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 engage 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 scent of home-cooked food and found your mouth watering?
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write with more sense. Read More
Today’s poetry writing exercise comes from my book 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 8: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Cut-and-Paste Poetry.” Enjoy! Read More
If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.
Writing’s no different.
Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact some of these exercises don’t require any poetry writing whatsoever.
Poetry Writing Exercises
These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!
1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists
Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.
Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.
2. Metaphors and Similes for Life
Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember, a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.
Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates).
Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or similes stating that life is like a box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.
Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.
3. Lyrics and Musicality
Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.
Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!
These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?
Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Poetry writing exercises are an excellent way to develop writing skills, especially skills that are essential to writing compelling poetry. Writing exercises can provide us with new perspectives, techniques, and ideas that strengthen and improve poems we’ve written and poems we have yet to write.
Words are the most basic building blocks for writers, and words have meanings. Often, words have multiple meanings or layers of meanings.
Connotation refers to the often subtle nuances that exist within a word’s definition. Consider the words childish and childlike. These words are synonyms — they have the same basic meaning. But childish has a negative connotation and is often used as an insulting way to describe immature behavior, whereas childlike is often used to describe behavior that is innocent or full of awe and wonder. Both words means someone or something is like a child, but childlike implies that’s a good thing while childish indicates it’s a bad thing.
Today we’ll use connotation to unearth the potential of a poem. Using a thesaurus, we’ll find synonyms for key words in the poem, and then examine how the connotations of the synonyms change the poem’s meaning.
To get started, you’ll need a poem that you’ve written or one you’re working on. The exercise will be easier and go a lot faster if you use the poem in electronic format (such as in Microsoft Word), since you’ll need to mark it up and make copies. It’s also helpful to keep drafts and originals separate from working copies.
Here are the steps for this poetry writing exercise:
- Highlight all the adjectives, adverbs, and nouns in the poem.
- Transfer all the adjectives, adverbs, and nouns to a list.
- Look up each word in a thesaurus to find its synonyms. Using an online thesaurus will make this work go quickly and allow you to copy and paste. List the synonyms for each word. You don’t need to list all of the synonyms; pick the ones that strike you as most interesting. Look for synonyms that evoke various shades of meanings or that change the meaning of your original words.
- Now make a copy of your poem (with the highlights) and start replacing words with their synonyms. Try focusing on one line of the poem, replacing words to see how the meaning changes. Then try it with an entire verse. Save the versions you like by copying and pasting them into a new document.
- Finally, take a look at the variations you’ve come up with and form them into a new version of your poem (or maybe several versions).
When you’re done, set the poem and its variations aside for a few days and then come back with fresh eyes to answer the following questions:
- Does swapping words for their synonyms give the poem new meaning? Did you change the meaning or deepen it?
- Did you use any synonyms that retained the original meaning but changed the rhythm, flow, or sound of the poem?
- Did you use any synonyms that had multiple meanings?
- Were you able to improve your poem?
The Perfect Word
As you go through the thesaurus, you’ll soon find that some words have dozens of synonyms while others have only a few. Sometimes all the synonyms are the same in meaning, but other times, the words’ meanings will differ greatly. And you’ll find various shades of meaning that will give your poem a different flavor or emotional undertone.
Hopefully this poetry writing exercise gave you some new tools and techniques for finding the perfect words.
What strategies do you use to find the perfect word? Have you ever stopped to think about a word’s connotations? Do you find poetry writing exercises like this one helpful? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Charles Dickens invented the word boredom. Sylvia Path coined the term dreamscape. William Shakespeare gave us bandit, swagger, and gossip, along with over 1700 other words that previously didn’t exist in the English lexicon.
Writers have a long history of inventing new words, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When we encounter an idea or concept and no clear way to express it, creating new language is a practical solution.
Plus, making up new words is fun.
But we’re not limited to inventing new words. Poets, in particular, are always looking for fresh ways to use language. Consider the following line’s from E.E. Cummings’ poem, “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”:
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
Cummings also played with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The lack of spacing around the parenthesis is not a typo!
Let’s look more closely at the phrase “down they forgot as up they grew.”
It’s not a conventional way to arrange words. Cummings flouted conventional syntax with the word order (“up they grew” instead of “they grew up”), and he combined words in surprising ways (“down they forgot”).
We know that according to the rules of our language, this excerpt shouldn’t make sense, especially the notion of “forgetting down,” yet as we read the lines of the poem, we know exactly what the poet is saying.
That’s the magic of wordplay in poetry.
Poetry Exercise: Creative Wordplay
Today’s poetry writing exercises encourage you to invent fresh and interesting words and phrases by using language in unexpected ways. To get started, you’ll need some words to work with, so make four lists of about a dozen words each:
- Nouns (examples: cat, sky, food)
- Adjectives (examples: blue, jolly, flat)
- Verbs (examples: dance, squat, bite)
- Suffixes and prefixes: (examples: non-, anti-, -er)
Once you’ve got some words to work with, you can start playing with them. As you work through the steps below, don’t confine yourself to the words you’ve pre-selected. Bring new words into your lists as needed or as you feel inspired to do so.
- Combine one of the nouns with one of the suffixes or prefixes to form a new word (example: desker).
- Combine any two words to form a new word (example: jollysquat).
- Turn one of the nouns into a verb and use it in a sentence (example: They’re catting through the club).
- Use an adjective as an adverb in a phrase or sentence (example: She’s running blue).
- Rearrange the words in one of the sentences or phrases you’ve written (example: Through the club they’re catting).
You can repeat these exercises infinitely, always bringing new words and ideas into the mix. You’ll find that the more time you spend on creative exercises like these, the more your mind will open to experimental language and wordplay.
Can you think of any other strange and interesting ways to combine words? What about common expressions that already use words in unconventional ways, like using a preposition as a verb (“We’re upping the ante”)? Did you find any words or combinations that worked especially well for this exercise? Share your wordplay by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Writers share something in common with actors; they need to be able to understand people who are outside their own personal experience. When we write a character who is vastly different from us, we do what actors do, which is step inside the mind and body of someone else.
Not all writers do this. If you write essays, blogs, or memoirs, getting into other people’s heads is not a necessary skill. But if you write fiction, it’s essential. It’s also a common practice in poetry, especially in poetry that strives to be compassionate, socially aware, or empathetic.
It’s also not a bad life skill. Fostering empathy gives you a broader understanding of the world and the people in it and can be immensely helpful in mitigating conflict and bridging cultures.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write a poem from a perspective other than your own.
Poetry Writing Exercises: Shift Your Perspective
Below, you’ll find three poetry writing exercises. Each one asks you to write a poem in which you shift your perspective and try to see things differently:
1. Animate the Inanimate: Choose an inanimate object, such as a tree or a toaster. Prepare for the exercise by looking at images of the object or the object itself, and then write a list of things that would be of concern to the object. For example, a toaster might be uncomfortable because its crumb tray is full. Think about what kind of personality this object would have if it were sentient and spend a few minutes cultivating a voice for this object by speaking aloud (into a recorder, if you have one) in the character of this object. Now that you’re warmed up, write a poem from this object’s perceptive. The main goal is to find the object’s voice and personality. This exercise is excellent for children’s poetry and humor.
2. Cross the Culture: Get inside the mindset of a culture other than your own. Choose a culture you’re not overly familiar with. This can be a sub-culture within your own region (maybe you’re a geek writing as a sports fanatic) or you can choose a culture from another nation or one from history. Give yourself one hour to read about this culture or watch a documentary about it, and then write a poem from your own perspective but from within the culture you’re writing about (a geek at a sporting event). Take a positive angle on the culture you’re writing about, even if you find it strange or if you don’t quite understand it.
3. My Own Worst Enemy: Now get inside the mind of your enemy. This could be someone who bullied you when you were a child. It could be a mean boss you once worked for. It could be someone you feel animosity toward because they’ve hurt you or a loved one or because they have an opposing worldview that you think is detrimental to society. It doesn’t even have to be a real person. You can make someone up! Choose a topic this person would care about (if it’s your childhood bully, maybe it’s about why this person picked on other children) and write about that topic from that person’s perspective. Explore why they do what they do, and if possible, try to find the positive. And remember: a villain is the hero of his or her own story.
Understanding “The Other”
Broadening your perspective to understand different points of view and different ideas is beneficial, especially if you’re a writer (or any type of artist, really). In the world today, which often seems wildly fragmented, a little understanding can go a long way. But these poetry writing exercises also encourage you to stretch your imagination and engage your creativity. You might find them slightly uncomfortable, but if you push through, you’ll learn something new and have a fresh poem to add to your repertoire.
If you try any of these poetry writing exercises, leave a comment and let us know how it worked out for you, and keep writing!
Language is a funny thing, and translations are neither as simple nor as straightforward as we might want them to be.
Years ago, when I was learning Spanish (I never did master it), on an especially warm day, I wanted to say, “I’m hot,” which is a standard expression in English. But when I said the phrase, “Yo soy caliente” to my Spanish-speaking cousin, he laughed and warned me not to go around using that phrase. Apparently in Spanish, this expression has to do with lust, not the temperature.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: translation requires more than looking up words in a language dictionary.
Languages are filled with connotations and nuances. Technology has given us a host of tools that we can use to parse languages that we don’t know, but we can’t rely on these tools for proper translations because they are not capable of fully understanding the subtleties of language: especially colloquialisms, cliches, and other common expressions.
We can usually use translator tools to get the gist of some text that’s written in a foreign language, but as writers, we can also find ways to use these tools to hone our craft. Today we’ll use online translators to generate a poetry writing exercise.
Poetry Writing Exercise
The goal of this exercise is to use an online translator as a tool to get your raw material, a collection of words and phrases that you’ll use to build a new poem. For this exercise, you’ll need a poem written in a foreign language plus a professional translation of that poem in English.
Here are the steps:
- Find a poem that was written in a foreign language that you don’t speak, read, or understand. Make sure it’s a poem that has been professionally translated into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). You’ll need both the translation and native versions of the poem.
- Read the poem aloud in its native language. You don’t know this language, so don’t worry about comprehension or pronunciation. Just read it and see what it sound like. Does it have a rough, jagged feeling? Is it smooth and flowing?
- Paste the poem into an online translation tool and translate it into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). Do not use a published translation of the work. The key to this exercise is to take the original poem in its native language, and run it through an electronic translator.
- Read the translated copy. Does it make sense? Do any words or phrases feel odd or out of place?
- Now pull out words and phrases that interest you. Copy and paste them into a new document (or write them as a list in your notebook).
- Use the words and phrases you’ve harvested to write a new poem of your own. For an added twist, try to incorporate new words and phrases that are reminiscent of the native language of the poem. For example, if you’re using a poem written in Hawaiian, consider setting your poem on one of the Hawaiian islands.
- Now get the professional translation of the poem and read it. How similar is it to the online translation? How similar is it to the poem you wrote?
A good way to find poems for this exercise is to search for famous poets from other countries or pick up a book of poems that are published in both their native languages and English translations.
Lost in Translation
I studied French for four years in junior high and high school plus two semesters in college. I never did become fluent because I was unable to experience immersion. But what surprised me the most about learning French was how much it taught me about my native language, English. We writers can learn a lot about writing by studying various languages.
Are you bilingual? Have you ever studied or mastered a foreign language? How has your understanding of language influenced your poetry? Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!
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 7: 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 writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an adventure through different forms and genres while offering tools, techniques, and inspiration for writers.
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 7: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise called “Couplets and Quatrains.” Enjoy!
Couplets and Quatrains, a Poetry Writing Exercise
Poetry may not be the most widely read or published form of writing these days, but it’s probably the most widely written.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for the form among readers and publishers, poetry still has a traditional place in our culture. You’ll hear poetry read at most significant events, such as weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, and presidential inaugurations. Poetry is the foundation for most children’s books, and it’s so closely related to songwriting that in many cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between a poem and a song lyric.
Couplets and quatrains are two of the most basic building blocks of poetry.
A couplet is a pair of lines in a poem. The lines usually rhyme and have the same meter or syllable count. Contemporary couplets may not rhyme; some of them use a pause or white space where a rhyme would occur.
Couplets can be used in a number of ways. Some poems are simply a couplet. Other poems are composed of a series of couplets. Stanzas can end with a couplet, or an entire poem can end with a couplet.
A quatrain is either a four-line stanza within a poem or a poem that consists of four lines. Many modern song lyrics are composed of quatrains.
A quatrain may contain one or two couplets. The nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” is a quatrain of two couplets:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
This is a three-part exercise. First write a couplet (two rhyming lines with the same meter or number of syllables). Then write a quatrain (it doesn’t have to include meter or rhymes). Finally, write a quatrain that consists of two couplets.
Tips: Keep your language and subject matter simple. Aim for catchy language and vivid imagery.
Variations: Mix it up—write a poem that consists of a couplet followed by a quatrain and then another couplet. Try using couplets and quatrains to write a song lyric.
Applications: Couplets and quatrains have an infinite number of practical applications for a writer. Couplets are ideal for writing a children’s story, because kids gravitate to simple language and rhythmic rhymes. You can also use couplets and quatrains in songwriting and greeting-card poetry.
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 8: 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.