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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Defining the abstract poem

National Poetry Month (NaPo) encourages poets and poetry lovers to discover forms, terminology, and technique, so we can enjoy those qualities in poems by other people and use them on purpose as we write (or, more likely, revise) our own poems. This needn’t be hard however. In fact, learning about forms, practicing poetic techniques, and just having fun with poems can seem like child’s play!

To ease poets and people of all ages into learning about poetry, here’s the entry for “abstract poetry” from my Kindle e-book, the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun. Capitalized words within the text indicate A to Z entries on those subjects too.

abstract poetry [Pronounced ab-STRAKT.] In an abstract poem, thoughts and ideas make sense but cannot be pictured. For example, the word, "freedom," does not give you a clear photo of that word, but the CLICHÉ, "As free as a bird," shows what freedom is like. That bird in flight can be a SYMBOL of freedom too. If, however, you capture that bird in a LINE of poetry, your poem will no longer be abstract.

Abstract poems depend on haziness. So be vague! Avoid any NOUN that names a person, place, or thing. Go for an idea noun. Or write about your fuzziest thoughts and murkiest feelings. For example, words such as "fun" or "friendship" stir up feelings that cannot be easily pictured. Just remember though: With nothing to picture, a poem gets boring – fast!

To keep your poem interesting, turn up the sound! For example, RHYME adds MUSICALITY. RHYTHM does too. So, to give your abstract poem a rhythmic BEAT, hum a tune. Listen to your favorite music. Then put the melody into similar-sounding words. For example, read aloud: la-LA/ la-LA/ LA-la. If you stress only the capital letters as you read that LA-line, you'll hear the same beat as "i HOPE/ you LIKE/ MUSic."

To give you a bigger example of an abstract poem, I wrote this one just for you:

An Abstract Poem for You to Name

What fun we had!
Nothing went as bad
as blame.
We even laughed the same –
like a real, true rhyme.
I wish we'd had more time.

© 2009, Mary Harwell Sayler

Notice the fuzzy picture? Yet you can still feel what it means. Another TITLE could make the poem clearer but change the meaning. For instance, the title, "Dad Days," might be about the feelings of someone whose father is away from home. Another title, "Our Last Forever," might mean someone died, and the "I" of the poem remembers their last time together. The title, "Carnival," could be about a fun time with a friend.

Read the poem again. See how its meaning changes to fit each title? That's the fun of abstract poetry. Like an abstract painting, an abstract poem can become almost anything you like!

© 2012-2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you have a Kindle, great! If not, you can read the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun and other e-books on your computer by downloading free software for e-book reading from Amazon.



  1. Thank you. This has been good information. Excellent sample of an abstract poem.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. When the poetry dictionary went on Kindle, I thought the site would show a few pages but not! Lord willing, I'll post other entries here from time to time but hope poets and poet-parents will buy the book!

  3. Thanks for your very interesting post. I work with rhyme all the time, but have never tried abstract poetry.

  4. Poetry gives us countless options to try! Have fun experimenting.

  5. Yay! It helped me in school. Thank you!

  6. Glad to hear it! Thanks for letting me know.

  7. How can anyone "Avoid any NOUN that names a person, place, or thing?" That IS the definition of a noun.

  8. That used to be the definition of a noun, but now a noun is defined as a person, place, thing, or idea. (NOUN in all caps was to indicate an entry for that subject in the book.) So an abstract poem often uses idea nouns that cannot be pictured. Hope that clarifies.