betrayal.
Writing in a Natural Voice
Unless you love different patterns of rhythm and rhyme in poetry, it may be best to write in the more natural, conversational style of free verse. Line lengths can vary and change rhythm from line to line. You can toss in some rhyme and literary devices if you like, but the amount and placement are up to you rather than a prescribed pattern. For example, in the poem "Two Women," two Chilean women -- one a peasant, the other a wealthy elite -- take turns talking about their experiences during a military coup. They speak in incomplete sentences as you might when talking to a friend. However, they aren't conversing. Instead, their commentary provides two diametrically opposed perspectives on the coup. Each has a different set of problems. One of the chief literary devices that the anonymous authors used is repetition, including the line "I am a woman."
Choosing Rhyme Patterns
Rhyme is alluring when writing because it makes language dance. For example, Hausman's poem has an "ABCB" pattern in which the words at the end of the second and fourth lines have the same ending sounds, such as "drive" and "alive." The characters in the poem take turns speaking in quatrains, which each contain four lines. However, rhyming dialogue poems don't need to be long or sad. A good example is the humorous, two-stanza friendship poem "A Dialogue" by 18th century writer Alexander Pope. In eight lines, it covers the ideas of loyalty and not letting success interfere with true friendship. Each character presents his viewpoint in a single quatrain in an "AABB" pattern by rhyming the first and second lines and then using a different rhyming sound for the third and fourth lines.
- University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition: Dialogue Poems
- Google Books: The Columbia History of American Poetry; Jay Parini
- Poetry Foundation: Is My Team Ploughing; A.E. Housman
- Google Books: The History of French Literature from the Oath of Strasburg to Chantieler; Annie Konta
- Lyrics Playground: I Remember It Well; Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe
- Bartleby: Poems --1718-27: A Dialogue; Alexander Pope
Alicia Rudnicki's Library Mix website blends book buzz for all ages. A gardener, she writes for California's Flowers by the Sea nursery. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in education from CU Denver, and has taught K-12.