It is common for the poem’s shape to reflect the its theme or subject, but it is not a requirement. Some shape poems deliberately challenge this convention for humorous effect. I have to say that I prefer the term shape, poems for kids in Italian neatly ties the poem’s form to its description, so we’ll stick with it for the time being. Twisted shape poems are easier and more fun to write, which makes them ideal for children.
In the case of twisted poems, the words of the poem are written and then simply contorted or twisted to form the desired shape. Some people think that twisted shape poetry is a cheat, because the same words can be twisted into almost any shape. I must say I like the twisted form, because if you’re unhappy with how the poem turns out first time, you can easily untwist the words and twist them into different shapes until you get the result you want. In a true shape poem, the poet uses the differing line lengths to create the desired imagery.
It can be a tricky and frustrating business. If you want to create a poem which rhymes and has a recognisable metre, you either need to select a fairly rectangular form for your poem or to cheat like mad. Let’s have a look at an example and everything should fall into place. In this case I’ve created a true shape poem in the form of a man in a hat. I’ve also included a riddle in the poem, just to bamboozle you a bit further.
Perhaps it’s time to get out your I-spy Book of Hats. Ready to write a shape poem? I’d start with a twisted one. Langston Hughes by Carl Van Vechten 1936. American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.
He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”. Like many African Americans, Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of Hughes’ paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved African Americans and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky. In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African-American, Euro-American and Native American ancestry. Langston Hughes grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Hughes’ father left his family and later divorced Carrie.