How to Write a Poem
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!