Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation to Find the Perfect Word

Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation

Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation.

Poetry writing exercises are an excellent way to develop writing skills, especially skills that are essential to writing compelling poetry. Writing exercises can provide us with new perspectives, techniques, and ideas that strengthen and improve poems we’ve written and poems we have yet to write.

Words are the most basic building blocks for writers, and words have meanings. Often, words have multiple meanings or layers of meanings. Read More

Poetry Writing Exercise: Creative Wordplay

poetry writing exercises

Have a little fun with language.

Charles Dickens invented the word boredom. Sylvia Path coined the term dreamscape. William Shakespeare gave us bandit, swagger, and gossip, along with over 1700 other words that previously didn’t exist in the English lexicon.

Writers have a long history of inventing new words, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When we encounter an idea or concept and no clear way to express it, creating new language is a practical solution.

Plus, making up new words is fun.

But we’re not limited to inventing new words. Poets, in particular, are always looking for fresh ways to use language. Consider the following line’s from E.E. Cummings’ poem, “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”:

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew

Cummings also played with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The lack of spacing around the parenthesis is not a typo!

Poetic Language

Let’s look more closely at the phrase “down they forgot as up they grew.”

It’s not a conventional way to arrange words. Cummings flouted conventional syntax with the word order (“up they grew” instead of “they grew up”), and he combined words in surprising ways (“down they forgot”).

We know that according to the rules of our language, this excerpt shouldn’t make sense, especially the notion of “forgetting down,” yet as we read the lines of the poem, we know exactly what the poet is saying.

That’s the magic of wordplay in poetry.

Poetry Exercise: Creative Wordplay

Today’s poetry writing exercises encourage you to invent fresh and interesting words and phrases by using language in unexpected ways. To get started, you’ll need some words to work with, so make four lists of about a dozen words each:

  1. Nouns (examples: cat, sky, food)
  2. Adjectives (examples: blue, jolly, flat)
  3. Verbs (examples: dance, squat, bite)
  4. Suffixes and prefixes: (examples: non-, anti-, -er)

Once you’ve got some words to work with, you can start playing with them. As you work through the steps below, don’t confine yourself to the words you’ve pre-selected. Bring new words into your lists as needed or as you feel inspired to do so.

  1. Combine one of the nouns with one of the suffixes or prefixes to form a new word (example: desker).
  2. Combine any two words to form a new word (example: jollysquat).
  3. Turn one of the nouns into a verb and use it in a sentence (example: They’re catting through the club).
  4. Use an adjective as an adverb in a phrase or sentence (example: She’s running blue).
  5. Rearrange the words in one of the sentences or phrases you’ve written (example: Through the club they’re catting).

You can repeat these exercises infinitely, always bringing new words and ideas into the mix. You’ll find that the more time you spend on creative exercises like these, the more your mind will open to experimental language and wordplay.

Can you think of any other strange and interesting ways to combine words? What about common expressions that already use words in unconventional ways, like using a preposition as a verb (“We’re upping the ante”)? Did you find any words or combinations that worked especially well for this exercise? Share your wordplay by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Poetry Writing Exercises: Shifting Perspectives

poetry writing exercises

Poetry writing exercises for experimenting with perspective.

Writers share something in common with actors; they need to be able to understand people who are outside their own personal experience. When we write a character who is vastly different from us, we do what actors do, which is step inside the mind and body of someone else.

Not all writers do this. If you write essays, blogs, or memoirs, getting into other people’s heads is not a necessary skill. But if you write fiction, it’s essential. It’s also a common practice in poetry, especially in poetry that strives to be compassionate, socially aware, or empathetic.

It’s also not a bad life skill. Fostering empathy gives you a broader understanding of the world and the people in it and can be immensely helpful in mitigating conflict and bridging cultures.

Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write a poem from a perspective other than your own.

Poetry Writing Exercises: Shift Your Perspective

Below, you’ll find three poetry writing exercises. Each one asks you to write a poem in which you shift your perspective and try to see things differently:

1. Animate the Inanimate: Choose an inanimate object, such as a tree or a toaster. Prepare for the exercise by looking at images of the object or the object itself, and then write a list of things that would be of concern to the object. For example, a toaster might be uncomfortable because its crumb tray is full. Think about what kind of personality this object would have if it were sentient and spend a few minutes cultivating a voice for this object by speaking aloud (into a recorder, if you have one) in the character of this object. Now that you’re warmed up, write a poem from this object’s perceptive. The main goal is to find the object’s voice and personality. This exercise is excellent for children’s poetry and humor.

2. Cross the Culture: Get inside the mindset of a culture other than your own. Choose a culture you’re not overly familiar with. This can be a sub-culture within your own region (maybe you’re a geek writing as a sports fanatic) or you can choose a culture from another nation or one from history. Give yourself one hour to read about this culture or watch a documentary about it, and then write a poem from your own perspective but from within the culture you’re writing about (a geek at a sporting event). Take a positive angle on the culture you’re writing about, even if you find it strange or if you don’t quite understand it.

3. My Own Worst Enemy: Now get inside the mind of your enemy. This could be someone who bullied you when you were a child. It could be a mean boss you once worked for. It could be someone you feel animosity toward because they’ve hurt you or a loved one or because they have an opposing worldview that you think is detrimental to society. It doesn’t even have to be a real person. You can make someone up! Choose a topic this person would care about (if it’s your childhood bully, maybe it’s about why this person picked on other children) and write about that topic from that person’s perspective. Explore why they do what they do, and if possible, try to find the positive. And remember: a villain is the hero of his or her own story.

Understanding “The Other”

Broadening your perspective to understand different points of view and different ideas is beneficial, especially if you’re a writer (or any type of artist, really). In the world today, which often seems wildly fragmented, a little understanding can go a long way. But these poetry writing exercises also encourage you to stretch your imagination and engage your creativity. You might find them slightly uncomfortable, but if you push through, you’ll learn something new and have a fresh poem to add to your repertoire.

If you try any of these poetry writing exercises, leave a comment and let us know how it worked out for you, and keep writing!

101 Creative Writing Exercises

Poetry Writing Exercises: Lost in Translation

Poetry writing exercises

Poetry writing exercises: blind translations.

Language is a funny thing, and translations are neither as simple nor as straightforward as we might want them to be.

Years ago, when I was learning Spanish (I never did master it), on an especially warm day, I wanted to say, “I’m hot,” which is a standard expression in English. But when I said the phrase, “Yo soy caliente” to my Spanish-speaking cousin, he laughed and warned me not to go around using that phrase. Apparently in Spanish, this expression has to do with lust, not the temperature.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: translation requires more than looking up words in a language dictionary.

Languages are filled with connotations and nuances. Technology has given us a host of tools that we can use to parse languages that we don’t know, but we can’t rely on these tools for proper translations because they are not capable of fully understanding the subtleties of language: especially colloquialisms, cliches, and other common expressions.

We can usually use translator tools to get the gist of some text that’s written in a foreign language, but as writers, we can also find ways to use these tools to hone our craft. Today we’ll use online translators to generate a poetry writing exercise.

Poetry Writing Exercise

The goal of this exercise is to use an online translator as a tool to get your raw material, a collection of words and phrases that you’ll use to build a new poem. For this exercise, you’ll need a poem written in a foreign language plus a professional translation of that poem in English.

Here are the steps:

  1. Find a poem that was written in a foreign language that you don’t speak, read, or understand. Make sure it’s a poem that has been professionally translated into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). You’ll need both the translation and native versions of the poem.
  2. Read the poem aloud in its native language. You don’t know this language, so don’t worry about comprehension or pronunciation. Just read it and see what it sound like. Does it have a rough, jagged feeling? Is it smooth and flowing?
  3. Paste the poem into an online translation tool and translate it into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). Do not use a published translation of the work. The key to this exercise is to take the original poem in its native language, and run it through an electronic translator.
  4. Read the translated copy. Does it make sense? Do any words or phrases feel odd or out of place?
  5. Now pull out words and phrases that interest you. Copy and paste them into a new document (or write them as a list in your notebook).
  6. Use the words and phrases you’ve harvested to write a new poem of your own. For an added twist, try to incorporate new words and phrases that are reminiscent of the native language of the poem. For example, if you’re using a poem written in Hawaiian, consider setting your poem on one of the Hawaiian islands.
  7. Now get the professional translation of the poem and read it. How similar is it to the online translation? How similar is it to the poem you wrote?


A good way to find poems for this exercise is to search for famous poets from other countries or pick up a book of poems that are published in both their native languages and English translations.

Lost in Translation

I studied French for four years in junior high and high school plus two semesters in college. I never did become fluent because I was unable to experience immersion. But what surprised me the most about learning French was how much it taught me about my native language, English. We writers can learn a lot about writing by studying various languages.

Are you bilingual? Have you ever studied or mastered a foreign language? How has your understanding of language influenced your poetry? Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!

101 Creative Writing Exercises

Poetry Writing Exercises in Space and Time

Poetry writing exercises in time and space

Poetry writing exercises in time and space.

Poetry is the most artistic form of writing. A poem can be concrete or abstract. It can be expressive or pensive. It can cover just about any subject imaginable.

But the truth is that despite what poetry can be, it is most often used as a form of emotional self-expression, especially by young and new poets. When we’re feeling sad, angry, or elated, it’s easy to sit down and mold our emotions into words. It’s cathartic.

Poets also tend toward writing about nature. Tributes, politics, religion, family, and romance are some of the most common topics that poets tackle.

Why not try something different?

Poetry Writing Exercises

Today’s poetry writing exercises encourage you to get out of your head and explore time and space. Try one or try them all. Engage your imagination, and have fun.

Poetry Writing Exercise: Out of Space

Think about the space where you exist: your room, your office, your home, neighborhood–the country in which you reside. Think about the planet you live on. Now go beyond the familiar. Write a poem set in a distant space. It could be a foreign land or a far-off planet. It could be an ode to interstellar travel or a poem about your favorite science fiction flick. The idea is to write a poem about a place you’ve never been to, a place that’s far away from your known reality.

Poetry Writing Exercise: Out of Time

Stepping out of time is, in some ways, easier than stepping out of a place. You’ve studied history in school, seen movies and books that were set in the past or in the future. Your parents and grandparents have probably told you plenty of stories about the “good old days.” Poems from the past are plentiful, but most of them were written in the past. And poems from the future are scarce. Write a poem set in the past, during a time you did not experience firsthand, or write a poem set in the future. Either way, let your imagination and knowledge about the past and present guide your thoughts.

The Time-Space Continuum

According to Wikipedia, the time-space continuum is “any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum.” Are time and space separate or are they intertwined? Is it possible to move through time by traveling through space? Does time exist at all or is it just our way of understanding the way we exist and move through space? Write a poem about time and space, or write a poem about shifting through time and space.

Get More Poetry Writing Exercises

Did you enjoy today’s poetry writing exercises? I try to make my writing exercises fun and challenging. If you’d like to get more exercises like these, check out 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available at your favorite online bookstore.


101 creative writing exercises

Poetry Writing Exercises to Engage the Senses

poetry writing exercises

Engage readers’ senses with these poetry writing exercises.

Ah, the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. How do they relate to poetry writing?

We delight in the pleasures of the senses, but infusing poetry with sensory stimulation is not an easy task. It takes a deft and creative writer to forge images–using text–that trigger a reader’s senses.

So why bother?

When you engage your readers’ senses, your poetry becomes more compelling and more memorable.

Some scientists say smell is the strongest of the senses in terms of memorability. If you get your readers to physically experience scent (or any other sensation), you’ll have them hooked. Surely you’ve read a passage that described the delicious smells of home-cooked food and found your mouth watering?

Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write with more sense. Below, you’ll find a series of short poetry writing exercises that culminate with making a poem that is peppered with sensory stimuli.

Step 1: Prepare

  • Start with a sheet of paper divided into five columns. If you prefer to do writing exercises on your computer, you can use a spreadsheet or word-processing program.
  • Label the columns: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Spend a few minutes populating the columns with words and phrases that reflect the correlating senses. For example, in the smell column, you might write chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, a blooming rose, or the cat’s litter box. Be as descriptive as possible and avoid using only stimuli that please or entice; add a few that are unpleasant for balance.

Step 2: Review

  • Review your list carefully, testing each item on your list to see how it affects you. When you read something like throbbing bass coming from the car in the next lane, can you feel the boom?
  • As you go through your list, cross out anything that doesn’t engage your senses.
  • Highlight those items that really affect you–when you can feel the soft slick of silk or hear the sound of a quiet breeze rustling dried leaves, you’re affected.

Step 3: Poetry Writing Exercises

  • Write one sentence for each of the five senses. Make sure it’s a complete sentence, and try to generate a sentence that evokes a scene. In other words “The roses smell nice,” won’t cut it. Try for something like: “I bent down, beckoned by the rose’s sweet perfume and dazzling red hue.” Note that this sentence affects two senses: smell (sweet perfume) and sight (red hue).
  • Next, try to do what I did in the sample sentence above. Combine two or more senses into a single, complete sentence. When you read it back, does your nose tingle? Do you see bright colors in your mind?
  • Look for sentences that you can link together, words and phrases that can be joined together under a common theme. For example, if a lot of your words, phrases, and sentences could be set outside, then they can be grouped together.
  • Finally, using the material you’ve generated, write a poem that stimulates each of the five senses. As a bonus, you can work in the sixth sense as well.


  • You can also work backwards. Start with a theme, then populate your lists with things that will trigger the senses and that correlate with the theme you’ve chosen.
  • Need some ideas? Start by choosing a setting, such as an event, where it’s likely all fives senses would be stimulated. For example, at a wedding, there will be the scent of fresh flowers, the taste of a wedding cake, and the sound of “Here Comes the Bride.” Other likely events include concerts, parties, meetings, vacations, and–try this one–cleaning day.
  • If you get stuck, refer to your brainstorming lists or practice sentences and use that material for inspiration.
  • Try not to make it too obvious that your goal for the poem was to stimulate the reader’s senses. Be sure it flows naturally.

You should have fun with poetry writing exercises but they should also challenge you. If you try these sensory-stimulating poetry writing exercises, feel free to post excerpts from what you’ve written in the comments. Also, If you have any favorite poetry writing exercises of your own, feel free to share them as well.

And keep writing sensibly!

Looking for more poetry writing exercises? 101 Creative Writing Exercises features two full chapters on poetry writing:

101 creative writing exercises

Three Poetry Writing Exercises

three poetry writing exercises

Stretch your writing muscles with these poetry writing exercises.

If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.

Writing’s no different.

Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.

Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact, some of these exercises are just that–exercises–no poetry writing required.

Poetry Writing Exercises

These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!

1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists

Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.

Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.

2. Metaphors and Similes for Life

Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember, a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.

Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates).

Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.

Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.

3. Lyrics and Musicality

Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.

Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!

These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?

Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Have any special requests for exercises that deal with specific areas of writing? Leave a comment!

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

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