Book Review: ‘How to Write Poetry’

Ben Miles

The word “poetry” evolves from the Greek term “poiesis,” which is translated to the English word, “making.” It’s a creative use of language (literature if you will) that employees aesthetic, often rhythmic, forms of words – symbolism, metre, rhyme – for instance, that bring forth meanings that prose does not or cannot.

Poetry can be a cathartic experience, a means of expressing and dealing with emotions, or merely a form of wordplay. It can be a combination of all of these things and possibly more. Published in

1999 by Scholastic Inc., Paul B. Janeczko’s tiny treatise (117 pages in length), “How to Write Poetry,” is a concise but comprehensive guide into the craft of poetry creation. An activity many of us may find useful and healing in this period of history that is likely to be recalled — with war, pandemic and an existential climate crisis — as an epoch of unrivaled upheaval.

In Janeczko’s easy-to-read book, we are given simple poetic techniques that can lend a great amount of satisfaction to those interested in language and words in their many forms. Poetic formats such as acrostic poems are explained and offered as a starting place for beginning scribes.

Here’s an example of an acrostic poem made from the word POEM: P- Playful O - Open-Minded E - Engaged M - Mindfully. As you probably surmised, an acrostic poem is constructed from the first initial of a name, title or subject that is the focus of the poem (try it with your name, i.e., B - Busy E- Exploring N-Names).

Synonym poems and a opposite poems are other types of descriptive poems that are explained, exemplified and encouraged in Janeczko’s handy how-to-manual. A synonym poem is characterized here as:

Each poem is made up of two lines of poetry that rhyme.”

The title is the subject of the poem.”

The first line contains three or four synonyms for the subject.”

The second line of each (synonym) poem can do one of two things; it can describe the subject a little more, as in ‘Weird,’ or it can tell how the poet feels about the subject, as in ‘School Lunch.’

“Weird” is a sample synonym poem Janeczko uses to demonstrate the concept of synonym poetry, as is “School Lunch.” Weird, bizarre, strange and spooky things: Books and stories by Stephen King

School Lunch: burgers, prunes and warm spaghetti
To eat this stuff, I’m not ready”

Each line generally has seven or eight syllables arranged in a way that gives the poem rhythm.

Janeczko’s “How to Write Poetry” includes a useful glossary that offers definitions and descriptions of poetic forms and the terminology of poetry; it is a comprehensive compendium of vocabulary, covering a multitude of literary concepts ranging from A — as in “Acrostic,” to B — as in “Blank Verse,” to E as in “Elegy” on through the alphabet to S — as in “Sonnet” and T — as in “Theme.”

“How to Write Poetry” is an enlightening and engrossing mini-manual on the art and craft of poetry writing. For those who wish to express their thoughts, concerns or feelings in an aesthetic form “How to Write Poetry” is a perfect and pleasant starting point.

We all can be poets
Wordsmiths I am sure
Make a commitment
For words can clarify
And poetry can cure.

What: “How to Write Poetry”

How: Local library, ISBN 0-590-10078-5 (paperback)

Who: Paul B. Janeczko, published by Scholastic Inc.


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