Spotlight on Forms: What is an Acrostic Poem?

Acrostic poems have been the favored poetic form of elementary schoolers, puzzle-lovers, and 19th-century scholars for quite a long time. But let me explain, first and foremost by defining what exactly an acrostic is. Acrostic poems are poems constructed when the first letters of each new line combined together spell out a new word or phrase, typically a person’s name or the subject of the poem itself. Acrostics have a wide variety of “uses;” they have been educational tools, clever love notes, and tributes in their day. Read on to find out more!

Write an acrostic

 The History of the Acrostic Poem

In the 16th century, the trend of using literature to honor those in power could be seen demonstrated in plays, political tracts, and yes, poetry. While Shakespeare honored Queen Elizabeth on stage, poet Sir John Davies elected to honor her on the page with one of the first recorded acrostics in 1599. This jump-started a now long-standing tradition of using acrostic poems primarily as a form of praise for people or places. Poets such as Edgar Allen Poe and Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll have all written famous acrostics honoring people in their lives, while acrostics honoring cities and countries have been written by others—one supposedly by Queen Victoria of England!

 Acrostic Poems as Tools for Learning

The 19th century was the peak of the acrostic’s popularity; it seemed as though everywhere you looked, there were books and books of this form to be found! Aside from their original use as a tribute form, acrostics found new life in the realm of education. When you consider the construction of an acrostic, this makes perfect sense. Say you wanted to create a guide for remember a certain historical event that would be easy for a young child to follow. The first letter of each line would spell out the name of the event as a whole, while the lines themselves could describe details of that event and the people involved in it. As such, the acrostic becomes a handy mnemonic device that makes memorization easy.

 Write your own Acrostic!

Want to get involved with a centuries-old tradition? Try your hand at writing your own acrostic poem: Select a topic (or pick a person to honor if you want to stick with the intended purpose of the form), write out the name or topic vertically down the left-hand column of a page, and begin brainstorming ways to discuss your topic using those first letters as your guide. Who knows? If you like what you create, you can consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!



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