Definition and Tips How to Write an Acrostic Poem



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Definition and Tips How to Write an Acrostic Poem

What is an Acrostic Poem?

A poem or series of lines in which letters of each line, form a name, word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet. For example:





Each other

The first letters of the poem spell out the word “snake.”

When we talk about poetry, we often think that it should be rhymed. In fact, there are many styles of poetry that are very different from each other. Acrostic poem is one of them. It is a unique poem, which do not necessarily have to rhyme. 

  • History 

The earliest examples of acrostics can be found in the Hebrew Bible. They were also used in Ancient Greece and medieval Europe. Often acrostics are used to convey a secret message. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, the choice of this form of poem was often associated with sacred motifs (the name of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and so on were read at that time), or with an address of the poet (to his patron, fellow writers), or with the signature embedded in the first column of letters with the author’s name. It is believed that this was the way the inventor of the acrostic poem (Ancient Greek poet and playwright, Epiharm) was using it.

Types of Acrostic Poems

Functionally there are three types of acrostics:

  • Acrostic poem as a key. It is read by the first letters of the text. The text in a concentrated form expresses the meaning of the work and, in the author’s intention, should be seen by every reader. A special case of such a solution is a puzzle with a poem-puzzle, the clue to which is contained in the first letters.
  • Poem as a dedication. It is read by the first letters of the text. The text names its addressee. Often, this addressee is specified in the text in another way (in the title, in the epigraph, or right in the poem). Sometimes there are no other indications. In this case the dedication is noticeable to only very attentive and prepared readers.
  • Acrostic poem as a cipher. It is read by the first letters of the text. The text is not directly related to the content of the poem and introduces new incidental information to the poem. Often this type of acrostic poem is used as a way to circumvent censorship or other restrictions.

Acrostics can be very short (one word per line), or longer and more complex.

Another type is an alphabetical acrostic poem, where the first letters of each verse or verses form the alphabetic sequence.

Telestic and Mesostic are considered formal varieties of acrostic poem, where an additional text is read not by the first letters, but by the last and middle letters of the poetic lines. In the 20th century, a number of complications of forms, ranging from double and triple acrostic poems (the first, third and fifth letters in each verse) were tested.

Occasionally a similar form of an acrostic poem can be found in prose. The last paragraph of the story by Vladimir Nabokov «The Vane Sisters» is also organized in such a way: the first letters of each word are put in the phrase, which is a key to the narrated story in the main text. In these cases, however, it is better to talk about such an appearance of acronyms, not as an independent form, but as a literary device, since we are talking about the organization of a specific piece of text, and not of the text as a whole.

The Guide on How to Write an Acrostic Poem

Before starting to create an acrostic, decide what materials you will use. Some people like to write on a computer, while others prefer a pencil and paper. Decide for yourself what material you are going to use, since both the former and the latter has both advantages and disadvantages. If you are not sure, you may want to try each method and determine which one you prefer the most.

If you are using a pencil and paper, then most likely, you will have to spend more time, because you will carefully consider every word before you write it on paper. Studies show that writing strengthens the memory.

If you don’t know how to write an acrostic, it is recommend finding the definition of the term and reading various types before you start the writing process. At first glance it may seem that writing this verse is a very complex process, but in reality it is not so. Acrostic is a poem in which the first letters of the lines form a word that is the subject of the poem. As a rule, it is a single word, but it could be more words if you want.

Note that the word you will choose as the theme of your poem will determine the length of your acrostic. Depending on the number of letters in the title, you have to come up with the same number of lines in a poem.

If the word you have selected is too long or too short, you can find a synonym. For this you can use a dictionary of synonyms. For example, if the word «love» is too short, you can replace it with synonyms such as «affection» or «dedication».

Remember that you can use more than one word. This is a simple way to increase the length of the verse.

The next step is brainstorm. This is one of the most popular methods to stimulate creative activity. What do you want to write about? Select the word by which you want to convey certain feelings, emotions, and the sense of your poem. Try using various brainstorm technique that will allow you to go beyond the usual thinking. Some useful methods of brainstorming may include:

  • Always carry a notebook with you in order to write in it your thoughts, which can be relevant to the topic.
  • Make a list of characteristics of what or whom you are going to write about. For example, the character of your mother, her appearance, pleasant memories associated with her, the sound of her voice, the smell of her favorite perfume, and so on.
  • While walking, take notes in your notebook. You can write down everything you see.
  • Look for inspiration in works of art. What do you feel when you see your favorite painting or listen to a favorite song? Describe those feelings.
  • Write about yourself. No one else knows you better than you.

The Start of Writing a Poem

First of all, write the name of your poem vertically on the page. Each line must have one letter. This will help you see how long your poem is going to be.

Usually, the first letter on the line is written with a capital letter, so the word you have chosen will be different from the line as a whole.

When you write the word you have in the vertical direction, this will the beginning of your lines of a poem. Perhaps you think that you need to start writing a poem from the first line? But it doesn’t have to be this way. Look at all the letters that you wrote. Think with what letter it is easier for you to start writing a poem. Most likely, this will be your favorite line in the verse.

Each line of your poem can end with a punctuation mark, which will emphasize the logical completion of your thoughts.

You can also use enjambment. This is a stylistic device to overcome the rhythmic monotony of the verse form and to highlight the excised segments with the verse segment of the phrase.

Focus on the sensory imagery. The sensory imagery is based on the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The reader will be able to better understand abstract concepts, if he or she can associate specific images with their senses.

For example, instead of saying how much you love your mother, you can say that your love is so great that you like the smell of onions, as she prepares dinner.

Use different artistic techniques such as comparison and metaphors. Comparison is an artistic technique, in which the image is created by comparing one object to another. In short, comparison’s assistant is the word «as» or «like» (red as a rose). The metaphor is also a comparison, however, in this case the comparative turnover is not used: the clouds were cotton balls in the sky.

Avoid stereotyped phrases and expressions, be original. Do not use clichés. The best way to get rid of the clichés is to explain familiar concepts with different phrases. For example, the above mentioned examples are samples of clichés. The readers when reading your poem should have the feeling that they are learning something new. So try to use images and comparisons that you have never heard before.

Check your poem. Finish editing only when you are satisfied with your work. Re-read the poem several times and think about how you could improve it.

Make abstract language more specific. Abstract words sound nice, but not everyone can feel the depth of these words.

Pick synonyms. Use the words that can convey the idea the best. Thesauruses and dictionaries can be useful in this case.

Follow the theme of your poem. Make sure that each line is related to the overall theme.

Correct any grammatical and spelling errors. Once you have finished with the stylistic editing of the poem, read it again, correcting grammar and spelling errors.

Originally published Jul 05, 2017, updated Dec 29, 2020

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