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Just 4 Kidz: A Poetry Primer

Exploring Haiku, Calligram, Acrostic, and Persona Poems

Just 4 Kidz: A Poetry Primer

By Molly Anderson-Childers

“We’ll become Poetic Detectives, tracking down elusive rhymes and collecting clues to better poetry!”

Hey, gang! I hope you’ve got a pen or a pencil handy, because I’m revved up and ready to write! This month, I’ll help you understand some of the more technical aspects of poetry and introduce you to some new ways to play with words!

Haikus, calligrams, and acrostic poems may be a mystery to you… so put your thinking cap on, and grab your magnifying glass! Today, we’ll become Poetic Detectives, tracking down elusive rhymes and collecting clues to better poetry! I will be your guide as we move through this amazing, amusing, and often confusing realm.

The Mystery of the Missing Haiku

A haiku is a short unrhymed poem, with just three lines. Haiku originated in Japan. Japanese poets of old counted the number of sounds in each line; American poets of today commonly count the syllables in each line. The first and last lines have five syllables; the second line has seven. Haiku usually focus on one strong, clear image from the natural world.

Tanka, another Japanese poetic form, is similar to the haiku. The tanka is short and sweet: just five lines! No need to worry — if you’re in a hurry, don’t take time to rhyme! Traditionally, the tanka is an unrhymed poem; the first and third lines have five syllables each, and the second, fourth, and fifth lines have seven syllables. The tanka was usually written to express love or sadness, and to exalt in the joys of nature, the seasons, and travel to faraway places. You can use the traditional subjects for your tanka and haiku masterpieces, or branch out and use your own fabulous ideas to create 21st century versions of the Japanese classics.

Calligram Poem "The River" by Molly Anderson-Childers

Calligram Poem "The River"
by Molly Anderson-Childers

The Crazy Calligram Caper

Like most people, you have never heard of calligrams. If you don’t know what they are, read on! Calligrams are poems that are shaped like their subject. For instance, a poem about soccer might be crafted in the shape of a soccer-ball, or a pair of cleats. You can use different colors, shapes, and lettering styles to create a calligram that is truly a work of art!

The Amazing Acrostic Poem Mystery

These fun, fabulous poems are like a puzzle to solve. In an acrostic poem, a series of letters vertically spells out a word, name, or phrase; when writing an acrostic poem, you can even hide a secret message “between the lines.”

First, start with your name. Write one letter on each line of your paper, so that your name is spelled out vertically along the left or right hand margin of the page. Each letter will be used to begin (left margin) or end (right margin) a line in your poem.

Here is my acrostic poem:

Marvelous Molly, a poetess grand
O! Beauty, walking fair by night
Luscious, sweet-lovely,
Little girl gone wild…
Yes! Yes! Yes!

To create a secret message, embed a word or phrase in your poem in a more subtle way. One cool trick, used since the days of Edgar Allan Poe, is to use the first letter of a name to begin a line. The second letter of the name should be the second letter of the second line; the third letter of your name should be the third letter of the third line, and so on. This way, the name appears hidden on a diagonal, and cannot usually be detected by a casual reader.

Next: Have You Seen This Missing Persona? »