How To Write A Poem - Poetry Writing

In this guide, I want to discuss how to write a poem
with techniques and tips you can use to write your first
poem or to make your current poems better.

Reading a good poem is like recieving a sudden jolt of
electricity to the brain. It heightens your senses and shakes
you into a new awareness.

To move, to breath, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads oflands remote
To travel is to live.

- Hans Christian Anderson

The lines of this poem have a natural flow, and it is impossible
to imagine a better word choice.

But make no mistake, the poet worked hard on these lines and used
several good poetry techniques to make his hard work seem effortless.


How To Write A Poem - Poetry Writing - Getting Started

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part of writing. You have
feelings inside that you want to express but they won't come out the
way you intend.

Or you love reading poetry and always wanted to try writing it, but
you have no idea where to begin.

My rule for picking a poetic subject is to start with what is already on
my mind - the death of a friend, heartbreak, recent struggles in life,
recent triumphs; and things I love, like early mornings and walking in
the woods.

This isn't brainstorming in the usual method of writing whatever comes randomly to mind for ten minutes. This is thinking about what you've already been thinking about lately.

Forcing yourself to write about subjects that you have no real interest
in will sound artificial and you will struggle to write about them.

Getting a real emotion down on paper stems from real feelings and
real experiences. Write what is true to your heart. Not what you think poetry publishers are looking for.

Your poem may take on large, philosophical themes, or it may be a
short and simple slice of life - perhaps even a single image or thought
that moves you in some way.

What is important is your sincerity. When you write about something
that strikes a true chord in you, it will strike one with your readers as


How To Write A Poem - Poetry Writing

poetry writing, how to write a poem
     Poetry writing- Tahereh Mafi

Ideas and images will move in and out of mind. Fragments that may or
may not be what you are looking for. Write them down.

If you can't think of the word you want or the right image is not coming to mind, capture the feeling and write it down anyway, even if the words you use are plain and not what you were hoping for.

Let's say the subject of your poem is how you long to be lost completely in love. Write down some phrases that convey your emotions first, then work on making them more original or poetic.

For example:

I want to be lost in love like...

If you were Sara Teasdale writing "I Am Not Lost," you might now say to yourself my first two ideas are plain and over used but the third one - a candle in the sun - has potential.

The idea of light being lost in light is a beautiful way of expressing the idea of being lost in or consumed by love. Lets look at how Sara Teasdale actually does it in the first three lines of her poem:

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,

Notice how 'Lost as a candle lit at noon' provides a much more specific image than our brainstorming idea of 'a candle in the sun.'

With the words 'lit at noon,' you imagine not just the sun, but the sun at noon - high, bright, and burning - consuming all of the candle's light.

Moving from common ideas to poetry is not, of course, this simple. I wanted merely to highlight some important concepts:

To read Sara Teasdale's poem in full see famous love poems


How To Write A Poem - Poetry Writing - Rhymes

Sound, rhythm, and rhyme all enrich your poetry writing. Whether you use a set meter and rhyme scheme or free verse, you will want your poems to have a lyrical feel.

The most noticable way to give your poems a musical sound is the use of rhyme.

When done well, rhyme gives extra emphasis to words and smoothes the flow of poetry, making it fun and sometimes moving and beautiful.

Hans Christian Anderson uses an abab rhyme pattern in his short poem:

To move, to breath, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote
To travel is to live.

The rhymes give this poem a pretty, soothing sound without being distracting. The words float and remote are not often used as rhymes, making these lines stand out.

Using commonly rhymed words in poetry may be unavoidable - there are only so many rhymes for a word, afterall.

But mixing in lines with unusual rhymes or using subtler half rhymes will give your poems more variety and greater appeal with readers. (Notice the internal rhyme of the beginning sounds of roam and roads in line three - how swift and sweet this line moves!)




A Word Of Caution:

One thing you want to avoid with rhyme is for readers to see a word at the end of one line and know what word will be hanging at the end of the next one:

I love you with a heart so true
The only one for me is you

Read your poems out loud and try to notice if they use rhymes that are too obvious, allowing the reader to mentally finish the line of your poem before he even reads it.

That said, some lovely lines of poetry can be found ending with often rhymed words:

But whenever I see you, I burst apart
And scatter the sky with my blazing heart.

The words apart and heart are rhymed in thousands of love poems. What is surpising is Amy Lowell's use of alliteration and intense action

-  I burst apart / my blazing heart  -

to make the rhymes more dramatic and poetic.

She has, indeed, turned the common into the uncommon (and beautiful!).


How To Write A Poem - Poetry Writing - Tips

You don't have to use rhyme or meter to write good poetry. The freedom of free verse is championed by many poets.

Yet, don't be fooled. Good free verse isn't a free-for-all. Poets use traditional techniques such as alliteration and repetition to give shape and musicality to their poetry:

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman doesn't use a fixed meter or rhyme pattern in this poem but listen to how pretty the rhyming of 'rising' and 'gliding' sound at the beginning of line two, with similar beginning vowels sounds and ending -ing's.

In line three, Whitman uses alliteration - 'mystical moist' and 'time to time' - to give the line a nice cadence.

Similarly, the use of repetition (in both free verse and patterned poetry) can turn seemingly ordinary words into art:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Taken individually there is nothing extraordinary about these words. But Whitman's arrangement and repetition - celebrate myself / sing myself; what I assume / you shall assume; belonging to me /belongs to you - help transform these lines into greatness.

Final Thoughts:

Crafting a good poem takes time and practice. The above are merely a few ideas on how you can improve your writing. The best way to learn about good poetry is to read it.

Read it first for enjoyment, then read it again (and again) to study and learn.

My favorite lines in all of poetry are from Tennyson's Ulysses:

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

You can see Tennyson uses many of the techniques we have discussed.

One thing that makes this poem so powerful is Tennyson's word choice. He uses heroic words and actions - strong, will, strive, seek, find - that give the poem a heroic and inspiring tone.

The next time you are reading a poem notice not only the poet's word choice and see how it helps shape the poem's tone.




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