You could write a whole book about Poetry Lessons and how to write a poem -- and many people have! Of course, there are many ways to write a poem, but I will share what works for me.
Read. This is true of any form of writing. If you want to write articles, read articles. If you want to write sonnets, read sonnets. If you want to write haiku, read haiku. . . You get the picture. It's not so much that you want to copy want has already been written as that you want to soak up the form. You want to understand it and get it into your head.
Pick a favorite 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. Once again, this is NOT a lesson in plagiarism. It
is part of the process of learning form, of understanding the craft of
writing a poem. Try it! You will be amazed at the experience. You
will see how the poem looked to the poet before it was put into print --
or posted on a web site. This is a wonderful, tactile experience for
the budding poet.
Pick a topic. Or create a title. You already have the form selected by
virtue of completing Lessons #1 and #2. 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 (I'm actually partial to mechanical pencils, as you
might be able to tell by the illustrations on this page.) Make a list,
complain or gripe, talk to yourself, compile favorite words, jabber on
(on paper) as long as you like. 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. 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 your first draft.
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 something else. But whatever it feels like, give it a rest, put it away, and start to work on something else. Perhaps another poem.
Rewrite. It's almost like you assembled the ingredients and put it in
the oven. Now, when you pull it out, just as the batter has risen (or
changed) in a cake, your poem will seem somehow different. You are now
reading it with a little distance, and with fresher eyes.
It might read better than you remember. It might be disappointing. Remember, it looked like a masterpiece yesterday, and today it is so pedestrian. 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!)
Put your poem aside again. Yes, let it bake in the oven some more. Work on something else, (or clean your real oven -- and leave your metaphorical oven alone). When you pull it out again, a day or two (or a week) later, chances are you'll still love it. And if not, it will probably require only a word shift or two.
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.
Many people don't feel that a poem is legit until it's published. I
don't agree. It IS wonderful to be published, one of my favorite things
on earth. But there are many poems that are just as gratifying. 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 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 in bookstores 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.
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