When I was teaching and assigned my students a “free choice” poem to write, many of my kids would choose the acrostic format. It was so popular because it is simple, fun, and has several different variations.
The acrostic format has been around a long time; acrostic poetry was discovered during the archeological digs at Pompeii, and there are several acrostics in the Hebrew version of the Bible. Many well-known writers throughout history have employed the acrostic format (including Geoffrey Chaucer, John Keats, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others), and during the Renaissance Sir John Davies wrote Hymns of Astraea, a book of 26 acrostics in which each poem spelled out the name of Queen “Elizabetha Regina.”The most common variation of the acrostic poem we see today has a subject spelled out vertically (down the left side of the page). Each letter in the subject word serves as the beginning of a word or phrase relating to or describing the subject.
Here is an acrostic poem my boys wrote for me for Mother’s Day a few years ago:Makes us happy Organized Magnificent Musical Yellow
Simple and sweet, but so special!Another option is to have a line of text beginning with each letter of the subject line:
Smiley face Nose made of carrot Outside my front door White and cold Mittens for hands A scarf to keep you warm Next winter I will see you againHere is a much more elaborate version of an acrostic poem, written by Lewis Carroll. This poem has a deliberate rhyme and meter, and the subject is family friend Alice Pleasance Liddell.
A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky By Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking Glass, 1872)A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —
Long had paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?
Yet another variation is the double acrostic, which spells out the subject at both the beginning and the end of each line. For an even more complicated twist, the word on the right side can also be spelled out from bottom to top. In addition to all of the above-mentioned examples, acrostics can also include palindromes and be incorporated into puzzles. Like every great art form, its only limitation is the artist’s imagination.
So take some time to explore this wonderful poetic format, and have fun!