Local Artist Stacy Haynes-Moore

Stacy teaches language arts, writing, and education courses in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. 

Class 4 of 4 - Puzzle Poetry: Playing with sound and rhyme

Hello writers! This week we think about poetry like piecing a puzzle. You’ve probably heard of William Shakespeare? If not, here’s a quick catch-up. Personally, I like Shakespeare’s writing, though I know that not everybody digs his language. It can be a puzzle. But even if I don’t at first understand his meanings, I do hear the rhyme and sound patterns in his words. Today’s challenge is to work with poetry as if it’s a puzzle. We will brainstorm to think about topics, string some lines together, and rearrange or reword until our puzzle is complete. Our setup is similar to previous weeks with a poet’s brainstorm to generate a beginning of a poem. Our poet’s notebook helps us imagine, hear, and rearrange our words. The poets’ playground offers some samples to appreciate and from which to learn.

Poet’s Brainstorm

You first need a topic for the beginning a poem. Perhaps select one of these?

  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Summer swimming
  • Playing outside
  • Helping someone
  • Making a favorite meal
  • Wrapping up the school year
  • Going to an appointment
  • Making new friends
  • Walking the dog
  • Getting into trouble
  • Playing a team sport
  • Practicing for a guitar lesson
  • Making new friends
  • Skateboarding in my neighborhood
  • Or…choose your own topic

Brainstorming, what comes to your mind when you say this word out loud? It is a memory, a
story, a situation? Are there associated sensory details? Talk through the topic with a friend or
family member, or jot ideas on a piece of paper or your poet’s notebook. List words or phrases
you associate with the topic. Another poet’s tip might be for you to take each of the five senses
(sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and make a list of words or phrases for each sense. Or, you might even
do some sketching or doodling about the topic, drawing what comes to mind. There’s no right or
wrong. Brainstorms can be messy, talkative as we share ideas with others, or thoughtfully quiet
working on our own. With brainstorming, the intent is to get ideas flowing.

Poet’s Notebook

We’re ready to craft some early lines! Using your brainstorm words and phrases, let’s write.

  • Try writing two lines. For example, my poem topic is “a favorite meal” and I’m going to add my brainstormed words and phrases into these lines. Here’s an example:

Slippery, buttery noodles slide off the fork.
I scrape against the plate as the noodles twirl.

  • Next, play with the arrangement, change, or axe words. In this step, my end goal is to see if I can get each line’s last words to rhyme. I need to move or change words around to make those last sounds match. Here’s my revised example:

Slippery noodles slide from my fork in a curl.
I scrape against the plate as the noodles twirl.

  • Above, we have a pair of lines that match in length and by rhyme (otherwise known as a rhyming couplet. Congrats, you crafted a couplet that rhymes!). From here, we puzzle together two more lines. This is what I ended up with as I messed around with words:

Slippery noodles slide from my fork in a curl.
I scrape against the plate as the noodles twirl.

Cheese oozes and spills one noodle to the next.
I snap a pic. The melted mass memorialized in a text.

Happily, I have managed to craft two rhyming couplets. My poem may not be any award winner,
but who cares? The puzzle is solved! It’s fun to puzzle a poem and play with language like a

  • Coordinating rhyming lines might consume a lot of thinking and play time. But, if you are interested in yet another twist, concentrate on puzzling the rhythm or beat of the words. This also can be tricky! As an example of crafting a better beat, I use my first couplet. Read these lines out loud:

Slippery noodles slide from my fork in a curl.
I scrape against the plate as the noodles twirl.

What do you hear? When I speak these lines, I hear a little pattern, but can I mess with this
puzzle again to craft clearer beats and sounds? In this next arrangement, I tinkered with words.
Do your ears notice? What did I change? How did these minor changes steady the beat?

Noodles slip and slide from my fork in a curl.
I scrape up the plate in a full pasta twirl.

Puzzle poems are helpful exercises in writing to learn how to become a rearranger of words, a
puzzler of words. Take some out, replace a few; revisions make sounds fresh and new.

I also believe that when we understand the craft underway, we appreciate those poets who puzzle
words really, really well, don't you?

Poet's playground
  • What poets have a knack for rhyme and sound? Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” follows a rhyme scheme with the second and fourth lines. Perhaps this is a pattern you might take on in your work?
  • Shakespeare’s shortest sonnet, Sonnet 18, is similar to Angelou’s design in that it takes up a very different rhyme pattern. See if you can detect what this is, noticing his last two lines look a little like what you just produced.
  • There are plenty of modern-day poets (and poet-like musicians of genres from Country to Alternative to Rap working with patterns of sounds and rhyme. When I read or listen to poetry, or watch a poet or poet-musician perform, I reflect on the time and puzzle-talent to produce sounds that match and beats that repeat. As a third example in the Poet’s Playground, here’s writer Lin-Manuel Miranda, the visionary for the Broadway musical Hamilton. Listen for the rhyme and feel the beat. (It’s better than noodles.)

I hope that you will share your writing. We look forward to hearing you!

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We want to stay connected to our creative students when we get back to the new normal. While you are here, learn more about the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. While we don't have much taking place in real space/time during the pandemic, we will get back to our regular live and in-person classes. When we do, we'd love to have you as a member!

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