April 7, 2020

What is the Normal Size of a Poem?

Sara Robinson

What is the “normal” size of a poem? Is there a “calibration standard” for poetry length? We don’t use calipers or carpenter squares to measure length on a page. That is too left-brain for us creative types. But we do study and investigate words to ponder over stresses, syllables, and metrical formats, especially if we are writing formally (i.e. sonnets). Most of us contemporary poets embrace free verse style, so we think about compression and compaction when we compose. We edit a lot, revise a bunch, and throw away words that we decide will be unnecessary or even lazy.

Getting the words down, then getting them good is our faithful mantra. This also means words play a major role in length. The novelist Greg Iles says he writes “in a granular way,” meaning his descriptions often unfold minute-by-minute. That’s why most of his novels are long and epic. I love his writing.

Poet C.D. Wright was one of many writers who composed “verse novels” using topics, such as civil rights, to engage her readers. Her verse-book, One With Others, is a testament to how incorporation of letters, lists, reporting, comes together as poetry. To tackle a big heavy, such as civil rights, she needed to be different, and she succeeded.

While we may not have something that large inside us, we still have plenty of space to occupy between a great length and a few lines. What we strive for is that at the end of the last line of the last stanza our readers are left wanting more.

Here is William Carlos Williams’ The Manoeuvre
     “I saw the two starlings
       coming in toward the wires.
       But at the last,
       Just before alighting, they

       turned in the air together
       and landed backwards!
       that’s what got me— to
       face into the wind’s teeth.”

Every word counts in what is a normal-size poem for you. The big can be seen in the small. Face the wind and pull your words out of clouds.

I began my creative writing career after retiring from industry. I would love to talk to readers about my writing and the memoir, as well as my short stories and poetry. My latest poetry book, Sometimes the Little Town, is based on the photography of Hobby Robinson. I have 3 other published poetry books and a memoir. I live in central Virginia and enjoy all the wonders that abound in the local area. Much of my writing focuses on these experiences as well as reflecting on how I am evolving as a poet and writer. In Fall 2014, one of my poems about my Jewish heritage appeared in Poetica MagazineLooking for places to buy my books? Check out:, Barnes & Noble, Solace 


  1. I love your post and shared it with our writing group in North Carolina!

  2. Thank you Sara, enjoyed this post. The words you said, "Face the wind and pull your words out of clouds" give me the courage to try my hand at poetry (for my eyes only of course) but to put into play words in my head and see what comes of it.

  3. So did I, I posted it to my google classroom