Exactly how to write a poem is a mystery to many. Here are a few poetry lessons to help you become a better poet or poetry teacher.
Read. This is true of any form of writing. If you want to write a limerick, read limericks. If you want to write sonnets, read sonnets. If you want to write haiku, read haiku. . . You get the picture.
Write out a favorite poem. Pick a special poem, one that touches you in some way (makes you smile, makes you laugh or cry, gives you the shivers) and type it up or write it down. Or both. This is NOT a lesson in plagiarism. You are NOT to claim the poem as your own. It is simply a way to learn form. It is a way to help understand the craft of writing a poem. Try it! You will be amazed. You will see how the poem looked to the poet before it was put into print -- or posted on a web site.
Pick a topic. Or create a title. Now it is time to decide what
you want to write about. Stumped or confused? Freewrite in your
journal. (You DO have a journal, don't you!?) All it takes is a
notebook and pen Make a list,
complain or gripe, talk to yourself, compile favorite words. Sooner or later, you'll have the
subject or topic for your poem.
Brainstorm. Think of everything there is to say about your topic. Look it up on the web to see what others have to say. Look through books, take a walk outside, while pondering your idea. Think about it while you're eating dinner. Ask yourself questions about your topic. Write down your questions and write down your answers. All the while, everything you record in your brainstorming session is material for your poem.
Write the first line. Truthfully, it doesn't have to be the "first" line. It could be the second line -- or the last line. It doesn't even have to be a "line" for that matter; it could be a phrase. The important thing is that, after a certain amount of brainstorming or noodling, inspired or not, it's time to start writing things down on paper.
Keep on writing. Sometimes it's easy, and you feel gifted and talented,
like you're doing what you were put on earth to do. Other times it
feels like you're slogging through the mud with suction-cup shoes.
Never mind the mud. Be strong. Pick up your pen and finish that poem,
step by step, word by word, until it's done. This is a first draft.
Let it sit. That's right, put your poem aside, preferably (at the very least!) overnight. You might feel like it's a masterpiece, or you might feel like it's a piece of garbage. But whatever it feels like, give it a rest, put it away, and start to work on something else. Perhaps another poem. Think of your poem-in-progress as a piece of cake that has to bake in the oven. Don't take it out too soon, or it won't yet be cake!
Rewrite. You are now
reading your poetry draft with a little distance, and with fresher eyes.
It might read better than you remember. It might be disappointing. But wait! There's a line or two that have promise. And if you just change the end of the line after that, well, it starts to roll off the tongue, as if it's always existed, and you just channeled it into existence.
Treat this poem like a rough sculpted piece of clay. Take a
little out. Put a little in, and smooth, smooth, smooth out the edges. (Okay, I'm a poet, so I love metaphors. Sue me!)
Let it bake! Let it cool! Put your poem aside again. Yes, let it bake in the oven some more. (Okay, so I LOVE metaphors.) Go for a walk. Work on something else. When you pull it out and let it cool, wait a day or two (or an hour or two) to read it again. Chances are you'll love it. And if not, it will probably require only a word shift or two and your poem is ready to go.
Share your poem. Choose your readers wisely. My husband loves me, but
his eyes glaze over at the prospect of reading even four lines of verse.
It's just not his thing. So don't be disappointed if someone special
doesn't care to read your work. Pick someone who likes to read, and
especially someone who likes to read poetry.
Ask for specific feedback. First, an overall impression. Did it read well? Did it "touch" the reader in any way? Second, was there any noticeable "lumpiness," places where the poem was off-meter, awkward, or just plain off-putting? Ask for impressions AND ask for specifics. This is not to be an exercise in typo search only. You want to get your readers take on the poem as a whole.
Publish your poem? Many people don't feel that a poem is legit until it's published. I
don't agree. It IS wonderful to be published, possibly one of my favorite things
on earth. But there are many poems that are just as gratifying, published or not. Even
those people (like my husband) who are not fans of poetry, just love and
cherish a poem about them! It's the perfect topic. Write a poem about
someone special in your life, type it up (or handwrite it very carefully) and present it in a frame, and
it will be a gift that will be treasured forever.
However, if you want to write poems on other topics and in other
forms -- and you're dying to be published, consider getting the
"Poet's Market" book, available online and in your local
bookstore. Or, if you'd like to publish your work online, go to our Publish Your Poem page and send us your very best work.
Write more poems! I hope by now you've already started your second, third or tenth new
poem. The more the merrier. Or to use another cliché, practice makes
perfect... or at least a little better. The more you immerse yourself
in reading other people's poems (famous and otherwise), writing them
out, and then brainstorming and writing your own, the better you will
get at this wonderful form of writing.
It's important to enjoy the process as much as the product. It's
my personal opinion that if we were all writing poems, the world would