“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt,
and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
What is Art? What is Poetry?
For centuries, people have been asking the question what is art? Is art a question? An answer? An expression? A statement? Maybe it’s sheer entertainment.
It’s a question we all must answer for ourselves, especially artists and writers.
I believe the best art entertains while it provokes thought or emotion, but that’s just my personal opinion. You might seek art that makes you laugh or fills you with awe. Some prefer art that is masterfully crafted, regardless of the content or messages it communicates.
Poetry That is Felt
In the world of art, poetry is particularly tricky to define because it can be so many things. Consider Dr. Seuss’s frolicking stories written in meter versus the social-political poetry of Adrienne Rich or the tribute poetry of Robert Frost and you soon realize that poetry’s purpose is really the poet’s purpose.
When Leonardo da Vinci talks about a painting as a poem that is seen (as opposed to read), I think he’s making on observation about art, something similar to the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A single painting can express ideas and emotions that would take a thousand words or more to convey in poetry or prose.
But when he talks about poetry as a painting that is felt rather than seen, he digs into the heart of what poetry can be–text that moves people emotionally. I would expand on that to note that often poetry (and other art) provokes emotions that are difficult or even impossible to put into clear words. Sometimes you read a poem and it makes you feel or understand something, but you couldn’t possibly explain it in concrete terms, and if you could, it would take an essay–or even an entire book–to convey what the poem communicated in a few lines.
That’s the magic of art and poetry. Ultimately, it is a form of communication that is almost psychic in nature.
What does poetry mean to you? How do you define or identify art?
April is National Poetry Month! Please welcome guest poet Bartholomew Barker with some tips on participating in Writer’s Digest’s Poem-a-Day Challenge.
I agree with T. S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.”
April is National Poetry Month. For the past seven years, Writer’s Digest editor Robert Lee Brewer has presented the April Poem-A-Day Challenge on the Poetic Asides blog. Brewer posts a prompt each morning and poets around the United States write a new poem that very day. This means thirty new poems per writer by the time May flowers.
It’s a brutal challenge, but satisfying for those who finish. This is my third year taking the challenge.
Brewer requests participants submit their top five poems written in April. He creates a best-of list and names a Poet Laureate. This year, in conjunction with Words Dance Publishing, he will produce an anthology of the winning poems. How does he plan to inspire writers?
“I love to write and use both ideas and images to get started. For my prompts, I try to make them specific enough that most poets have a firm springboard into their own poems, but I also like them to be open to a variety of interpretations,” Brewer explained. “For instance, a weather poem could mean a weatherman to one person, a tornado to someone else, and forgetting to bring an umbrella to yet a third person.” He wants to offer a “focused freedom” every day of the challenge.
Thousands of writers attempt the challenge. They may keep a strong pace for the first few days, but many tire of the daily requirement. Life’s obligations take over and stanzas don’t write themselves.
I offer a few tips to help writers keep their pens going. For two of the past three years Brewer has honored my poems. How did I make it through the daily challenge, push through the mental fatigue, and make time to write an original poem every day? Here’s how:
- Use the whole day. Writing a poem each day for thirty consecutive days is a test of endurance. The peculiar mental fatigue turns some writer off. My routine involves reading the prompt first thing in the morning, then I let it irritate my mind while I’m at my day job. In the evening I force something out and hope it’s a pearl.
- Just write. What if you miss a day? Doesn’t matter. Some days we’re busy. Move on. Take the next prompt and ignore the previous one, or write a poem a day late or a week later. Whatever. Just write. Use your own prompts if necessary.
- Let it go. I don’t expect to produce thirty masterpieces in April. If I get five decent poems, it’s a good month. I hope to get ten more that, with a lot of revision, could be crafted into something (that’s what May is for). Just get the poem out before falling asleep. For instance, here was the prompt for April 27th, 2011:
Take the phrase “In the (blank) of (blank),” replace the blanks with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Some possible titles might include: “In the Heat of the Night,” “In the Heat of the Moment,” “In the Middle of a Heated Argument,” etc.
In the last week of the month
In the last hour of the day
Desperate to keep
The streak alive
He types his internal monologue
Inserting line breaks
Removing superfluous words
Hoping for a coda
I got nothin’
After 26 poems in 26 days, my exhaustion shines through. The key is to let it go and not worry about quality.
It helps to consider something like Poetry on Demand which is a valuable exercise in public poetry. Living Poetry, the group I help organize in North Carolina, sets up a table at street festivals. We write poems in three minutes for passersby who offer us one dollar and one word as a prompt. There’s only so much poetic trickery one can include in three minutes, so we just write, read the poem aloud, give the customer their poem, and move on to the next. While I’m sure plenty of my poems ended up in trash bins, I was told some are posted on refrigerators. It’s a poet honor.
I suggest all poets attempt the Poem-A-Day challenge at least once in their lifetime. Consider it a pilgrimage. All that is required is to write. Just like life, rules can be followed or not. Poems can be shared or not. It doesn’t matter. Use the whole day. Let it go, and just write.
About the Author: Bartholomew Barker is a poet based in Hillsborough, North Carolina. His poetry made the Top 25 nationally in the 2013 Poem-a-Day Challenge. Wednesday Night Regular, his debut poetry book, was published in November 2013. Bart’s work has appeared in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Three Line Poetry, and the anthology Point Mass. He is one of the organizers of the Triangle’s largest group of poets, Living Poetry. His Twitter handle is @bartbarkerpoet.
Ah, the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. How do they relate to poetry writing?
We delight in the pleasures of the senses, but infusing poetry with sensory stimulation is not an easy task. It takes a deft and creative writer to forge images–using text–that trigger a reader’s senses.
So why bother?
When you engage your readers’ senses, your poetry becomes more compelling and more memorable.
Some scientists say smell is the strongest of the senses in terms of memorability. If you get your readers to physically experience scent (or any other sensation), you’ll have them hooked. Surely you’ve read a passage that described the delicious smells of home-cooked food and found your mouth watering?
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write with more sense. Below, you’ll find a series of short poetry writing exercises that culminate with making a poem that is peppered with sensory stimuli.
Step 1: Prepare
- Start with a sheet of paper divided into five columns. If you prefer to do writing exercises on your computer, you can use a spreadsheet or word-processing program.
- Label the columns: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
- Spend a few minutes populating the columns with words and phrases that reflect the correlating senses. For example, in the smell column, you might write chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, a blooming rose, or the cat’s litter box. Be as descriptive as possible and avoid using only stimuli that please or entice; add a few that are unpleasant for balance.
Step 2: Review
- Review your list carefully, testing each item on your list to see how it affects you. When you read something like throbbing bass coming from the car in the next lane, can you feel the boom?
- As you go through your list, cross out anything that doesn’t engage your senses.
- Highlight those items that really affect you–when you can feel the soft slick of silk or hear the sound of a quiet breeze rustling dried leaves, you’re affected.
Step 3: Poetry Writing Exercises
- Write one sentence for each of the five senses. Make sure it’s a complete sentence, and try to generate a sentence that evokes a scene. In other words “The roses smell nice,” won’t cut it. Try for something like: “I bent down, beckoned by the rose’s sweet perfume and dazzling red hue.” Note that this sentence affects two senses: smell (sweet perfume) and sight (red hue).
- Next, try to do what I did in the sample sentence above. Combine two or more senses into a single, complete sentence. When you read it back, does your nose tingle? Do you see bright colors in your mind?
- Look for sentences that you can link together, words and phrases that can be joined together under a common theme. For example, if a lot of your words, phrases, and sentences could be set outside, then they can be grouped together.
- Finally, using the material you’ve generated, write a poem that stimulates each of the five senses. As a bonus, you can work in the sixth sense as well.
- You can also work backwards. Start with a theme, then populate your lists with things that will trigger the senses and that correlate with the theme you’ve chosen.
- Need some ideas? Start by choosing a setting, such as an event, where it’s likely all fives senses would be stimulated. For example, at a wedding, there will be the scent of fresh flowers, the taste of a wedding cake, and the sound of “Here Comes the Bride.” Other likely events include concerts, parties, meetings, vacations, and–try this one–cleaning day.
- If you get stuck, refer to your brainstorming lists or practice sentences and use that material for inspiration.
- Try not to make it too obvious that your goal for the poem was to stimulate the reader’s senses. Be sure it flows naturally.
You should have fun with poetry writing exercises but they should also challenge you. If you try these sensory-stimulating poetry writing exercises, feel free to post excerpts from what you’ve written in the comments. Also, If you have any favorite poetry writing exercises of your own, feel free to share them as well.
And keep writing sensibly!
Looking for more poetry writing exercises? 101 Creative Writing Exercises features two full chapters on poetry writing:
Today’s poetry writing exercise is from 101 Creative Writing Exercises. The exercises in this book encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Cut-and-Paste Poetry.” Enjoy!
Most poetry writing exercises are designed to help you focus on one particular area of poetry writing, such as rhyme, alliteration, or imagery. This one works on several levels.
First, this exercise provides a nice, Zen-like break from your daily routine because it involves more than writing. You’ll get to search through clippings and do a little cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned cutting and pasting with scissors and glue, not the computer-based cut-and-paste).
Second, this exercise provides an excellent alternative to recycling those growing stacks of old magazines, newspapers, and brochures that are sitting around collecting dust.
You can come back to this exercise again and again for future poetry writing sessions.
You’ll need some supplies and some time. Try to set aside an hour or two (and note that you can break this exercise up over several days or even longer).
What You’ll Need (Supplies)
- Old printed material: magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, ads, photocopies, junk mail, etc.
- A small box, basket, jar, or other container
- A pair of scissors
- A glue stick or a roll of clear tape
- A piece of blank paper (construction paper works well; you can also use a piece of cardboard or a page in your notebook)
- Highlighter (optional)
Step One: Go through old magazines, pamphlets, printouts, and photocopies. Any printed material will do. Scan through the text to find words and phrases that are interesting and capture your attention and imagination. You can highlight the text you like or move ahead to step two.
Step Two: Cut out the phrases you’ve chosen and place them in your container.
Step Three: When you have a nice pile of clippings, pull some out and spread them across a flat work surface. Sift through the words, pairing different clippings together to see how the phrasing sounds. Place the ones you like best on a piece of paper, arrange them into a poem, and use glue or tape to adhere them.
Tips, Variations, and Applications
Tips: Look for words and images that pop. When you’re all done, save the leftover clippings so you can repeat this exercise again later.
Variations: If you find it difficult to cobble together an entire poem from your clippings, then use a pen or pencil to add words and phrases to complete your poem. You can also clip images and incorporate them to create a multimedia poetry collage that is also a piece of art.
Applications: This exercise reminds you to focus on word choice and language. It encourages you to go outside yourself for inspiration by piecing elements from different sources together to make something new.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
This is one of my favorite writing resources of all time. It is subtitled “An Introduction to Poetry,” but it’s full of concepts that can benefit any form of writing.
Whether you write fiction, articles, essays, or blog posts, Perrine’s Sound and Sense will enhance the way you perceive and use language to communicate an idea, a scene, or information.
After all, language is a writer’s medium. How do we choose words and string them together? What makes one sentence so vivid while another is practically impossible to visualize? How can we play with the meaning of words in a way that is meaningful? How do we craft prose that is musical?
These, of course, are questions that poetry actively asks and explores. Storytellers spend a lot of time on plot and character. Article writers spend a lot of time on research. Bloggers spend a lot of time under the hood. Poets live and breathe in language.
And language — or rather, a writer’s use of it — is what elevates a piece of ordinary prose to something regal. Through a light study of poetry, you will expand your vocabulary, learn simple techniques to make images out of words, and understand the deeper secrets of language — secrets that make your writing extraordinary.
Perrine’s Sound and Sense
This book is a delightful and comprehensive romp through the intricacies of poetry and language. It’s a perfect introduction to poetry because it’s liberally populated with fantastic poems that will satisfy a range of personal tastes and preferences, making it a veritable anthology that teaches concepts alongside each poem (or that uses poems to beautifully illustrate and illuminate various concepts).
Sound and Sense starts with the basics. The first two chapters are respectively titled “What is Poetry?” and “Reading a Poem.” If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about poetry and why so many successful writers advocate poetry, these chapters will show you the light, both through their discussion of poetry and presentation of poems.
Later chapters deal with increasingly complex concepts. These concepts are taught in the context of how they are applied to poetry but they are applicable to any kind of writing. The chapter on “Denotation and Connotation” explains how we choose words based on their meaning, particularly when we can choose between two (or more) words with the same meaning:
The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wide-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. (p. 41)
We’ve all heard that imagery is critical to our writing, but many writers don’t quite understand what show, don’t tell actually means. Master writers refer to similes, metaphors, symbols, and allegories, all effective literary devices in any form. Sound and Sense helps you understand the importance of these devices, shows you how to identify them in a piece of writing, and therefore gives you the knowledge you need to apply those devices in your own work.
The insight doesn’t stop with meaning and literary devices. The book goes on to explore tone and dedicates a significant portion of its final chapters to musicality with chapters such as “Musical Devices,” Rhythm and Meter,” and “Sound and Meaning.”
Everything that we do naturally and gracefully we do rhythmically. There is rhythm in the way we walk, the way we swim, the way we ride a horse, the way we swing a golf club or a baseball bat. So native is rhythm to us that we read it, when we can, into the mechanical world around us. Our clocks go tick-tick-tick but we hear tick-tock, tick-tock. (p. 187)
So if you’ve ever wondered how to make your writing sing and dance, if you’ve ever gotten a phrase stuck in your head and wondered what made it so catchy and then wondered how you could craft writing that is just as memorable, this book is for you.
Sound and Sense features tons of wonderful poems by some of the best known and loved poets of all time, including Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Andrew Marvell, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, and far too many others to list here.
And it’s all capped off with a handy glossary and comprehensive index, which makes revisiting its contents quick and easy. I’m telling you, this is a resourceful little book!
This gem of a book doubles as an anthology of poetry and is useful for both readers and writers of poetry. But writers of all forms will reap great benefits by investing in this book.
Mostly used as a college textbook, it’s loaded with treasures packed in a dense landscape of writing concepts, some of which are practical and others that are whimsical, plus a bunch of writing concepts that are just plain magical.
Sound and Sense will transform the way you think about writing and will improve your writing at the levels of words and sentences, sounds and phrases. Want to make readers hungry? Want to make them think and feel and swoon and dance? Then get this book, because it shows you how to do just that.
Got any writing resources that you’d like to recommend? Do you find that studying one form helps you improve another? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep on writing!
In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.
Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.
In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.
That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.
Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, working through some poetry exercises, and engaging in poetry writing, even just a little bit, will improve your writing in any other form or genre.
Poetry Improves Your Writing
What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?
While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something–a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.
In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers a scene through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.
Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary
A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).
Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.
The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.
Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.
A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.
Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.
Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.
Poetry Leads to Better Writing
Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.
If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:
- Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again. Tip: you can subscribe via iTunes.
- IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes and the podcast updates a few times each week.
- Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry related resources.
Poetry will show you how to improve your writing by taking your craftsmanship to the next level. It forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.
If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.
Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Do you think studying poetry can make your writing better? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Poetry is the music of language, the fine art of the written word. It demands a broad vocabulary and creative thinking. It promotes rhythm and meter, and it invites imagery. Poetry triggers the imagination, engages the intellect, and touches the heart.
Reading and writing poetry are excellent practices for any writer. Through poetry, we learn the nuances of language, the power of showing rather than telling, and the necessity for clear and succinct wordcraft.
Basically, poetry reading and writing improves all other writing.
So, whether you are a poet or not, as a writer, a basic understanding of poetry will improve your writing exponentially. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But with poetry skills in your writer’s toolbox, your writing will soar.
Poetry starts in childhood with nursery rhymes and the beloved works of authors like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. But what comes next?
There is a vast universe of poetry out there, and it’s hard to know where to begin. Many young writers are turned off by poetry because most of what they’re exposed to in school is ancient or obscure. Many students believe poetry is strictly for lovers, greeting cards, and the academic elite. But in the world of poetry, where few do more than scratch the surface, there is something for everyone. So, where does one begin?
You can start exploring poetry with a few, basic resources. Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook is foremost among them.
A Poetry Handbook
It’s a simple but comprehensive guide to reading and writing poetry. It’s a perfect introductory text — ideal for beginners and for folks who have strayed from poetry but feel like it’s time to come home.
Under 125 pages, this handbook is a quick and easy read with straightforward examples and clear explanations. Oliver talks about how to read a poem, how to imitate the greats, and then gets into the technical aspects of poetry, covering sound, literary devices, line, and form. Finally, she takes a look at free verse.
A Poetry Handbook touches on reading and writing poetry. It include poems and excerpts by accomplished poets and uses them as examples to teach you the nuances, structure, and techniques that go into poetry writing.
Mary Oliver herself is an acclaimed poet, and her tone is friendly and witty and easy to follow. From the text:
Something that is essential can’t be taught; it can only be given, or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart… Whatever can’t be taught, there is a great deal that can, and must, be learned.
If you’ve ever been captivated by the magic of language, then you have already experienced the power of poetry. The concepts you’ll learn in working with poetry can be applied to all forms, including fiction, journalism, and copywriting. So do yourself a favor and start collecting some writing resources that deal exclusively with poetry reading and writing. Having read dozens of books on poetry, I recommend starting with A Poetry Handbook.
Poetry writing requires no license, no education, and no experience. All you need to get started is a pen and some paper.
In fact, lots of writers discover their calling because they are compelled at a young age to write poetry.
But there’s a big difference between writing poetry and writing good poetry.
Opinions about the art and craft of good poetry writing are many and varied. Some hold poetry to a high academic or literary standard. Others appreciate the fact that poetry writing provides a creative and healthy form of self-expression.
I believe that all poetry is good in the sense that anything that comes from the heart or anything that speaks truth is good. The poem itself may not win any awards, but the act of writing it can be mood-altering, healing, and maybe even life-changing.
Many poets pursue the craft with a clear goal: they want to get published. Others write poetry because they find solace in the work. They don’t care about readers, publication, or awards. And plenty of writers fall in between; they write for the joy of it but also with a desire to continually write better poetry with hopes of getting published one day.
Writing for Yourself
There’s nothing wrong with writing poetry for yourself. Poetry writing has tremendous therapeutic and creative value. However, many young poets think they can get published and earn recognition without ever truly applying themselves. They don’t read poetry, they don’t study the craft, they are not knowledgeable about poetic forms or literary devices. They make a lot of arguments:
- I don’t read poetry because I don’t want other poems to influence mine. I want my poetry to be raw.
- I write from my heart. It’s a form of self-expression.
- Poetry is an art form, so there are no rules.
- It’s my style (I’ve heard this about poems written in all-caps, for example).
- My mom/friend/teacher said I have talent, and that’s all I need.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these arguments. But if you want to get published — if you want your work taken seriously by the literary world — you’re going to have to step up your game. You’ll have to stop making excuses and learn how to write better poetry.
Tips for Writing Better Poetry
When we first start writing poetry, our work is amateurish and awkward. We might make poems that are cute or silly, poems that don’t make much sense, or poems that are murky, excessive, or verbose. We express ourselves but fail to generate poems that compel readers. But with practice and by putting a little effort into our poetry writing, our poems can blossom and become riveting — for us and for our readers.
Here are five tips to help you write better poetry, which, if taken seriously and practiced regularly, will help you improve your writing:
- Read poetry. Too many young and new poets don’t read poetry. I get it. A lot of the poems you come across just don’t capture your attention. The stuff you read in school was unwieldy. But if you look hard enough, you will discover good poetry that you will fall in love with. Go on a personal quest to find it. In order to grow as a writer, and especially as a poet, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the canon, which has already proven to resonate with readers. By seeking out established poets whose work you admire, you will build a roster of mentors. Try reading poems aloud. Keep a notebook or journal in which you can write your thoughts and responses to various works, and jot down your favorite excerpts. Bonus tip: you can also watch or listen to recorded or live poetry.
- Write regularly: Beginning poets have a tendency to take up the pen only when the mood strikes. By engaging your creativity on a daily basis, the very practice of poetry writing will become habitual and ingrained as part of your daily routine, and it is through daily practice that our work improves.
- Allow yourself to write badly: Allowing yourself a large margin for writing poorly or below your own standards will give you a freedom in your writing and room to explore your poetry on broader and deeper levels.
- Study and learn to speak in poetics. Poets have their own language. When they mention couplets and iambic pentameter, you should know what they’re talking about. Study literary devices and learn how to use them in your own poetry. That alone will kick your work up a few notches.There are many books available that will help you understand poetry intricately and will familiarize you with terms and definitions, such as alliteration or trochee. Such books will provide detailed analyses and teach you new ways to read and write poetry. To get started, look for A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver or try The Practice of Poetry by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.
- Do poetry writing exercises. It’s easy to sit down and just write a poem. Writing exercises present challenges and provide new ways of thinking and being creative within an established framework. Some poetry exercises will produce your best work but also teach you to approach poetry writing in an innovative and more imaginative manner.
- Embrace best practices and techniques. It’s true that there are no rules in poetry, but there are a few best practices, like eliminate any unnecessary words, don’t arrange words awkwardly to fit a rhyme scheme, and use imagery. When it comes to poetry, you really want to follow the old adage: show, don’t tell.
- Seek feedback from objective, well-read people who are familiar with poetry. When something in your poem isn’t working for one of them, don’t say “Oh, that’s my style.” And if it is your style, then consider that your “style” isn’t working.
- Revise. Revising your work goes hand in hand with allowing yourself to write badly. You can always go back and make changes. Some new writers insist that once they write a poem, that’s it. They believe the art is in the original creation and it should never be altered in any way. While this is certainly one way of looking at poetry as art, there is another philosophy that believes revision is necessary for true creative freedom. In knowing that you can go back and make changes later, you will give yourself more liberty in your initial writing, opening creative channels to greater possibilities.
Poetry Writing is an Adventure
Poetry teaches us how to access rich language and produce vivid images in our writing. It is one of the best ways to develop comprehensive and creative writing skills, even if poetry writing isn’t really your thing. Fiction and creative nonfiction writers often work with poetry for the sole purpose of expanding their language skills. They may not like poetry or have no intentions of publishing poetry. They just want to be better writers.
Poetry writing will take you on an exciting adventure through language if you let it, and the very act of working to improve your poetry is a journey that many writers find exhilarating.
Do you have any tips for writing better poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
And keep writing (poetry)!
Poetry is the most under-appreciated form of writing in the world today. Yet poems are ever-present in our lives. As children, we learn rhythm and language from nursery rhymes, and poems are read aloud at most major life events: baptisms, graduations, weddings, presidential inaugurations, and funerals, to name a few.
Today’s writing prompts are inspired by poetry but that doesn’t mean they have to inspire a poem. Use them to write anything you want: a short story, a blog post, a journal entry, or a freewrite. You might even try writing a song, keeping in mind that song lyrics are a type of poetry in their own right.
Some of these writing prompts require that you use an existing poem. Your poem choice can be a nursery rhyme, a Dr. Seuss story, or song lyrics. Be open and creative, and have fun!
- The hallmark of great poetry is its imagery. A truly compelling poem paints a picture and invites the reader into a vivid and realistic scene. Choose an image or scene from one of your favorite poems and start writing.
- One of the most famous poems in the English language is “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a lengthy ode to a favorite holiday. What’s your favorite holiday and why?
- Not all poems rhyme, but many do. And song lyrics often rhyme too. Other types of writing may incorporate less obvious rhymes. Give rhyming a shot.
- Some poems are more than just poems. They tell stories. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is one example. Shakespeare’s plays are another. Try writing a poem that is also a story, play, or essay. Or try writing a story or essay that is also a poem.
- Read your favorite poem and take a few minutes to contemplate it. Then, write something about the poem. Why do you love it? How does it make you feel? What makes this poem so special to you?
Choose whichever writing prompts speak to you the most. Once you’re done, come back and tell us how it worked out. And keep writing!
Do you ever use writing prompts to inspire a writing session? Have you found them helpful? Got any writing prompts of your own to share? Leave a comment!
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
― Robert Frost
Emotions are fickle beasts. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe.
I believe music is the single best expression of human emotion, but poetry is a close second. Capturing complex feelings in words without the support of music is a marvelous feat. Only the deftest poets do it well.
Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost is one of the most well known and beloved poets in the American literary canon. He knew how to convey emotions through language.
I’d like to share an excerpt from my favorite Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
By definition, poets take the road that is less traveled by. Some poets gently steer away from the mainstream; others rail in the face of convention.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1894 [Frost] sold his first poem, ‘My Butterfly. An Elegy’ …for $15 ($398 today).” These days, getting $15 for a poem would be an incredible feat. Getting $398 would be impossible. But there was a time when there was a market for poetry, when ordinary people (who were not writers, artists, or poets) bought and read poetry. Maybe back then people understood that poetry had the unique ability to interpret and explain emotions. Where do we turn for those interpretations and explanations today?
Quotes on Writing: source
Today’s writing exercise comes from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an exciting journey through different forms and genres while providing writing techniques, practical experience, and inspiration.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or writing concept: freewriting, journaling, memoirs, fiction, storytelling, form poetry, free verse, characters, dialogue, creativity, and article and blog writing are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter Seven: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise simply called “Haiku.” Enjoy!
Although haiku appears to be one of the simplest poetry forms, it’s actually quite complex. To truly understand haiku, you need to know a little bit about the Japanese language, or more specifically, some key differences between Japanese and English. Also, traditional haiku adhere to a few pretty strict rules regarding form and content.
A haiku consists of seventeen moras or phonetic units. The word mora can loosely be translated as syllable.
A haiku is a seventeen-syllable verse. Traditionally, haiku were written on a single line, but modern haiku occupy three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.
Haiku also use a device called kireji (cutting word). This word breaks the haiku into two parts, which are distinctly different but inherently connected. The kireji is not a concept used in English, so poets writing haiku in English often use punctuation marks instead of kireji, usually a hyphen or ellipses.
The kireji provides structure to the verse and emphasizes imagery used on either side. It may not always be easy to identify the kireji in a haiku, but if you look for a word or punctuation mark that abruptly breaks the train of thought and severs the haiku into two parts, you’ve probably found it.
Another basic element of haiku is the kigo (season word). A true haiku is set in a particular season and is fundamentally concerned with nature. The kigo might be an obvious word like snow (indicating winter) or it could be vague as with a word like leaves (which can be present in any season).
There is much debate (and some controversy) over what technically qualifies as a haiku. Some poets merely adhere to the 5-7-5 syllabic and line structure and disregard the kireji and kigo elements. Purists insist that a poem is not haiku if it does not meet all of the traditional requirements.
Additionally, many modern poets do not write haiku that exclusively focus on nature. Contemporary haiku explore just about any subject imaginable.
Try your hand at writing a few haiku. For this exercise, focus on writing a poem that is seventeen syllables on three lines with the following meter: 5-7-5.
Tips: The most captivating haiku are quite lovely and use imagery that is almost tangible. Many haiku have an element of surprise or use turns of phrase that are clever, reminiscent of puns.
Variations: Write a few haiku that follow stricter, more traditional rules. These haiku are concerned with nature and include the kireji (cutting word) and kigo (season word).
Applications: Haiku remain popular and can be found in literary and poetry journals. They are also ideal for social media (especially Twitter) and are fun and quick to write. They promote clear, concise writing and can help you cultivate the art of using vivid imagery.
Give it a Try
Feel free to write a haiku and share it in the comments. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises from various forms of writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It will inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” The creative writing exercises in this chapter focus on free-form poetry writing.
I chose this exercise because it’s fun and inspiring. It asks you to use a song as a foundation for writing a poem. Many song lyrics are poems in their own right. This exercise focuses on rhyming but it also shows you how to look at your writing’s musicality and encourages you to think about rhythm and meter in your work.
Give it a try, then come back and tell us what you learned. Feel free to share the poems or lyrics that you write from this exercise in the comments section.
Rock and Rhyme Poetry Writing Exercise
Rhyming poetry goes in and out of vogue all the time, except when it comes to children’s poetry, which is almost always packed with fun and clever rhymes.
Some poets take to rhyming rather easily, and sound-a-like words roll off their tongues like butter. Other poets struggle, dancing through the alphabet and flipping through rhyming dictionaries just to find a rhyme as simple as bat and cat.
Poems that rhyme may be a challenge for some, but they’re still fun to write and a blast to read (they are especially fun to read out loud). Rhyming is good practice for exploring musicality in language and experimenting with word play.
All you need is a song. A rhythmic and rhyme-y song without a lot of fancy runs. You’ll want a relatively simple tune. A short pop song will work well. Forget about classical music because most of it doesn’t have lyrics, and what we’re doing requires words. We’re writers, right?
Rewrite the lyrics but keep the rhythm and rhyme scheme intact. You don’t have to replace the rhyme ring and sing with a rhyme like thing and bling. But you do need to find another rhyming pair (like dance and pants). Your rhymes can be as strict or as loose as you want.
If you do just a few of these, rhyming will start to come more naturally to you, and your rhymes will flow with greater ease.
Try to rewrite the song on your own, but if you’re really struggling, hit up a rhyming dictionary or a thesaurus.
Tips: You might want to start with a short, three-chord pop song. Then, graduate yourself to longer and more complex tunes. If you know all the lyrics to your song, that will be immensely helpful. If not, do an online search to find the lyrics to the song you want to work with.
Variations: Here are a few variations that you can use for this exercise:
- Try it with nursery rhymes: Hey diddle diddle.
- Try it with a famous poem: Shakespeare anyone?
- Try it using a song without lyrics: You’re on your own!
Applications: Working with rhyme helps you think more carefully about word choice and points your focus to the sound and rhythm of a piece of writing. This is also an excellent exercise for anyone who has thought about writing song lyrics or children’s poems and stories.
I Rocked Some Poetry
Here’s my attempt with the first chorus from 80s one-hit wonder 99 Red Balloons by Nena.
The Original Verse
You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Till one by one they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message: something’s out there
Floating in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by
My Attempt to Catch the Rhyme
Shoes untied at a little bus stop
Sigh and whistle a tune ’cause it’s all you’ve got
Set your feet on the tired green lawn
Tie your shoe, stretch and yawn
Five o’clock, the bus should be here
Time is precious, the deadline is near
Waiting till the bus comes by
Ninety-nine cents just for a ride
Are You Ready to Get Down?
Try it for yourself and post a verse or a chorus in the comments! If you’re looking for a song lyric resource, then check out 99 Red Balloons and 100 Other All-Time Great One-Hit Wonders, which is packed with awesome song lyrics that are ideal for this exercise.