How To Write A Poem

How To Write A Poem

I’ve always fancied writing poetry, but seem to get lost in a muddle of stanzas, couplets, pentameters and anapests. All of which got in the way of putting pencil to paper.

So, instead of waiting for inspiration, I thought I’d share some thoughts with you and maybe the poetic muse will smile on us.

First Find Your Subject

One tip for from Maggie Hammond, author of Creative Writing for Dummies, is to write down 10-12 emotions on individual scraps of paper.  Next, write the names of 10-12 everyday objects on different scraps.

Now randomly choose one emotion and one object.   That’s the subject of your poem.   Now, ask questions of your subject.   Let’s take a snippet from a Rudyard Kipling poem for inspiration:

                                                                                      I KEEP six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When 

                                                                                         And How and Where and Who.

Look for answers to those questions and that will give you material.   Are you writing about a scared car?  Perhaps it’s on its way to the scrap heap and is thinking about all the journeys it’s been on and the family that owned it.

Or maybe you’re writing about a happy biscuit that actually likes being dunked – and then realises the terrible truth.

Hammond’s suggestion is useful because it gives us something to write about and forces us to work within constraints. If you want to come up with your own ideas, look to your own experiences as the source.   You will have more freedom, but it might be more challenging too.

Poems are all about emotion, what a situation or object makes you think and feel. Think back to times you’ve been happy or sad, or journeys and experiences that were memorable; a day at the beach with shingle underfoot and salt in the air. A roaring fireplace on an icy evening.

It’s also a good exercise to look at the crowds around us and try to imagine people’s life stories; the serious man reading a book on the tube, the couple saying goodbye at the bus stop.   What kinds of days are they having?  What might they be thinking that onlookers don’t realise?

Now Sit Down And Start Writing

As I said before, getting involved in the jargon of poetry, the technicalities, can be overwhelming.   So, make a choice to come back to all of that later.

All you need to do is start writing.  Start writing something that looks and sounds like poetry. Remember that there is such a thing as free verse.

It might seem
Like obvious advice
But everyone knows

What poetry is
Its form, its manner, the beat
Of its heart

It’s not the ingredients
Listed on a packet of crisps
Abandoned on the bus

That’s poetry.  It’s amateurish to be sure, but it is a poem.  You recognise it because we all have an instinct for what poetry feels like – and what it isn’t.  So simply start writing until you have something that you recognise as poetry.  A essential test is to read your poem aloud; do you sense it has a natural rhythm, a pleasing tempo, or does it sound too stilted and flat?

If it does, see how you can chop and change.  Play with your poem.  Squash lines together and pull them apart.  Kick words to the kerb and replace them using a thesaurus.  Editing is part of the creative process.

Create A Soundscape

You can evoke emotion through the subtle use of sound. Think of the drumbeat of the ‘d’, or the whisper of sibilants (‘s’). And there’s alliteration, where I can only quote Shakespeare: ‘When to sessions of sweet silent thought‘ (Sonnet 30) or ‘Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night til it be morrow’ (Romeo and Juliet).

Take It To The Limit

A Haiku is a Japanese form of poem made up of just 17 syllables in total.   The Mahabharata, an epic Indian poem from before the 4th Century BC, is 1.8 million words.

Poems can be as long or short as you wish.   If you’re not sure how long yours should be, why not let your writing paper decide its length?  If you’re writing on a piece of A4, decide to use half of it.   If you’re scribbling on the back of a receipt, whittle a haiku.

Of course, these are only little tips, but I hope they help you to write at the least the first line of one poem. Now, where did I leave my post-its?


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