Abecedarian poetry is a form of poetry that uses the letters of the alphabet to guide the organization of the poem. Each line of the poem begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, starting with A and ending with Z. It’s related to acrostic poems where the first letter of each line begins with successive letters of the alphabet.
Experiment with Abecedarian as a Literary Form
The abecedarian form is a great container for a specific theme or topic. Carolyn Forché’s poem, “On Earth,” from her book, Blue Hour, is a stunning 47-page abecedarian poem (a very short excerpt is here). This would be an ambitious model to follow, but a great way to experiment with the form. The key is to find a topic or theme you’re passionate about — once you get started, it might be hard to stop. For a general list of themes to get you thinking, click here.
When writing an abecedarian prose poem, you can start each sentence with a letter from the alphabet, and keep the work together in a single paragraph. There’s a lot of room for creativity here — if the paragraph feels large and unwieldy, experiment with line breaks.
Tip: the line break doesn’t have to happen at the end of a sentence or where there’s a pause with punctuation — try a break in the middle of a sentence.
You can use each letter of the alphabet as a jumping off point for 26 micro essays — see Dinty Moore’s “Son of Mr. Green Jeans” below.
If you’re writing memoir, the Alphabet Autobiography is another variation (see image). Begin with the letter A, then describe yourself or a memory that starts with the letter A, and continue down the alphabet.
Similar to a free write, the first draft is best done without too much stopping and thinking. If you’re stuck on a letter, skip it and move on. Those are sometimes the good ones that need a little more time to land, so circle back around when you’re done.
The simplest way to do this is to get a sheet of lined paper and write the letters A through Z on the left, with one letter per line. Now start writing!
If you’re writing slower than you’d like, stop and take a breath. Get up, drink some water, then come back and set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes and get back to writing.
Examples of Abecedarian Poems
- “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz. Listen to her reading it here.
- “A Poem for S.” by Jessica Greenbaum
- “Son of Mr. Green Jeans: An Essay on Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged” by Dinty W. Moore
- Abecedarian (Poets. org)
- Abecedarian Poetry Guide (MasterClass)