Lyric Poetry

Workshop from April 15: Lyric Poetry

“Lyric: as in short, personal, emotive, first person poetry. Not necessarily as in the words to your favorite Lady Gaga song.

We’ll be talking more about its roots and its variations, using some classic examples. We’ll also be writing our own, keeping strictly to the first person but taking liberties with the poem’s form. Yeah, baby.

Optional pre-assignment: focus on a single event, idea or hope that you want to write about. It could be a life-changing moment, or one that’s extraordinarily ordinary. Lyric poems often deal with the subject of love, so that may be a direction you want to consider. Extra credit if you have a soundtrack for your poem-thought. Extra-extra credit if you go old school and actually use a lyre.”

is that a lyre i hear?

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

–from Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”

from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“lyric, a verse or poem that is, or supposedly is, susceptible of being sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument (in ancient times, usually a lyre) or that expresses intense personal emotion in a manner suggestive of a song. Lyric poetry expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet and is sometimes contrasted with narrative poetry and verse drama, which relate events in the form of a story.”


Generally, lyric poets rely on personal experience, close relationships, and description of feelings as their material.  The central content of lyric poems is not the story or the interaction between characters; instead it is about the poet’s feelings and personal. Examples from this group include Greek odes, Egyptian elegies, Hebrew psalms, English and Italian sonnets, and Japanese haiku.

In this workshop, after discussing the history and breadth of form that makes lyric poetry unique (and a recitation or two in Latin by yours truly– yipes!), we set to writing our own lyrics, with the following guidelines & tips:

Pick a topic where you can express a deep, personal feeling. The lyric poem can be short, but it should pack a powerful punch in limited space. Love and all its variants have remained popular topics of choice since the days of Sappho.

Choose your style of poetry. Feel like giving sonnets another go? In short & sweet haiku mode? Freestyle (free verse) poetry has no stringent rules, so it will allow you to establish your own kind of rhythm.

Some hints (not limited to writing lyric poetry but applicable to many forms):

Engage all the senses with your words without limiting yourself to just visuals and feelings. Describe sounds and smells and tastes. Use metaphors to express what you’re saying without always saying exactly what you’re saying, geddit?

Use similes and avoid cliches. Use visuals to bring your words to life without relying on overused turns of phrases. Your love might be like a summer’s day, but your job is to find a new, exciting way to say it.

Don’t get too locked into any particular poetic form. The self-imposed challenge of form can be exhilarating and satisfying when it works. But form can also squelch feeling if you tie yourself in knots trying to make it fit. If it’s not working, try something else.

Whether you write with a pencil or a computer, don’t erase. Reviewing your strike-throughs later in the process can supply you with valuable pieces that you were wise enough to keep around.

Feel inspired to try your own? Give it a go! Feel free to leave your lyric in the comments below.


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