How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Examples and Forms

Sean Glatch  |  August 14, 2023  | 

If you’re a fan of steganography—the art of concealing messages in text—you might enjoy writing an acrostic poem. From the abecedarian to the golden shovel, acrostic poetry hijacks the poem’s use of line breaks. With this form, you can embed hidden meanings, derive inspiration, or simply have fun with the structure of poetry.

Famous acrostic poems throughout history have used the form to write love letters, incite political rebellions, and play with form. In this article, we’ll discuss how to write an acrostic poem yourself, with 6 different forms of acrostic poetry that can inspire or challenge your writing.

We’ll also share some different acrostic poem examples. But first, what is an acrostic poem?


What is an Acrostic Poem?

If you’re familiar with the basics of poetry form, you know that a poem is organized in lines and stanzas, rather than sentences and paragraphs. Like any work of English literature, a poem is read from left to right, top to bottom.

The same is true for acrostic poems. But, in addition to being read left to right, the poem also contains a hidden message in the form of vertically aligned letters or words. In other words, an acrostic poem is a poem that uses the vertical nature of poetry to spell out a hidden word or phrase.

What is an acrostic poem? It is a poem that uses the vertical nature of poetry to spell out a hidden word or phrase.

This is better demonstrated in some acrostic poem examples. Take the piece “An Acrostic” by Edgar Allan Poe—retrieved here from

An Acrostic

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
“Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

Notice that the first letter of each line also spells out the poem’s first word: ELIZABETH. This poem, dedicated to Poe’s cousin Elizabeth Rebecca Herring, makes use of Greek mythology to discuss themes of love, beauty, and death.

If the poem itself is difficult to understand, don’t worry—its references are rather obscure. L.E.L. refers to the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon, who often wrote about love or its absence. Zantippe, more commonly spelled Xanthippe, was the wife of Socrates and, reportedly, had a sharp temper (though she was also a devoted housewife).

Endymion, by contrast, was a man whom the moon (Luna) fell in love with. Luna begged Zeus to grant Endymion eternal life, which Zeus agreed to, though he also put Endymion in eternal sleep, essentially preserving his beauty but robbing him of his life.

Here, the acrostic poem form is being used to dedicate the poem to another person. However, there are many more creative uses of the acrostic form, which we will uncover in the following acrostic poem examples.

Acrostic Poem Examples: 6 Forms of Acrostic Poetry

As with any poetry form, poets have tinkered with the acrostic poem for centuries. Here are six types of acrostic poetry to inspire and challenge you.

1. The Conventional Acrostic Poem

The conventional acrostic poem uses the first letter or word of each line to spell out a related word or phrase. Edgar Allan Poe gave us one of many acrostic poem examples that follow this form. Below is another example: “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Carroll.

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

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 has 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?

The first letter of each line spells out the name “ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL,” the subject of the poem. Alice also serves as the inspiration of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a work whose themes and ideas can be seen, albeit inchoate, in this poem.

On top of the acrostic form, Carroll also rhymes each tercet, making this poem both metrically challenging and a pleasure to read. Of course, acrostic poems can do more than just embed names in their lines—they can embed messages of any sort!—but the acrostic name poem is a common literary trope.

2. The Double Acrostic Poem

Following suit, the double acrostic poem embeds a message both at the beginning and at the end of each line. The first letter of each line spells out a word, and so does the last letter of each line.

Double acrostic poem examples are hard to find, and good examples are even harder. Perhaps the most famous example is the poem “Stroud” by Paul Hansford, in dedication to the town of the same name in England.

Set among hills in the midst of five valleys,
This peaceful little market town we inhabit
Refuses (vociferously!) to be a conformer.
Once home  of  the cloth it gave its name to,
Uphill and down again its  streets lead you.
Despite its faults it leaves us all charmed.

Despite the fun challenge of writing a double acrostic, this form is relatively rare in published poetry. As such, there is much room for experimentation, and you should challenge yourself with the form!

One idea for experimentation would be a double helix poem, in which the first letters can be read top-to-bottom, and last letters can be read bottom-to-top, mirroring the directionality of DNA.

3. The Abecedarian Poem

The abecedarian poem is a type of acrostic in which the first letter of each line runs in alphabetical order. Naturally, most English-language abecedarian poems are 26 lines long. Despite the challenge of following alphabetical order, a good abecedarian will still rely on using concrete nouns and verbs at the start of each line, eschewing the easy route of articles, adverbs, and prepositions whenever possible.

Abecedarian definition: a type of acrostic in which the first letter of each line runs in alphabetical order.

Here’s one of many great abecedarian poem examples, titled “abecedarian with sexual tension” by Emily Corwin:

are you running to someplace that
beckons you? in the wild yonder, where I

crackle, the lungs of me blooming silver in the
dimness, riverbed gone out. should we meet then at

evening? under coxcomb and swollen,
filled with asking for each other, asking whether

goodness can be taught, whether this is right. and
how do you heal yourself, my dear?

I remember what you are—scab, totem,
juniper on the side of this house. do you make me

kind? would you like to reach between my doors—
lurid as a milksnake? I break every promise

made once to myself, in the darkening, dark
now, and my blackberries are burnt. I put fire

on the table, the rosewood made soft and
pinkish. I long to be among your

quiet plants, your neck unclothed, your wrist and
rhubarb, the red thorny vine coiling,

smoked in you—a heat that pulls, dragging anyone
toward it, toward being raptured,

unmade by your finger tips, undone my ribs,
vertebrae—scraped, used like a

whetstone. it is scary, to live like this, under the
x-ray machines, everything visible in my

young chest—a threshold. enter me between a
zillion bright rooms, all at once hushing.

The challenge, of course, is to write convincing lines using those Scrabble letters like J, X, Q, and Z. Some more abecedarian poem examples include “A Poem for S.” by Jessica Greenbaum, “Hummingbird Abecedarian” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and “A Boy Can Wear a Dress” by John Bosworth. Our instructor Susan Vespoli has also published two abecedarians: “Dear 2022” and “Adam Abecedarian“.

4. The Mesostich

The mesostich, also known as a mesostic poem, is a type of acrostic poem in which a word or phrase is formed down the middle of the poem.

Like other acrostic forms, the mesostich can be read like normal, and the hidden message will often be italicized or capitalized down the center of the text. Some poets, like Andrew Culver, argue that a true mesotich is only achieved when the mesostic letters are not repeated twice in the same line.

Poet John Cage popularized the mesostich form. Here’s an example of the mesostich, out of John Cage’s longform poem Overpopulation and Art. Cage’s poem repeats the phrase “OVERPOPULATION AND ART” as a mesostich 20 times—one time for each letter of the phrase ‘OVERPOPULATION AND ART.”

overpopulation and art acrostic poem examples

For more fun with the form, check out this mesostic poem generator from the University of Pennsylvania.

5. The Telestich

Like the mesostich, the telestich is a relatively uncommon form of the acrostic. Telestiches form words or phrases using the last letters of each line.

We’ve already seen one example of the telestich in the double acrostic poem, as the last line of that poem spelled out “STROUD.” That said, telestiches are relatively uncommon in English-language and contemporary poetry.

However, the telestich was a common tactic used by Ovid, an Ancient Roman poet. In The Metamorphoses, Ovid employs telestich lines that often refer to the content of the text itself. First, let’s look at one telestich he employed in the original Latin:

From Metamorphoses, Book 1, lines 406-411:

non exacta satis rudibusque simillima signis.
Quae tamen ex illis aliquo pars umida suco
et terrena fuit, versa est in corporis usum;
quod solidum est flectique nequit, mutatur in ossa;
quae modo vena fuit, sub eodem nomine mansit;
inque brevi spatio superorum numine saxa

The poem’s telestich spells out the word “SOMATA,” an Ancient Greek word meaning “bodies.” This is relevant to the text itself, which you can see for yourself in this translation:

as marble statue chiseled in the rough.
The soft moist parts were changed to softer flesh,
the hard and brittle substance into bones,
the veins retained their ancient name.

The use of the telestich reinforces the corporeal nature of the text, exhibiting the kind of structural (and multilingual) wordplay that Ovid embedded in his work.

For a full translation of the text, as well as the original Latin, you can find Metamorphoses here.

6. The Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel is a poetry form invented by Terrance Hayes. To write a golden shovel, the last word of each line should be read vertically so that it transcribes the text of another poem (making this form a modified version of the telestich).

Terrance Hayes’ poem “The Golden Shovel” is the first example of this form, which adapted the text of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”. You can see Brooks’ poem repeated through the end words of each line in Hayes’ piece.

We’ve covered “We Real Cool” before, both in our article on short form poetry and our article on repetition devices. So, here’s a different example of The Golden Shovel. Michael Kleber-Diggs’ poem “America is Loving Me to Death” is a Golden Shovel of the Pledge of Allegiance—and it also has a beginning-letter acrostic!

Read the poem here, in the Academy of American Poets. 

More Famous Acrostic Poem Examples

Looking for more acrostic poem examples to inspire your writing? Here’s a brief list of famous acrostic poems.

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: 5 Tips

In the above acrostic poem examples, poets employed a variety of the following tips.

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Innovate Forms

Of course, spend some time practicing the acrostic. Write a golden shovel, a mesostich, or some great abecedarian poem examples. But also, feel free to experiment: the blank page is fertile ground.

For example, we were not able to find an acrostic poem that has a message down the beginning, middle, and end letters. Nor have we seen acrostics that read their message backwards, from bottom to top. Or, what if the acrostic was paired with another challenging form? Imagine a contrapuntal that’s also an abecedarian.

Whatever you write, give in to experimentation. That’s what the acrostic is for!

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Experiment with “Down Words”

What kinds of hidden messages can you embed? In our acrostic poem examples, poets have embedded the letters of names, themes, ideas, and even political messages. What else could you use those “down words” for?

Experiment with those words, because you might strike something new and unexplored in acrostic poetry. Perhaps the acrostic will contradict the message of the poem; perhaps you will embed references to famous quotes, slogans, or other works of art and literature. The acrostic is a space for you to build references and metatextuality, so lean into this, and don’t necessarily settle for the first idea you come up with.

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Forge a Relationship Between Form and Language

Whatever hidden message you develop, it should have a relationship to the text of the poem itself. This may not be the case if you write a traditional abecedarian poem, but even then, it’s best if the poem’s form has something to do with the poem’s message.

Have fun with this, because the relationship between form and language is the crux of acrostic poetry. One idea would be to write an acrostic that’s self-referential. For example, what if a mesostic poem was cleaved by the word “sword”? Or what if a poem’s beginning letters and telestich both spelled out the word “BOOKENDS?”

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Use Natural Language

The trick to writing a good acrostic poem is to keep the language natural and precise. Too often, a bad acrostic is plagued by bad word choice.

For the purposes of writing acrostic poetry, eschew the urge to use a thesaurus. Really. If you search for synonyms of words that begin or end with certain letters, you’ll convince yourself to use words that sound unnatural or have different intended usages. Try to use language organically, and only check the dictionary for confirmation. You’ll find that the poem will flow on its own, without the use of grandiloquent language or narrowly-related synonyms.

How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Let the Poem Stand on Its Own

Finally, an acrostic poem should have a clear message without the hidden “down words.” In other words, the acrostic should not be necessary to understanding the poem—rather, it’s like an “easter egg” of the poem. It should refine or complicate the poem’s message—it can even provide the poem’s title—but it should not be the sole reason for the poem’s existence.

Let the poem be a poem regardless of the acrostic. Structure exists to inform, enhance, and challenge the meaning of the poem (there’s no language without structure), but not to define the poem itself.

Why Write An Acrostic Poem?

You don’t often see acrostic poems published in contemporary poetry journals, except for the occasional abecedarian or golden shovel. In fact, outside of those two forms, many contemporary poets even snub the acrostic form.

Sometimes, acrostics can come across as gimmicky or unserious. Bad acrostic poetry examples certainly populate the internet. Nonetheless, there are reasons to write the acrostic, and ways to write it so that the form enhances the meaning of the work. 

Here are some reasons to write an acrostic poem:

  • To give the work a structural backbone. You might just want to challenge yourself with a new poetry form, and the acrostic gives you an accessible challenge to start from. 
  • To give a longer poem an organizing principle. Take, for example, Anna Rabinowitz’s book-length poem Darkling. The entire book is one acrostic poem. This poem organizes fragments of the speaker’s family history, resulting in a powerful and evocative exploration of the Holocaust and its legacies. 
  • The interplay of language and structure. Acrostic poetry scaffolds a message into the structure of the poem itself. These poems work best when the acrostic message is related to the poem, allowing for layered meanings. 
  • To put your work in conversation with other poetry. The golden shovel, in particular, naturally involves interplay between the source text and the poem that was inspired by the source text.
  • To dedicate a poem to someone. Bonus points if you’re writing an ode or a love poem to the dedicatee. 

By using the acrostic form to experiment and innovate, and by using it to layer meanings or discover new ways of organizing a poem, the acrostic poet can overcome the “gimmicky nature” ascribed to a lot of acrostic poetry, and elevate it into something beautiful and evocative. 

Learn How to Write an Acrostic Poem at

Whether you’re writing a simple acrostic name poem or a complex abecedarian, the courses at will help you master the acrostic poem. Take a look at our upcoming poetry classes, where you’ll find courses that help poets at any stage of their writing.

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Sean Glatch

Sean Glatch is a poet, storyteller, and screenwriter based in New York City. His work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Milk Press,8Poems, The Poetry Annals, on local TV, and elsewhere. When he's not writing, which is often, he thinks he should be writing.


  1. 🖋 Writing Links Round Up 2/28 – B. Shaun Smith on February 28, 2022 at 10:43 am

    […] How to Write an Acrostic Poem: Examples and Forms […]

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    […] Form: Acrostic […]

  3. […] decided to write an acrostic poem this month. Click here for a good explanation of an acrostic […]

  4. Beverly George on August 16, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    Dear Sean Glatch,
    Thank you for your educational and inspirational monthly articles. I look forward to them and appreciate the thought and information you put into them. They offer so much to those of us who are seeking to improve our craft. With sincere thanks, Beverly

    • Sean Glatch on August 17, 2023 at 5:41 am

      Hi Beverly,

      Your comment has made my day! I’m ecstatic to hear these articles have helped you on your writing journey.


  5. Darrell McDonald on September 4, 2023 at 10:38 am

    I began to write acrostics, based on given names, more than 60 years ago. At the time, as an auditor, I traveled extensively (a new ticket every Monday morning) and I used this as a way to meet new people. Now, at 91, I have become interested in writing poetry once more. As before acrostics are attractive to me because they are short, they require discipline and they lead to potential friendships. I find that I no longer wish to “wing it” but rather to submit to the added discipline of proper poetical form. My verses will range from four to ten lines per verse. And most lines, I expect, will be only eight or nine syllables. I’d like to find som help and encouragement here.

  6. Kiptoo kibet on October 3, 2023 at 10:29 am

    This is a wonderful content. You are so kind and loving that you can give out such resources for free to upcoming writers like me.
    Thanks alot.
    I wait for another one.

    • omar on November 14, 2023 at 8:47 am

      Part 2: Hospitality Acrostic Poem
      Directions: An acrostic poem is a poem where certain letters in each line spell out a word or phrase. Typically, the
      first letters of each line are used to spell the message, but they can appear anywhere. Complete the acrostic poem
      below by writing words or phrases relating to the hospitality and tourism industry or that represent what it means to
      have a “service spirit.”

  7. Joseph Mason on February 2, 2024 at 9:05 am

    A cross tick on a fallen tree …
    Called out as I drew near …
    “Regale the forest canopy …
    O’ Ye of proverbs dear …
    So might I ask just this of thee …
    To one who lends an ear …
    If all mankind with eyes can see …
    Can only Poets hear?”

    • Sean Glatch on February 5, 2024 at 5:53 am


  8. Joseph Mason on February 6, 2024 at 5:05 am

    Origin of Acrostic Poetry?

    A cross tick with an attitude …
    Came rapping at Poe’s door …
    Reciting rhythmic rhyme ensued …
    “Only this and nothing more” …
    Soon a smile adorned his mouth …
    Tomes strewn ‘neath barren shelf …
    Inspired tick pens north to south …
    Creating poem to mimic ….. self?

    Perhaps my theory has some holes …
    Or maybe it’s the beer …
    Edgar Allan – bless his soul! …
    Thinks I’m onto something here …
    Really, folks – can you not SEE? …
    You need only study P

  9. […] Writing Center was running a poetry contest all of last month! The theme: Spring. The format: an acrostic poem. And now…after a whole month…our team of Writing Center judges has put their heads […]

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