Poetry writing requires no license, no education, and no experience. All you need to get started is a pen and some paper. In fact, many writers discovered their calling because they were compelled to write poetry at a young age.
But there’s a big difference between writing poetry and writing good poetry.
Opinions about the art and craft of good poetry 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. Read More
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ― Robert Frost
Emotions are fickle. 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. Read More
Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.
Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.
Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.
So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?
Good Grammar in Poetry Writing
I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?
Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.
Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules
Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.
Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for poets who choose to dismiss the rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.
Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.
Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide
As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.
Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.
I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.
What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The world of poetry is filled with various forms and structures, from haiku to sonnets. Today let’s take a look at an often under-recognized form of poetry: prose poetry.
Prose refers to writing that is structured in ordinary form — sentences and paragraphs, not verse and meter.
And of course, poetry is a form of writing that emphasizes the aesthetic qualities of language, often structured in verse. But poetry isn’t always structured in verse, which leads us to the question: What is prose poetry?
Prose poetry is simply poetry that is not written in line and verse. It’s written in sentences and paragraphs.
However, prose poetry retains other poetic qualities that we’re familiar with: using poetic devices, imagery, and rich language.
‘The prose poem is a composition printed out as prose that names itself as poetry, availing itself of the elements of prose, while foregrounding the devices of poetry.” — Edward Hirsch
According to Wikipedia, “a prose poem appears as prose, reads as poetry, yet lacks line breaks associated with poetry but uses…fragmentation, compression, repetition and rhyme and…poetry symbols, metaphor, and figures of speech. Prose poetry…is essentially a hybrid or fusion of [prose and poetry].”
Therefore prose poetry is difficult to classify. Some might argue that it’s not poetry at all, since it doesn’t use line and verse, which is a defining feature of poetry. Others argue that despite its structure, prose poetry reads like poetry; it doesn’t matter how it’s structured on the page.
A Little History
Prose poetry can be traced back to the haibun, a Japanese form of prose poetry seen during the 17th century. Western prose poetry emerged in the early 19th century as a rebellion against traditional poetic structures. Poets such as Aloysious Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé used prose poetry as a way to defy the conventions of the day. Throughout the 19th century, poets continued to embrace the form.
Some of the most well-know poets to write in prose including Hans Christian Andersen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, H.P. Lovecraft and Gertrude Stein.
The new form carried into the 20th century, with American poets writing prose poetry in the 1950s and ’60s, including Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Robert Bly, to name a few. And Charles Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn’t End, which included prose poems.
However, prose poetry was not embraced by all. T.S. Eliot opposed prose poetry, arguing that it lacked the rhythm and musical patterns of verse.
What Do You Think?
Today, some literary magazines and journal specialize in publishing prose poetry, and you can find plenty of poets who write poems in prose.
Have you ever read prose poetry? Have you written it? Do you think it qualifies as poetry, or should we call it something else?
Poetry writing is an excellent practice for strengthening one’s writing skills. Through poetry writing, we gain command of language, cultivate a robust vocabulary, master literary devices, and learn to work in imagery. And that’s just a small sampling of how poetry improves basic writing skills.
However, poetry has other benefits that are meaningful on a more personal level.
Writing has long been hailed as a deeply therapeutic practice. In fact, all the arts have therapeutic benefits. But poetry imparts a broad range of emotional and intellectual benefits that are useful to personal growth, whether we’re working on self-improvement, emotional or psychological coping and healing, developing relationships, and even furthering our careers — including careers outside of the writing field.
And while all forms of writing, from journaling to storytelling, can be therapeutic, poetry writing offers some unique benefits.
Emotional and Intellectual Benefits of Writing Poetry
Whether you want to stimulate your intellect or foster emotional health and well-being, poetry writing has many benefits to offer:
- Therapeutic: Poetry fosters emotional expression and healing through self-expression and exploration of one’s feelings. It provides a safe way to vent, examine, and understand our feelings.
- Self-awareness: Through raw expression of our thoughts and feelings, poetry can help us become more attuned to what’s going on in our hearts and minds.
- Creative thinking: With its emphasis on symbolism, metaphor, and imagery, poetry writing fosters and promotes creative thinking.
- Connections: Many people write poetry privately, but when poems are shared, they can inspire, move, and honor other people, forging deeper interpersonal connections.
- Catharsis: The act of creation — of making something out of nothing — is a cathartic experience.
- Critical thinking: Through the expression of our thoughts and ideas, poetry pushes us to challenge ourselves intellectually.
- Language and speaking: The practice of poetry strengthens language, writing, and speaking skills.
- Developing perspective, empathy, and world views: Writing poetry often prompts us to look a the world from a variety of perspectives, which fosters empathy and expands one’s world view.
- Cognitive function: Whether we’re searching for the perfect word, working out how to articulate a thought, or fine-tuning the rhythm and meter of a poem, the steps involved in crafting poetry strengthen our cognitive processes.
This is just a sampling of the benefits of writing poetry. Can you think of any other ways that poetry writing is beneficial to your emotional or intellectual well-being? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!
There’s no right or wrong way to write a poem. There are techniques and methods you can learn, forms and formulas you can choose, and writing exercises or poetry prompts you can use. But if anyone tries to tell you how to write a poem, take it with a grain of salt.
That said, there are some best practices that poets can experiment with. For centuries (millennia?) poets have been honing their skills and strategies and passing what they’ve learned to future generations. Some of their wisdom may work for you and make your own poetry writing stronger or more refined. Maybe it will help you write more prolifically or simply make the process more enjoyable for you.
So it makes sense to explore other poets’ ideas about how to write a poem. Don’t take their advice as a mandate, but try some of their suggestions, see what works for you, and discard the rest.
How to Write a Poem: Tips and Ideas
Today I thought I’d share some tips and ideas I’ve collected over the years for how to write a poem. Some of these came from books or teachers. Others came from reading poems and studying poets. Some came from personal experience. Hopefully you can use a few of these to strengthen your own poetry writing.
- Freewriting: This is one of my personal favorite methods for poetry writing. It starts with timed writing sessions (twenty minutes is good). Write whatever comes to mind, no matter how bizarre or nonsensical. Then harvest the freewrite for interesting ideas and phrases. I have found that daily freewrites can produce tons of materials from which poems can be harvested.
- Form and structure: I’m not a huge fan of form poetry, although there’s a special place in my heart for haiku. But form poetry can provide a structure that is very helpful for some poets, especially when the blank page is too intimidating or putting ideas into a poetic shape is difficult.
- Cut-and-Paste: This is another method I love, although it can be time consuming. Go through printed materials and highlight interesting words and phrases (much like you would with your freewrites). Clip these and then arrange them into a poem, adding and removing and rearranging as you see fit. Keep a box of clippings and add to it regularly. That way you can pull it out whenever you want and use it to make new poems.
- Daily journaling: I found that my own poetry was at its best when I was writing regularly, which is no surprise. Most of us find that our work is strongest when we practice every day. Journaling openly and freely is an excellent way to foster creativity. I keep an “anything journal,” which means I stash anything I want in it: prose, doodles, quotes, random thoughts and ideas, and of course, poems.
- Revision: Every once in a while, a poem will show up fully formed and need very little in terms of editing. But most poems need to cook a little. I’ve got poems that have been sitting around for years, waiting to be fine-tuned. I’ve learned that nothing benefits a poem like diligent revision. I’ve refined poems that were over a decade old — poems that almost got tossed — and found that perfect word or stanza that the piece was missing. I encounter a lot of fledgling poets who seem to think poetry should never be revised, but revision and time can be two significant ways to write a poem.
- Starters: The first step is usually the hardest, unless I’ve been struck by a bolt of unearthly inspiration. But sometimes I want to write a poem when I’m not under the muse’s spell. That means I have to find creative ways to get my poem started. I will try anything from poetry prompts to perusing the news for subject matter. Sometimes I’ll tackle a tribute to something I love, or I’ll write about some conflict or struggle that’s been on my mind. If all else fails, I can always write about nature!
- Cadence: Sometimes poetry is not about words or images or subject matter. Sometimes it’s about sound. There’s a wannabe musician inside me somewhere and when she comes up with a tune, I often use it to form a poem that is designed by rhythm, meter, and flow. Some of these poems come out extremely abstract and weird, but I love them.
Do you ever write poetry? How do you write a poem? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.
We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.
Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us plenty of definitions for the word poetry:
- the writings of a poet : poems
- something that is very beautiful or graceful
- metrical writing : verse
- writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
- something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I don’t think any of these definitions do poetry justice or truly convey an answer to the question, what is poetry?
I thought I’d take a stab at defining poetry:
Poetry is a linguistic art form that can be written, spoken, or performed. It focuses on the aesthetics of language. It is often composed in verse as opposed to prose and is more concerned with evoking an image or emotion (or both) over clearly communicating a thought or idea. Poetry makes liberal use of literary devices, such as alliteration and metaphor. It is the musicality of language, the rendering of abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions, rendered with words and sounds. It is pictures painted with words.
As you can see, I can’t capture the essence of poetry any better than a dictionary. Poetry is all of these things and none of these things. There’s a magic in poetry that is difficult to describe in words, even though poetry itself often uses words to create magic.
What is Poetry?
I think we need poetry itself in order to truly convey what poetry is. Mina Loy said it well, so let’s revisit her explanation of poetry:
“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.
Do you ever write poetry? Which poems and poets are your favorites? How would you answer the question, what is poetry? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!
I started writing poetry just before hitting my teens and quickly fell in love with the artistry, wordplay, and rhythmic challenge of crafting poems.
A few years later, it occurred to me that I should be reading poetry, so I looked at a few books of poetry but found nothing that spoke to me. For years afterward, I continued to write poetry but did not read the works of established poets. Fortunately, I eventually went to college, where I was forced to read poetry and finally found works and poets that resonated with me.
It’s not unusual to encounter young poets who don’t read poetry. Some say they don’t want their work to be influenced by other poets, but many have faced the same difficulty I did: they haven’t been able to find poetry that they like. Read More
Most people go through life using language haphazardly. That’s how we get words like irregardless, which has the exact same meaning as regardless.
But writers, and especially poets, don’t have the luxury of throwing words around. Clear and compelling prose and verse demand that we pay due diligence to the words we choose. We look for the most precise and accurate words available to express any given idea.
Words have two basic meanings: denotation and connotation. Let’s find out the difference between the two and look at how we, as writers, can use denotation and connotation to strengthen our prose and verse.
Denotation is the literal meaning of a word, the dictionary definition.
The word mom means a female parent. The word mother also means a female parent. These two words share the same definition (and therefore the same denotation), but as we’ll soon see, they can have very different connotations.
Language evolves over time through common usage, and words acquire cultural and emotional overtones. Connotation is the implied meaning of a word, which goes beyond its dictionary definition.
Connotation could also be thought of as the flavor of a word. Mom and mother both have the same dictionary definition, but these words have different flavors once we put them into context. Consider the following sentences:
Mom, can I audition for the school play?
Mother, may I audition for the school play?
The word Mom has an intimate and casual connotation whereas Mother carries a more formal overtone. These words have the same meaning but the subtext is different. This is due, in part, to context. Mother may sound formal in the example sentence above, but there may be contexts in which that is not the case:
She’s a loving and devoted mother.
As we can see, a word might express different connotations in different contexts.
Using Denotation and Connotation in Poetry Writing
In poetry writing, denotation and connotation are critical considerations. A key component of poetry is word choice and the language we use to express thoughts, ideas, and images. Denotation and connotation allow us to choose words that give our poetry greater depth and deeper meaning.
Some words have multiple definitions. Most writers will default to the simplest word and most common definition. If they want to show a detective chasing a suspect through a forest, they might say the detective sprinted through the trees. But a poet will look for a word that can be used more fully: the detective darted through the trees.
The word sprint works because it means “to run fast,” but the word dart deepens the meaning because it denotes running fast, a spear-like weapon, and a small projectile that is shot at a target. All of these definitions underscore what is happening when a detective is chasing a suspect.
Although these literary devices aren’t exclusive to poetry (they are found in all forms of writing), poets tend to make the best use of denotation and connotation because the craft of poetry emphasizes language and word choice. Poets spend an inordinate amount of time laboring over word choices, searching for language that perfectly expresses whatever the poet wants to say.
Writers outside the realm of poetry can learn a lot from poetic devices like denotation and connotation, using these tools and techniques to enrich their own work, whether they write fiction, creative nonfiction, or anything else.
Are you a poet? Do you ever pause to carefully consider your word choices? Have you ever applied the concepts of denotation or connotation to your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Poetry writing is the most artistic and liberating form of creative writing. You can write in the abstract or the concrete. Images can be vague or subtle, brilliant or dull. Write in form, using patterns, or write freely, letting your conscience (or subconscious) be your guide.
You can do just about anything in a poem. That’s why poetry writing is so wild and free: there are no rules. Poets have complete liberty to build something out of nothing simply by stringing words together.
All of this makes poetry writing alluring to writers who are burning with creativity. A poet’s process is magical and mesmerizing. But all that freedom and creativity can be a little overwhelming. If you can travel in any direction, which way should you go? Where are the guideposts?
Today’s writing tips include various tools and techniques that a poet can use. But these tips aren’t just for poets. All writers benefit from dabbling in poetry. Read a little poetry, write a few poems, study some basic concepts in poetry, and your other writing (fiction, creative nonfiction, even blogging) will soar.
Below, you’ll find thirty-six writing tips that take you on a little journey through the craft of poetry writing. See which ones appeal to you, give them a whirl, and they will lead you on a fantastic adventure.
36 Poetry Writing Tips
- Read lots of poetry. In fact, read a lot of anything if you want to produce better writing.
- Write poetry as often as you can.
- Designate a special notebook (or space in your notebook) for poetry writing.
- Try writing in form (sonnets, haiku, etc.).
- Use imagery.
- Embrace metaphors but stay away from clichés.
- Sign up for a poetry writing workshop.
- Expand your vocabulary.
- Read poems over and over (and aloud). Consider and analyze them.
- Join a poetry forum or poetry writing group online.
- Study musicality in writing (rhythm and meter).
- Use poetry prompts when you’re stuck.
- Be funny. Make a funny poem.
- Notice what makes others’ poetry memorable. Capture it, mix it up, and make it your own.
- Try poetry writing exercises when you’ve got writer’s block.
- Study biographies of famous (or not-so-famous) poets.
- Memorize a poem (or two, or three, or more).
- Revise and rewrite your poems to make them stronger and more compelling.
- Have fun with puns.
- Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You can write a better one later.
- Find unusual subject matter — a teapot, a shelf, a wall.
- Use language that people can understand.
- Meditate or listen to inspirational music before writing poetry to clear your mind and gain focus.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write whenever (and wherever) inspiration strikes.
- Submit your poetry to literary magazines and journals.
- When you submit work, accept rejection and try again and again. You can do it and you will.
- Get a website or blog and publish your own poetry.
- Connect with other poets to share and discuss the craft that is poetry writing.
- Attend a poetry reading or slam poetry event.
- Subscribe to a poetry podcast and listen to poetry.
- Support poets and poetry by buying books and magazines that feature poetry.
- Write with honesty. Don’t back away from your thoughts or feelings. Express them!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mix art and music with your poetry. Perform it and publish it.
- Eliminate all unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
- Write a poem every single day.
- Read a poem every single day.
Have You Written a Poem Lately?
I believe that poetry is the most exquisite form of writing. And anyone can write a poem if they want to. In today’s world of fast, moving images, poetry has lost much of its appeal to the masses. But there are those of us who thrive on language and who still appreciate a poem and its power to move us emotionally. It’s our job to keep great poetry writing alive. And it’s our job to keep writing poetry.
What are some of your favorite writing tips from today’s list? How can you apply poetry writing techniques to other forms of writing? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment!