How To Write Lay Poetry

This form of poetry dates back to the 13th century and was often accompanied by music. In its traditional form in French and German, the lay poem was written in eight-syllable couplets.

How To Write Lay Poetry

How To Write Lay Poetry

Lay poetry dates back to the 13th century and was often accompanied by music. In its traditional form in French and German, the lay poem was written in eight-syllable couplets. If you want to write a true Lay poem, keep your lines to that syllable count. If you’re just having fun don’t worry about counting syllables. The lay’s narrative aspect means that the poem’s length varies greatly. They can be hundreds or thousands of lines long, but for our purposes, we are shooting for a stanza of 6-16 lines. As always though, rules were made to be broken. Due to the length and freedom of this form, the rules we are establishing are just recommendations and not requirements. 

Rules of the Lay Poem

  1. It is a stanza of 6-16 lines.
  2. It is a narrative poem
  3. It can be rhymed or unrhymed as you like  

Advantages of the Lay Poem

The rules of this poem are wonderful if you already have a narrative idea for a poem in mind. You can use the syllable count and length to help guide your idea to completion. Free verse poetry is often hard because there are no restrictions; you can literally write it however you want. I use this form often to help center and guide the main ideas when creating the first draft of a poem. As with any form, the rules are useful as long as they are useful to your narrative. If you feel like you need to break them, break them. 

Challenges of the Lay Poem

If you are a purist about forms the lay can be challenging. Mostly, this is a good thing–it is important to challenge yourself in creative writing. Crafting a story in eight-syllable couplets is a fun experiment. Additionally, this form can prove difficult if you aren’t used to writing narrative poetry as a whole. If you think that’s a weakness in your writing, lean into it! Use the lay and other narrative forms to work that narrative muscle. 


Prompt 1 – A Friend’s  House

This week, each prompt will be a set or setting and you can choose to craft whatever narrative you’d like! If you want to use the same characters, at the end of the week you’ll have one long lay

If you don’t have any friends, make one up!

Lay Poetry Example:

I walked up his creaking steps
To the world’s most cluttered front porch
Kicking aside a chair, I knock
I hear some scrambling from inside
The door whips open and my friend smiles.
“Welcome to my humble abode,
You really made it just in time.”
I walk in and take off my shoes
He points to the cat, crouched, quiet
“You really made it just in time.”
Like a crossbow bolt, the cat darts
But the moth flies up and away
The cat let out a sad yowl
Looking defeated, slinks away.
“I really made it just in time.”

Prompt  2 – The Park

It’s the park.


I put my hand in his,
his oaken fingers wrap around mine
I put my foot on his knee
his gnarled joints support my weight
I climb into his wooden skull
his new sprung leaves tickle my face
I rest my eyes among his quiet thoughts
his sap fills my dreams with sweet spring visions
I sleep, he keeps watch.

Prompt 3  – The Sandwich Shop

What is going on at the sandwich shop?


Falling in love
is really quite simple–
the girl ahead of me
at the sandwich shop
ordered a small
pitcher of beer
and one single
bag of fritos.

Prompt 4 – The Post Office

There’s gotta be a story here somewhere.

Lay Poetry Example:

The door chime rings
I walk through the fluorescent sheen
“Address, ma’am?” He says to me
Keys click, printers print
credit card swipes, tears drip
A penny for your thoughts
A box for your heart
How much does it cost
To ship a love you’ve lost?

Prompt 5 – The Library

There’s DEFINITELY a story here somewhere.


Locked out
No phone, no wallet
There is no place for someone like me
no free A/C, no restroom
I keep checking buildings anyway
“What is this place?” I ask the lady at the front desk
“Cobb County Library.”
“I hate to do this, but I don’t have any money with me
do you mind if I stay for a while and cool off?”
“Stay as long as you like,” She smiles.
“It’s free.”

Prompt  6 – The Couch

A lot can happen on a couch.


left more
wait no
rotate it
other way
up some
Flip it
all the way
do the legs detach?
that’s how we ended up with a couch in the hallway

Prompt 7 – Your Room

It’s your room.


Send me to my room
I’ll make Crayola sculptures
out of Play-Do
Lego landscapes
on my windowsill
Pokemon card skyscrapers
why’d I ever get rid of that stuff

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Sam and Corey started Poetry is Pretentious to demystify poetry. More importantly, their 5th grade teacher told them they couldn’t go through life as a team. 18 years later they’re here to prove her wrong.


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