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Writing

How to Write a Poem About a Specific Person

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

From the earliest Sumerian poetry to the work of twentieth-century American poets, writers have penned poems about other people as a way of expressing their intense feelings towards them. Writing a poem about another person requires you to observe them with a keen eye, interrogate your own feelings about them, and express those feelings and observations in a lyrical way.

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Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing PoetryBilly Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

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5 Examples of Poems About People

When it comes to writing poems about other human beings, it’s hard to know how to start. Here are a few of the best poems written by famous poets about people. Use them as a source of inspiration:

  1. “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman (1865)
  2. “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe (1849)
  3. “Home Burial” by Robert Frost (1914)
  4. The Lucy Poems by William Wordsworth (written between 1798 and 1801)
  5. “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service (1907)

5 Tips for Writing a Poem About a Specific Person

Writing a poem about another person can be a daunting task. It can be intimidating to try to capture a person’s entire essence in poetic form. Here are some writing tips to help you start writing your own poem about a person:

  1. Settle on a form. The first step to writing poetry is to figure out which poetic form you’ll be using. Depending on what you intend to express about your subject, different forms of poetry might be more thematically relevant than others. If you want to write a love poem, for instance, a sonnet’s classical rhyme scheme and rigid structure of quatrains and couplets can infuse your poem with an added romanticism. If you want to keep things light-hearted and humorous, consider writing a limerick. If your intention is to pay tribute to a deceased friend, loved one, or family member, maybe you’ll want to write an elegy. Whether you choose to write haiku, acrostic poems, narrative poems, or free verse poems, your poetic form should meaningfully reflect the subject of your poem in some way.
  2. Brainstorm a list of memories. When writing poems about specific people, one of the first things you should do is write down any vivid or lasting memories you have about them that can help inform the content of the poem. If you’re writing about a friend, loved one, or romantic partner and don’t know where to start, try to recall the first time you met them. If you’re writing about a historical or political figure, try to remember when you first became aware of them. What are the specific words and images that you associate with this person? You never know which memories or details can inspire poetic lines when you begin writing.
  3. Describe the person in great detail. Writing about a specific person requires you to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of your subject. Close your eyes and write down everything you can about that person. Some of these details might be physical. What do they look like? What are their most memorable or striking features? What kind of clothes do they wear? Describe their personality. What are their best qualities? Their worst qualities? As you continue your list, try to transition into more abstract ways of describing this person. When you think of them, what color comes to mind? What animal? What inanimate object? Let your mind wander as far as it can take you. These abstract details are especially helpful in poetry writing, which can be as impressionistic and experimental as you want it to be.
  4. Think about your relationship with the person. A good poem evokes an emotional response in the reader. If a person is the subject of your creative writing, then it’s likely they’re a loved one or that you have an emotional connection to them. Try to interrogate your own feelings about your subject in order to figure out why you feel so strongly about them in the first place. Be specific. Your emotional specificity will make the poem more impactful for the reader as well.
  5. Review and revise. Once you’ve written your poem, go back and make sure it’s as tight and affecting as possible. Are you using literary devices such as simile, metaphor, and alliteration? Look at the first three lines in your first stanza: are the first line, second line, and third line as expressive and meaningful as they can be? What about the last line? If your form requires it, are you properly adhering to a rhyming scheme? If you’re looking for outside feedback, try bringing your poem to a writing group or writing class for reaction and comment.
Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
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