You remember acrostic poems? I think we all wrote more than one acrostic poem in school, usually on the first day, and we probably used our name as the topic. So, you’re probably thinking- I don’t need to learn how to write an acrostic poem. But, there is much more to this form of poetry than you probably realized.
Let’s talk about acrostic poems, what they are, how to write them, and review some lesser-known types of acrostic poems. We’ll also discuss some ideas for acrostic poems, and finally, we’ll look at some famous examples of acrostic poems.
What is an Acrostic Poem?
Acrostic poems are a simple technique for writing poetry where the writer uses a letter from each line of the poem to spell a word vertically. Young children often use acrostic poems, using each letter of a name to create a descriptive poem about themself.
However, acrostic poems can be more complicated and cryptic. You can use these poems for more than just spelling out your name. Like all poetry, acrostics can use figurative language and express a theme. Acrostic poems are also a simple and fun way to introduce young children to poetry and expressive writing.
More complex acrostic poems can spell out multiple words or phrases and often use literary devices such as rhyme and meter. Whether simple or complex, acrostic poems offer a unique and fun way to express oneself through poetry.
Acrostic Poem Definition:
An acrostic poem is a type of poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or phrase read vertically or diagonally. Acrostic poems can be serious or playful and can communicate a message. In its most basic form, an acrostic poem spells out the poem’s subject.
How to Write Acrostic Poem
Step 1: Decide on a Topic
With all poetry, it’s best to start by choosing a topic to write about. With a topic in mind, it’s easier to focus on what you want to say. With an acrostic poem, your topic can make up the poem’s body. This is because your topic is the word or phrase you will spell vertically with your poem.
Spend some time thinking about what topic you would like to discuss because your topic is the word or phrase that anchors your poem both structurally and thematically. My suggestion is to pick a topic that you are passionate for or that you have a lot to say about. Once you’ve chosen your topic, write it vertically down your paper or on a word document.
Step 2: Write your first draft
Brainstorm words that begin with each letter of your vertical word. You have a few options here. The first choice is whether you want each line a single word or a sentence. Sentences represent more of a challenge, but single words are okay.
After you’ve decided, write lines that describe your topic. It’s that simple.
Your second option is where you want to place the letters of your vertical word in each line. You could write your poem this-
tiMe you write
This example is still an acrostic poem but has an engaging graphical flourish. In fact, will talk about this type of acrostic more in the next section. Writing your acrostic poem this way gives you a little more wiggle room and might be more manageable.
Step 3: Edit your poem
Before you share your poem with the world, it’s essential to take some time to revise and edit your work. This task can be daunting, but it’s worth taking the time to ensure your poem is the best it can be. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Read your poem aloud. This exercise will help you catch errors and awkward phrasing.
- Read your poem backward. Reading it backward will help you spot typos and repeated words.
- Print out your poem and mark up changes with a pen or pencil. Sometimes it’s easier to see what needs to be changed when looking at a physical copy of your work.
- Show your poem to someone else and ask for feedback. Another set of eyes can often spot problems that you’ve missed.
Take your time revising and editing your poem. Don’t be afraid to make changes, even big ones. Remember, this is your poem, and you have the final say on what goes in it.
By following these tips, you can be sure that your poem is ready for publication. So get revising!
Types of Acrostic Poems
There are many types of acrostic poems beyond the traditional ones we’ve discussed. Let’s talk about the kinds of acrostic poems and what makes each unique.
An abecedarian poem is one in which each successive line or stanza begins with a letter of the alphabet. The most common form of abecedarian poetry is the alphabetical acrostic, in which consecutive lines start with successive letters of the alphabet. However, other variations are possible, such as poems in which each stanza begins with a different letter of the alphabet. Abecedarian poems can be mined for all sorts of exciting wordplay and associations, making them a favorite form for poets and word lovers alike.
Check out this example of an abecedarian poem, A Poem for S, by Jessica Greenbaum.
A mesostic poem is a type of poem that uses a central word or phrase to create a horizontal line of text. The rest of the poem is written around this line, with each successive line intersecting the central word or phrase. Mesostic poems come in various forms, from traditional poems to conceptual pieces. While the concept of a mesostic poem may seem complex, the result is often a striking and visually appealing poem.
As with any poetry, there are no strict rules for writing a mesostic poem. However, some tips for getting started include choosing an interesting word or phrase to serve as the central axis and experimenting with different ways of intersecting the lines of text. Whether you’re a seasoned poet or just getting started with writing verse, mesostic poems offer a unique and challenging way to express yourself.
Here is an example of what a mesostic poem looks like:
let us maKe
a room Holding
tons of lovE
(&, Naturally, much good food, too)
Read more about this form of poetry here.
A telestich is the reverse of an acrostic, where the last letters of each line form a word or phrase. This format is opposed to an acrostic where the first letters of each line form a word. Check out an example of a telestich here.
Golden Shovel poem
A golden shovel poem is a way of paying homage to another poem or poet. In this form of poetry, you will end each line with a word from a line of poetry you admire. When you complete your poem, the last words of each line, when read vertically, are a line from another poem.
American poet Terrance Hayes created this form of poetry when he wrote his poem The Golden Shovel. Hayes’s poem pays tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, We Real Cool. Check out both poems here:
We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Golden Shovel by Terrance Hayes
A double acrostic poem is a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or phrase, and the last letter of each line spells out another word or phrase. The two terms can be related or unrelated.
Double acrostics can be tricky to write, but they can be fun to read. These poems often have a sense of humor or playfulness as the reader tries to figure out the hidden message. Double acrostics can be written on any topic, but they often work well with short, punchy phrases. So if you’re feeling creative, why not give it a try? You might be surprised at what you come up with.
Check out this example of a double acrostic poem.
Acrostic Poem Ideas
There are endless possibilities when it comes to acrostic poems. You can use them to spell out your name, the names of loved ones, or even to convey a message or feeling. The sky is the limit regarding what you can write about. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- A moment in time: capture a memory or feeling in words
- A place you love: describe why it’s unique to you
- An object that has meaning to you: share its story
- A person who has made an impact on your life: explain why they are important to you
Once you’ve decided on a topic, you can write a traditional acrostic poem where your subject is spelled vertically in the first letter of each line. Or, play with one of the various forms of acrostics we’ve already talked about. For instance, you can:
- Write a double acrostic about two moments in time that contrast one another, like winter and summer.
- Create a golden shovel poem using a quote from your favorite movie or book.
- Compose a mesostic where the “spine” word is the name of the person who raised you.
- Write a telestich where the vertical word at the end of your poem is the most treasured item you own.
Whether you’re a seasoned poet or just getting started, acrostic poems offer a fun and creative way to express yourself. So go ahead and try it – you might be surprised at what you come up with!
Famous Examples of Acrostic Poems
An Acrostic by Edgar Allan Poe
Elizabeth it is in vain you say
“Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.
A Poem for S. by Jessica Greenbaum
Because you used to leaf through the dictionary,
Casually, as someone might in a barber shop, and
Devotedly, as someone might in a sanctuary,
Each letter would still have your attention if not
For the responsibilities life has tightly fit, like
Gears around the cog of you, like so many petals
Hinged on a daisy. That’s why I’ll just use your
Initial. Do you know that in one treasured story, a
Jewish ancestor, horseback in the woods at Yom
Kippur, and stranded without a prayer book,
Looked into the darkness and realized he had
Merely to name the alphabet to ask forgiveness—
No congregation of figures needed, he could speak
One letter at a time because all of creation
Proceeded from those. He fed his horse, and then
Quietly, because it was from his heart, he
Recited them slowly, from aleph to tav. Within those
Sounds, all others were born, all manner of
Trials, actions, emotions, everything needed to
Understand who he was, had been, how flaws
Venerate the human being, how aspirations return
Without spite. Now for you, may your wife’s
X-ray return with good news, may we raise our
Zarfs to both your names in the Great Book of Life.
The Golden Shovel by Terrance Hayes
after Gwendolyn Brooks
When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real
men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we
drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk
of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight
Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing
his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We
watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.
He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,
how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we
got down on our knees in my room. If I should die
before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.
That’s it for acrostic poetry, but if you’d like to learn how to write a standard poem you can read that tutorial here. Or, check out the poetry page for many more how-tos!