How to Write a Poem: Get Tips from a Published Poet

Have you ever wondered how to write a poem? For writers who want to dig deeper, composing verse allows them to sift through the sand of their experience for new glimmers of insight. And if you’re doing it for less lofty motives, shaping a verse from start to finish can teach you to have fun with language in whole new ways.

To help demystify the subtle art of verse writing, he chatted with Reedsy editor (and published poet) Lauren Stroh. In 8 easy steps, this is how to write a poem:

1. Brainstorm your starting point

If you’re having trouble writing your poem in order from the first line to the last, a good trick is to start with whatever starting point your brain can latch onto as he learns to think in verse.

Your starting point can be a line or phrase that you want to work into your poem, although it doesn’t have to take the form of language at all. It can be an image in your head, as particular as the curl of hair over her daughter’s ear while she sleeps, or as wide as the sea. It may even be a complicated feeling that you want to represent accurately, or perhaps it is a memory that you return to over and over again. Think of this starting point as the “why” behind your poem, your impetus for writing it in the first place.

If you’re worried your starting point isn’t big enough to warrant a poem complete, stop there. After all, the literary giants have mined verse on every subject under the sun, from the deceptions of a post-Odyssey to illicitly eaten chilled plums.

How to Write a Poem | Tennyson
Tennyson, Queen Victoria’s poet laureate, revisits an ancient classic literary in this blank verse text about what happens after happily ever after.

As Lauren Stroh sees it, her experience is more than worth immortalizing in verse.

“I think the most successful poems articulate something true about the human experience and help us see the everyday world in new and exciting ways.”

2. Freely write prose first

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you’re having a hard time writing lines that resonate, perhaps start by writing some prose first. Take this time to delve into the central image, sentiment, or theme of your poem and learn to pin it down with language. Give yourself a chance to reflect on things before writing the poem.

Take 10 minutes and write down anything that comes to mind when you think about your starting point. You can write in paragraphs, include bullet points, or even sketch out a mind map. The purpose of this exercise is not to produce an outline: it is to generate a treasure trove of raw material, a repertoire of loosely connected bits to draw from as you write your poem in earnest.

Silence your inner critic for now

And since this is raw material, the last thing you should do is self-censor. Do you find yourself mocking a turn of phrase, overthinking a rhetorical device, or mentally complaining, “This metaphor will never make it to the final draft”? Tell that inner critic to shut up for now and write it down anyway. You may be able to refine that sloppy, spontaneous idea into a crisp, soulful line.

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3. Choose the Shape and Style of Your Poem

Whether you have freely written your way to the beginning or jotted down a couple of lines, before completing a full first draft of your poem, take some time to think about the shape and style.

The form of a poem often carries much meaning beyond the structural “rules” it offers the writer. The rhyme patterns of the sonnets, and Shakespeare’s influence on the form, generally lend themselves to passionate pronouncements of love, whether lighthearted or somber. On the other hand, acrostic poems are often more blatant because of the secret meaning hidden in plain sight.

Even if your material calls for a poem with no formal constraints, you’ll need to decide the texture and tone of your language. Free verse, after all, is as diverse a form as the novel, ranging from the breathless maximalism of Walt Whitman to the cold austerity of H.D. Where, on this spectrum, will your poem fall?

 How to write a poem | HD
H.D. —the pen name of the poet Hilda Doolittle—relies on understated language and concrete imagery in her work.

Choosing a form and tone for your poem early on can help you work with some kind of structure to imbue more meanings to your lines. And if you’ve used freewriting to generate raw material for yourself, a structure can give you the guidance you need to organize your notes into a poem.

4. Read for inspiration

A poem is not a non-fiction book or a historical novel: you don’t have to accumulate loads of research to write a good one.That said, a little reading outside can prevent writer’s block and keep you inspired throughout the writing process.

Create a short, personalized syllabus around the form and topic of writing. your poem. Suppose you are writing a sensory-rich and linguistically spare piece of free verse about a mutually jealous relationship between mother and daughter. In that case, you’ll want to read some key imaginist poems, along with some poems that outline complicated views of parenthood in non-sentimental terms.

How to Write a Poem | Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound’s classic two-line poem shows Imagism in action, with its everyday language and evocative imagery.

And if you don’t want to be limited to poems similar in form and style to your own, Lauren has you covered with an all-purpose reading list:

  • Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language
  • Anything You Can Get by Mary Oliver
  • The poems “First Turn to Me” and “You Jerk You Didn’t Call Me” by Bernadette Mayer.
  • I often give Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara to my friends who write.
  • Everyone should read the interviews in the Paris Review archives.. Nice to watch how people familiar with the language speak when they are not acting, working, or preparing to write.
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5.Write for an audience of one: you

Even with preparation, the pressure of producing verse can awaken your inner metrophobe (or poetry fearer). What if people don’t understand, or even misinterpret, what you’re trying to say? no or are they attracted to your work? To keep anxiety at bay, Lauren suggests writing for yourself, not for an outside audience.

“I absolutely believe that poets can determine the validity of their own success if the work they are producing changes them. themselves, if they are challenged by it, or if it questions their ethics, their habits, or their relationship to the living world. And personally, my life has certainly been changed by certain lines that I have had the courage to think and then write, and those moments are when I feel like I’ve made it.”

You could eventually polish your work if you decide to publish your poetry later. (If you do, definitely check out the rest of this guide for tips and a list of magazines you can submit to.) But as your first draft forms, treat it like it’s for your eyes only.

6. Read your poem aloud

A good poem doesn’t have to be pretty: easy, melodic beauty may not be your goal. However, it should come alive on the page with a consciously crafted beat, either anthemic or jarring. To do this, read your poem aloud, first line by line, then all together, as a full text.

How to Write a Poem | Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was known for the extraordinary musicality of her verse.

Proof each line against your ear can help you weigh a choice between synonyms, making you notice, for example, the watery sound of “glacial”, the brittleness of “icy”, the solidity of “cold”.

Reading aloud can also help you troubleshoot line breaks that just don’t feel right. Is the line unnaturally long, forcing you to run through it or pause in the middle to take a hurried breath? If so, do you like that destabilizing effect or do you want to literally give the reader some breathing room? Trying these variations out loud is perhaps the only way to answer questions like these.

7. Take a break to refresh your mind

While it’s incredibly exciting to complete a draft of your poem, and you may feel like diving back in and editing it, it’s always advisable to take a rest. first. You don’t have to walk away from writing completely if you don’t want to. Take a week to work on your novel or even idly ponder your next poetic project, as long as you distance yourself from this poem for a while.

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This is because, by this point, you’ve probably read each line so many times that the meaning has leaked out of the syllables. With free time, you let your mind refresh so that you can approach the piece with more attention and more ideas for refining it.

8. Have fun revising your poem

At the end of the day, even if you write in a well-established form, poetry is about experimenting with language, both written and spoken. Lauren emphasizes that revising a poem is therefore an open-ended process that requires patience and a sense of play.

“Have fun. Play around. Be patient. Don’t take it seriously, or don’t. Although poems may seem shorter than what you’re used to writing, they often take years to become what they are.” they really are…They change and evolve. The most important thing is to find a quiet place where you can be with yourself and really listen.”

Is it time to get other people involved?

Do you want another set of eyes on your poem during this process? You have options. You can swap pieces with a beta reader, work it out with a review group, or even hire a professional poetry editor like Lauren to refine your work—a good option if you plan to submit it to a journal or turn it into a the basis of a chapter book.

The Working Poet’s Checklist

If you decide to fly solo, here’s a checklist to work through as you revise:

✅ On the hunt for clichés. Have you ever looked for ready-made idioms? Go back to the feeling you were dealing with and try to capture it in stronger, more vivid terms.

✅ Notice if your poem begins where should. Did you clear your throat a few lines to get to the real point? Try to start your poem more below.

✅ Make sure each line sings As you read each line, ask yourself: how does this contribute to the poem as a whole? Does it advance the theme, clarify the images, establish or subvert the reader’s expectations? If you answer something like, “It makes the poem sound good,” consider cutting it out.

Once you’ve worked through this checklist, feel free to make yourself a cup of tea and sit quietly. for a while, reflecting on your literary triumphs.

Whether these tips for writing poetry awakened your inner Wordsworth or made you gleefully frolic back into prose, we hope you enjoyed playing with poetry and learned something new about your approach to writing. language.

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And if you’re looking to share your poetry with the world, the next post in this guide can show you how to get your poems published!

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