How to Write a Poem

How to write a poem

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. Read More

What is Poetry?

what is poetry

“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.

Prose Bewitched

When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.

We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.

Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry? Read More

When Poets Don’t Read Poetry

poetry writing

On the importance of reading poetry.

I started writing poetry just before hitting my teens and quickly fell in love with the artistry, wordplay, and rhythmic challenge of crafting poems.

A few years later, it occurred to me that I should be reading poetry, so I looked at a few books of poetry but found nothing that spoke to me. For years afterward, I continued to write poetry but did not read the works of established poets. Fortunately, I eventually went to college, where I was forced to read poetry and finally found works and poets that resonated with me.

It’s not unusual to encounter young poets who don’t read poetry. Some say they don’t want their work to be influenced by other poets, but many have faced the same difficulty I did: they haven’t been able to find poetry that they like. Read More

Denotation and Connotation in Poetry Writing

denotation connotation poetry

Denotation and connotation for poets.

Most people go through life using language haphazardly. That’s how we get words like irregardless, which has the exact same meaning as regardless.

But writers, and especially poets, don’t have the luxury of throwing words around. Clear and compelling prose and verse demand that we pay due diligence to the words we choose. We look for the most precise and accurate words available to express any given idea.

Words have two basic meanings: denotation and connotation. Let’s find out the difference between the two and look at how we, as writers, can use denotation and connotation to strengthen our prose and verse.

 

Denotation

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word, the dictionary definition.

The word mom means a female parent. The word mother also means a female parent. These two words share the same definition (and therefore the same denotation), but as we’ll soon see, they can have very different connotations.

Connotation

Language evolves over time through common usage, and words acquire cultural and emotional overtones. Connotation is the implied meaning of a word, which goes beyond its dictionary definition.

Connotation could also be thought of as the flavor of a word. Mom and mother both have the same dictionary definition, but these words have different flavors once we put them into context. Consider the following sentences:

Mom, can I audition for the school play?

Mother, may I audition for the school play?

The word Mom has an intimate and casual connotation whereas Mother carries a more formal overtone. These words have the same meaning but the subtext is different. This is due, in part, to context. Mother may sound formal in the example sentence above, but there may be contexts in which that is not the case:

She’s a loving and devoted mother.

As we can see, a word might express different connotations in different contexts.

Using Denotation and Connotation in Poetry Writing

In poetry writing, denotation and connotation are critical considerations. A key component of poetry is word choice and the language we use to express thoughts, ideas, and images. Denotation and connotation allow us to choose words that give our poetry greater depth and deeper meaning.

Some words have multiple definitions. Most writers will default to the simplest word and most common definition. If they want to show a detective chasing a suspect through a forest, they might say the detective sprinted through the trees. But a poet will look for a word that can be used more fully: the detective darted through the trees.

The word sprint works because it means “to run fast,” but the word dart deepens the meaning because it denotes running fast, a spear-like weapon, and a small projectile that is shot at a target. All of these definitions underscore what is happening when a detective is chasing a suspect.

Although these literary devices aren’t exclusive to poetry (they are found in all forms of writing), poets tend to make the best use of denotation and connotation because the craft of poetry emphasizes language and word choice. Poets spend an inordinate amount of time laboring over word choices, searching for language that perfectly expresses whatever the poet wants to say.

Writers outside the realm of poetry can learn a lot from poetic devices like denotation and connotation, using these tools and techniques to enrich their own work, whether they write fiction, creative nonfiction, or anything else.

Are you a poet? Do you ever pause to carefully consider your word choices? Have you ever applied the concepts of denotation or connotation to your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

 

36 Poetry Writing Tips

poetry writing tips

Poetry writing tips.

Poetry writing is the most artistic and liberating form of creative writing. You can write in the abstract or the concrete. Images can be vague or subtle, brilliant or dull. Write in form, using patterns, or write freely, letting your conscience (or subconscious) be your guide.

You can do just about anything in a poem. That’s why poetry writing is so wild and free: there are no rules. Poets have complete liberty to build something out of nothing simply by stringing words together.


All of this makes poetry writing alluring to writers who are burning with creativity. A poet’s process is magical and mesmerizing. But all that freedom and creativity can be a little overwhelming. If you can travel in any direction, which way should you go? Where are the guideposts?

Today’s writing tips include various tools and techniques that a poet can use. But these tips aren’t just for poets. All writers benefit from dabbling in poetry. Read a little poetry, write a few poems, study some basic concepts in poetry, and your other writing (fiction, creative nonfiction, even blogging) will soar.

Below, you’ll find thirty-six writing tips that take you on a little journey through the craft of poetry writing. See which ones appeal to you, give them a whirl, and they will lead you on a fantastic adventure.

36 Poetry Writing Tips

  1. Read lots of poetry. In fact, read a lot of anything if you want to produce better writing.
  2. Write poetry as often as you can.
  3. Designate a special notebook (or space in your notebook) for poetry writing.
  4. Try writing in form (sonnets, haiku, etc.).
  5. Use imagery.
  6. Embrace metaphors but stay away from clichés.
  7. Sign up for a poetry writing workshop.
  8. Expand your vocabulary.
  9. Read poems over and over (and aloud). Consider and analyze them.
  10. Join a poetry forum or poetry writing group online.
  11. Study musicality in writing (rhythm and meter).
  12. Use poetry prompts when you’re stuck.
  13. Be funny. Make a funny poem.
  14. Notice what makes others’ poetry memorable. Capture it, mix it up, and make it your own.
  15. Try poetry writing exercises when you’ve got writer’s block.
  16. Study biographies of famous (or not-so-famous) poets.
  17. Memorize a poem (or two, or three, or more).
  18. Revise and rewrite your poems to make them stronger and more compelling.
  19. Have fun with puns.
  20. Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You can write a better one later.
  21. Find unusual subject matter — a teapot, a shelf, a wall.
  22. Use language that people can understand.
  23. Meditate or listen to inspirational music before writing poetry to clear your mind and gain focus.
  24. Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write whenever (and wherever) inspiration strikes.
  25. Submit your poetry to literary magazines and journals.
  26. When you submit work, accept rejection and try again and again. You can do it and you will.
  27. Get a website or blog and publish your own poetry.
  28. Connect with other poets to share and discuss the craft that is poetry writing.
  29. Attend a poetry reading or slam poetry event.
  30. Subscribe to a poetry podcast and listen to poetry.
  31. Support poets and poetry by buying books and magazines that feature poetry.
  32. Write with honesty. Don’t back away from your thoughts or feelings. Express them!
  33. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mix art and music with your poetry. Perform it and publish it.
  34. Eliminate all unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
  35. Write a poem every single day.
  36. Read a poem every single day.

Have You Written a Poem Lately?

I believe that poetry is the most exquisite form of writing. And anyone can write a poem if they want to. In today’s world of fast, moving images, poetry has lost much of its appeal to the masses. But there are those of us who thrive on language and who still appreciate a poem and its power to move us emotionally. It’s our job to keep great poetry writing alive. And it’s our job to keep writing poetry.

What are some of your favorite writing tips from today’s list? How can you apply poetry writing techniques to other forms of writing? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment!

Poetry Writing Ideas and Activities

poetry writing ideas

Try something new with these poetry writing ideas and activities.

A poem can come out of nowhere and land on the page, fully formed, in just a few minutes. A poem can also be the result of hours (or weeks) of laboring over line breaks, word choices, images, and rhythm.

Poems are funny little things, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing for no apparent reason. Poets have to be diligent: be prepared when a poem arrives and if it doesn’t, go out and chase it down.

There are many ways to write a poem, and not all of them involve sitting at a desk staring at a glaring screen or curled up in a chair with a pen and notebook. Instead of waiting for poems to fall out of the sky, try some of these poetry writing ideas and activities, and go catch them!

Poetry Writing Ideas & Activities

Below are some poetry writing ideas mixed with activities to get poetry flowing.

  1. Take a poetry walk. Grab a recorder or a notebook and then set out on foot. You can use a timer and stop every five minutes to jot down a line, or take a break whenever you see something interesting or inspiring and note it. When you get home, work it all into a poem.
  2. Take a snapshot. Write a descriptive poem, choosing a simple subject or scene. The idea is to write a poem that feels like a picture.
  3. Cut and paste. Grab some old magazines, pamphlets, and junk mail and cut out the most interesting words and phrases, then tape or paste them together to make a poem.
  4. Get personal. Your deepest secrets, innermost desires, regrets, dreams, and fantasies are all excellent sources of inspiration.
  5. Write a response poem. Choose a poem that you admire or that confounds you — perhaps one that disturbs you or contains some element you disagree with. Then write a poem in response to it.
  6. State your positions. Write a political poem, a philosophical poem, or explore your ideals through image-rich language.
  7. Translate a poem into modern language. Many modern readers don’t care to read poetry that was written hundreds of years ago because the language has changed so much since then. So take one of those poems and update it into a more contemporary vernacular.
  8. Explore your beliefs. What do you value? Which morals do you hold dear? Share your beliefs and express your spirituality through a poem.
  9. Write to music. You can use a song with or without lyrics: give it words or give it new words!
  10. Pay tribute. Write an ode to someone you admire, respect, or love. For a more interesting twist and a challenge, write a tribute poem to someone you’re not that crazy about.
  11. Go big. Get large sheets of paper or use chalk on the driveway and draft a poem in huge, sweeping letters.
  12. Get in form. Many of today’s poets don’t experiment in form. Surprisingly, it tends to open rather than stifle creativity. It’s definitely worth a try.
  13. Make temporary art. Chalk and whiteboards are great for temporary poems. The idea is to create something, and then let it go. You can also write on paper and burn it, shred it, or black it out.
  14. Use doodles. Get a blank piece of paper and allow yourself to doodle on it as you write a poem. See if your doodles give your poem a new angle, either as part of the piece or by giving you interesting or fresh ideas.
  15. Get in shape. Choose a shape in silhouette form, and then fill the shape with words to build a poem into the shape: hearts, animals, people, and symbols (anything recognizable in outline form) work well.

What do you do when your poetry isn’t flowing? Do you have any poetry writing ideas or activities to share? If so, leave a comment, and keep on writing.

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

Quotes on Writing: Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo da vinci

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt,
and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

What is Art? What is Poetry?

For centuries, people have been asking the question what is art? Is art a question? An answer? An expression? A statement? Maybe it’s sheer entertainment.

It’s a question we all must answer for ourselves, especially artists and writers.

I believe the best art entertains while it provokes thought or emotion, but that’s just my personal opinion. You might seek art that makes you laugh or fills you with awe. Some prefer art that is masterfully crafted, regardless of the content or messages it communicates.

Poetry That is Felt

In the world of art, poetry is particularly tricky to define because it can be so many things. Consider Dr. Seuss’s frolicking stories written in meter versus the social-political poetry of Adrienne Rich or the tribute poetry of Robert Frost and you soon realize that poetry’s purpose is really the poet’s purpose.

When Leonardo da Vinci talks about a painting as a poem that is seen (as opposed to read), I think he’s making on observation about art, something similar to the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A single painting can express ideas and emotions that would take a thousand words or more to convey in poetry or prose.

But when he talks about poetry as a painting that is felt rather than seen, he digs into the heart of what poetry can be–text that moves people emotionally. I would expand on that to note that often poetry (and other art) provokes emotions that are difficult or even impossible to put into clear words. Sometimes you read a poem and it makes you feel or understand something, but you couldn’t possibly explain it in concrete terms, and if you could, it would take an essay–or even an entire book–to convey what the poem communicated in a few lines.

That’s the magic of art and poetry. Ultimately, it is a form of communication that is almost psychic in nature.

What does poetry mean to you? How do you define or identify art?

Quote: Goodreads
Image: Wikimedia Commons

How to Improve Your Poetry Skills

poetry skills

Strengthen your poetry skills.

Poetry writing requires no license, no education, and no experience. All you need to get started is a pen and some paper.

In fact, lots of writers discover their calling because they are compelled at a young age to write poetry.

But there’s a big difference between writing poetry and writing good poetry.

Opinions about the art and craft of good poetry writing are many and varied. Some hold poetry to a high academic or literary standard. Others appreciate the fact that poetry writing provides a creative and healthy form of self-expression.

I believe that all poetry is good in the sense that anything that comes from the heart or anything that speaks truth is good. The poem itself may not win any awards, but the act of writing it can be mood-altering, healing, and maybe even life-changing.

Many poets pursue the craft with a clear goal: they want to get published. Others write poetry because they find solace in the work. They don’t care about readers, publication, or awards. And plenty of writers fall in between; they write for the joy of it but also with a desire to continually develop their poetry skills with hopes of getting published one day.

Writing for Yourself

There’s nothing wrong with writing poetry for yourself. Poetry writing has tremendous therapeutic and creative value. However, many young poets think they can get published and earn recognition without developing their poetry skills. They don’t read poetry; they don’t study the craft; they are not knowledgeable about poetic forms or literary devices. They make a lot of arguments:

  • I don’t read poetry because I don’t want other poems to influence mine. I want my poetry to be raw.
  • I write from my heart; it’s a form of self-expression.
  • Poetry is an art form, so there are no rules.
  • It’s my style (I’ve heard this about poems written in all-caps, for example).
  • My mom/friend/teacher said I have talent.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these arguments. But if you want to get published — if you want your work to be taken seriously by the literary world and by readers — you’re going to have to step up your game. You’ll have to stop making excuses and learn how to write better poetry.

Tips for Writing Better Poetry

When we first start writing poetry, our work is amateurish and awkward. We might make poems that are cute or silly, poems that don’t make much sense, or poems that are murky, excessive, or verbose. We express ourselves but fail to generate poems that compel readers. But with practice and by putting a little effort into our poetry writing, our poems can blossom and become riveting — for us and for our readers.

Here are five tips to help you develop finer poetry skills:

  1. Read poetry: Too many young and new poets don’t read poetry. I get it. A lot of the poems you come across don’t grab your attention. The stuff you read in school was unwieldy. But if you look hard enough, you will discover good poetry that you will fall in love with. Go on a personal quest to find it. In order to grow as a writer, and especially as a poet, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the canon, which has already proven to resonate with readers. By seeking out established poets whose work you admire, you will build a roster of mentors. Try reading poems aloud. Keep a notebook or journal in which you can write your thoughts and responses to various works, and jot down your favorite excerpts. Bonus tip: you can also watch or listen to recorded or live poetry.
  2. Write regularly: Beginning poets have a tendency to take up the pen only when the mood strikes. By engaging your creativity on a daily basis, the very practice of poetry writing will become habitual and ingrained as part of your daily routine, and it is through daily practice that our poetry skills improve.
  3. Allow yourself to write badly: Allowing yourself a large margin for writing poorly or below your own standards will give you a freedom in your writing and room to explore your poetry on broader and deeper levels.
  4. Study and learn to speak in poetics: Poets have their own language. When they mention couplets and iambic pentameter, you should know what they’re talking about. Study literary devices and learn how to use them in your own poetry. That alone will kick your work up a few notches. There are many books available that will help you understand poetry intricately and will familiarize you with terms and definitions, such as alliteration or trochee. Such books provide detailed analyses and teach you new ways to read and write poetry. To get started, look for A Poetry Handbookwriting poetry by Mary Oliver or try The Practice of Poetry by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.
  5. Do poetry writing exercises: It’s easy to sit down and scratch out a poem. Writing exercises present challenges and provide new ways of thinking and being creative within an established framework. Some poetry exercises will produce your best work but also teach you to approach poetry in an innovative and more imaginative manner.
  6. Embrace best practices and techniques: It’s true that there are no rules in poetry, but there are a few best practices, like eliminate any unnecessary words, don’t arrange words awkwardly to fit a rhyme scheme, and use imagery. When it comes to poetry, you really want to follow the old adage: show, don’t tell.
  7. Seek feedback from objective, well-read people who are familiar with poetry. When something in your poem isn’t working for one of them, don’t say “Oh, that’s my style.” And if it is your style, then consider that your “style” isn’t working.
  8. Revise. Revising your work goes hand in hand with allowing yourself to write badly. You can always go back and make changes. Some new writers insist that once they write a poem, that’s it. They believe the art is in the original creation and it should never be altered in any way. While this is certainly one way of looking at poetry as art, there is another philosophy that believes revision is necessary for true creative freedom. In knowing that you can go back and refine your work later, you will give yourself more liberty in your initial writing, opening creative channels to greater possibilities.

Poetry Writing is an Adventure

Poetry teaches us how to access rich language and produce vivid images in our writing. It is one of the best ways to develop comprehensive and creative writing skills, even if poetry writing isn’t really your thing. Fiction and creative nonfiction writers often foster poetry skills for the sole purpose of expanding their writing abilities.

Poetry writing will take you on an exciting adventure through language, and the very act of working to improve your poetry is a journey that many writers find exhilarating.

Do you have any tips for writing better poetry and developing your poetry skills? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

And keep writing (poetry)!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Quotes on Writing: Robert Frost on Emotions and Poetry

quotes on writing - robert frost

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
― Robert Frost

Emotions are fickle beasts. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe.

I believe music is the single best expression of human emotion, but poetry is a close second. Capturing complex feelings in words without the support of music is a marvelous feat. Only the deftest poets do it well.

Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost is one of the most well known and beloved poets in the American literary canon. He knew how to convey emotions through language.

I was first introduced Frost’s work with the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which was featured in Outsiders. One of his most famous poems is “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

I’d like to share an excerpt from my favorite Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

By definition, poets take the road that is less traveled by. Some poets gently steer away from the mainstream; others rail in the face of convention.

According to Wikipedia, “In 1894 [Frost] sold his first poem, ‘My Butterfly. An Elegy’ …for $15 ($398 today).” These days, getting $15 for a poem would be an incredible feat. Getting $398 would be impossible. But there was a time when there was a market for poetry, when ordinary people (who were not writers, artists, or poets) bought and read poetry. Maybe back then people understood that poetry had the unique ability to interpret and explain emotions. Where do we turn for those interpretations and explanations today?

Quotes on Writing: source

Breaking Grammar Rules in Poetry Writing

grammar rules poetry writing

Do you break grammar rules in poetry writing?

Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.

Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.

Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.

So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?

Good Grammar in Poetry Writing

I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?

Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.

Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich 

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules

Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.

Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for many poets who choose to dismiss these rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.

Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.

Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide

As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.

Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.

I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.

What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

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