Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises for 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. Read more
Today’s poetry writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The exercises in 101 Creative Writing Exercises 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 poetry writing exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Alliteration and Assonance.” This exercise covers two literary devices that make your writing more rhythmic and memorable. Enjoy! Read more
Today’s poetry prompts come from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which is jam-packed with ideas and inspiration for writers and includes prompts for fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
Some of the poetry prompts in the book ask you to use a list of specific words in a poem. Some give you a topic to write about. Some ask you to draw on your life experience. Some give you images to use as inspiration for a poem.
All of the prompts are designed to spark ideas and inspire you to write. And you don’t have to use the prompts to write poems. Use a prompt to write an essay or a blog post. If you get a prompt that contains a list of words but one of the words isn’t working in your poem, delete it from the list. If one of the images give you an idea for a story, write a story. Use the prompts in whatever way you see fit. Read more
Poetry is the most artistic form of writing. A poem can be concrete or abstract. It can be expressive or pensive. It can cover just about any subject imaginable.
But the truth is that despite what poetry can be, it is most often used as a form of emotional self-expression, especially by young and new poets. When we’re feeling sad, angry, or elated, it’s easy to sit down and mold our emotions into words. It’s cathartic.
Poets also tend toward writing about nature. Tributes, politics, religion, family, and romance are some of the most common topics that poets tackle.
Why not try something different? Read more
Some academics argue that poetry is an intellectual pursuit, but that’s only partially true. Poetry is also artistic and emotional. Anyone can enjoy poetry, but studying it closely will help you better appreciate its nuances.
Learning various poetry writing techniques and literary devices (which are often taught in the context of poetry) can bring your writing to a more sophisticated level.
Whether you write fiction, memoirs, or blog posts, reading and writing poetry will equip you with language skills that make your writing stronger, more vivid, and more compelling. Read more
“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.