Poetry is a great way to start writing because it’s all about expression. If you feel silly and want to laugh, then crack yourself up. If you are heart-broken, then let off some anger instead of bottling it up.
I wrote this blog post for people who want to write poetry, but aren’t quite sure where to start.
Poetry is expression. There is no right or wrong way to write poetry as long as you are saying what you want to say. So be fearless and listen to that little voice in your head — it knows what to write already.
Think carefully about the words you choose. Many novels have over 50,000 words and poems can have 50 or fewer. On one hand that makes poems quicker to write (many people can finish them in hours or days instead of months/years). But on the other hand, it means you need to choose your words wisely since there are so few in each poem. Make sure each word has the meaning, style and sound that you want.
What’s your poem’s style? Poems come in as many different shapes and sizes as people do. They all have their own mood. Take a look at the opening lines to these four poems and notice how you feel when reading them. What emotions do you feel? What are you thinking about? Where does your mind think the poem is going?
Homework! Oh, Homework!
I hate you! You stink! (Prelutsky’s Homework! Oh, Homework!)
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost. (Dante’s Inferno)
Just beyond the flower garden at the end of the lawn
the curvature of the earth begins, (Collin’s Looking West)
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though. (Frost’s Stopping by the Woods)
Which of those lines did you like the best? Which one has a style you like the best? Notice how the opening line has already set the mood of the poem.
Poems don’t have to rhyme. When most people think about poems, they think about rhymes like “Roses are red…” or Dr. Seuss. However, poems don’t have to rhyme. Billy Collins is a great example of non-rhyming poems. His poems are informal and conversational. When you read them, you feel like you’re sitting down to tea with an old friend. Rhymes can be fun, but they can also distract from your poem’s message because everyone gets caught up in the rhyming. (If you do want to rhyme, use a rhyming dictionary if you want help with the rhymes.)
What message do you want to portray? Whether you intend to or not, all poems have some sort of message. (Even when you aren’t trying to explicitly write a message, you’re still portraying a message because you’re writing in your voice and your voice is steeped in your view of the world).
Jack Prelutsky’s poem (Homework! Oh, Homework! I hate you! You stink!) may sound too silly to have a message, but actually it reveals a lot of how he sees the world. He’s demonstrating that the world can be a fun, silly and an outlandish place to live.
When Robert Frost’s poem ends with “But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,” you realize that he is talking about death. He has a lot of things that he still wants to do (promises to keep) before he dies (sleeps).
What environment is it easy for you to write in? Some people write well when they are alone… or out in nature… or sitting with a pen and paper… or in the middle of a loud coffee shop… or listening to their favorite music. Try writing in different places and see where it’s easiest for you.
Onomatopoeia, Alliteration and Metaphors can be your friends.
Onomatopoeia means using words that sound like what they represent… such as “plop” and “fizz”. Alliteration is repeating the same letter at the start of a word… such as “Dave Doesn’t Delay Doodling.” A Metaphor is saying one thing and meaning another. When Robert Frost talks about “sleeping” he is actually talking about “dying”. Did any of these literary techniques get your attention? If so, give them a try in a poem.
Rhythm can be important. How do the words flow when you say them? Are they easy to say together? Many poets like to use the same rhythm throughout the poem. When you read your poem, where does the emphasis go?
I added bold to the emphasis on Robert Frost’s poem. As you can see, he uses the same rhythm and emphasis throughout his poem:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though.
(short long short long short long short long)
He used the same short-long rhythm throughout his entire poem. Are you using a rhythm? What is it? Is it consistent?
The best poem is a finished poem. Stick with it. The more you write the easier it gets. Poems don’t have to be perfect — but they are better when they’re finished.
I hope you enjoyed my short tutorial on poetry. As for myself, I write best when it’s quiet. I like to use the same rhythm throughout the poem because I love how it rolls off my tongue. If possible, I like to end with a twist that makes people smile. Just like Jack Prelutsky, I want to show people that the world is a funny, playful place to live. If you want to check out one of my poems, you can read What do you want to be? or browse my other short poems for kids that I’ve archived online.