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5 Ways How to Write a Poem

Categories: Advice, Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides Blog.

Okay, so there are probably about a million ways how to write a poem, but the five methods below help me when I’ve been stuck in a rut. If you have other ways to get those poems started, then feel encouraged to share in the comments below.

Here are 5 ways how to write poetry:

  1. Capture a moment. One trap I can sometimes fall into is that I try to write the big poem or the poem filled with ideas (like love, hate, etc.). What always works better, for me anyway, is to focus on one moment that expresses an emotion or works as a metaphor for a bigger idea.
  2. Steal a conversation. My first chapbook includes a poem titled “Eavesdropping,” which is basically several conversations I overheard while in airport terminals. I took notes in the terminals and worked on the poem while doing my laundry at a laundromat. Listening to others can kickstart poems, because you’ll hear things you would never say or think yourself.
  3. Describe something or someone. Specificity strengthens a poem, and it’s hard to get more specific than throwing all your attention toward one thing or person. The only trap with these poems is that they can sometimes read like lists.
  4. Respond to something. Response poems have been around forever. In fact, an argument could be made that all poems are response poems. To what could your poem respond? For starters, you could respond to another poem, a piece of art, something someone said to you, a cool-looking car, etc. Nothing is off limits.
  5. Use someone else’s line. This is kind of like eavesdropping, I suppose, but there are poems that will take a line from another person’s poem and make that the first line. In this tradition, it is also good form to mention the poem is “after (poet’s name here).” How this can help is that you’ve already got a great line out of the way–and just need to write the rest of the poem.

How do you write poems?

As I said above, there are other ways how to write poems (and I encourage you to share those below), but these are some of my favorite techniques. If the five tips on how to make a poem mentioned above don’t work for you, that’s fine. One of the many rules of poetry is that there are no rules of poetry–more like guidelines.

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Publish your poetry!
If your problem isn’t starting poems (or even finishing poems), but instead, it’s finding an audience for your poems, then I recommend the 2012 Poet’s Market, edited by me. This reference houses hundreds of publishing opportunities, including book publishers and (online and print) publications, in addition to several articles on finding an audience through getting published, speaking tips, and more!

Check out the 2012 Poet’s Market today!

 

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About Robert Lee Brewer

Senior Content Editor, Writer's Digest Community.

10 Responses to 5 Ways How to Write a Poem

  1. Sally Jadlow says:

    I’ll hear a first line in my head. If I stop and write it down, the rest will come. If I try to think “I’ll remember that and write it later,” I’ve forgotten it and it’s gone. Therefore, I have been known to write on the steering wheel or scribble as I stir gravy. On long trips I like to write the images I see. Here in Kansas that’s not too dangerous to jot it on the steering wheel. (Not much traffic).

  2. De Jackson says:

    Love this, Robert, thank you. Laughing, though, as I once titled a poem exactly that. It’s here: http://whimsygizmo.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/how-to-write-a-poem/

    As a kid and teenager, I was a Collector of Words (notice the caps). I cut words and phrases out of everything I could get my hands on, and played around with how they looked and sounded bumped up next to each other. I suppose it was my own early version of Magnetic Poetry (don’t we all wish we held the copyright on THAT?) I still do this, mostly mentally. This past month I could not get the words “apoplectic zombie” out of my head. No idea where they came from, or why on earth they liked each other. Finally wrote the poem yesterday. ;)

    • Layla Coyle says:

      I love that idea! For me, there’s a high in finding new words and definitions. I feel as if I’ve stolen them, and the only way to hold them captive is to write them in my own hand and lock them away in my binder. As if they’ll escape :)

  3. Layla Coyle says:

    I love lists, so I have a binder of “poetry words” with lists of specific nouns (musical terms, types of fabric, etc.), active verbs (especially those that speak to the five senses), striking adjectives, and on and on. When I can’t think of what to write, I pick one word at complete random. Next, I go through the lists and see which other words pop out at me in relation to the first word. Once I have a set of five or six, I look at what relationships each of the chosen words have to the random word. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, I have to dig deep to see where I possibly made the connection- and that’s usually a better start to a poem, anyway.

  4. I’m also a huge fan of free association/stream of consciousness writing to spark a poem, have been ever since reading Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” years ago. Been doing writing practice for years, churning out lots of garbage and the occasional gem. I think it really helps in training the mind to access its creative side, after all, the mind is a muscle too and can use the exercise!

  5. madcapmaggie says:

    I’ve found ‘stream of consciousness,’ especially in stressful moments, to be an interesting way to generate a poem. One way is to simply write about anything at all for a set period of time, and then try cutting it down to a poem .. however, this doesn’t work as well for me as, say, starting to write about my anxiety, fellow occupants, dingy carpet, muzak, etc, when waiting in the emergency room.

    I also find that writing about memories that haunt me can generate interesting poems — the problem is that it can take me a long time to figure out how to take it on. There are a couple of things I’d love to write a poem about, if only I could manage to figure out how I want to present it. There are a couple I’ve managed to figure out, but I have four or five versions of a particularly haunting incident that happened to my father — none of them satisfactory. This is where, for me, anyway, voice and POV are the key.

    Margaret Fieland

  6. Michelle Hed says:

    Great ideas Robert!

    Nature inspires me – since the majority of my poetry is written to the photographs I take, if I need inspiration, I go for a drive. I grab my camera, a notebook (always have one with me) and I drive. Different times of day, different settings, etc… all provide different inspirations. But even if you are not a photographer, just going for a drive for a change of scenery can get those creative writing juices flowing again. Happy Poem-ing!

  7. Thanks for the tips, Robert! I agree with you: writing the “big” poem never seems to work for me, either.

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