How to Write a Poem (and Why This Will Help You Become a Better Writer)

Recently, I re-read a little book I created some years ago.

It’s a book of poems.

I collected my poems and then ‘published’ them in a book I handcrafted myself.

It made a special gift for my loved ones.

I’m not what people call ‘a poet,’ but I do tend to write poems now and then. Especially at key moments of my life.

The poems I created some years ago trigger memories, emotions and sentiments.

They are like condensed journal entries.

Do you write poems?

Not? Well, maybe you should.

Writing a poem means paring down your experience to just a few words or phrases.

This is great training for whatever else you write.

I know that my own writing has been shaped and improved by writing poems.

When you write a poem, the challenge is to capture a moment, a feeling or a fleeting thought. Here is one of my poems that invokes a moment when my son, Sebastian, went to visit his new-born half-sister.

Little Red Car

He waved to me

As he got onto the plane

Lifting his skateboard high

In his luggage

The little red car

For his new sister.

At the big old house

He used to play with it

In his room halfway up the landing,

Pushing it over the blue vinyl

With gold flecks

He was little then

And liked to crawl into my bed

At night.

When I pushed him out of my body

And gathered him to my heart

All wet and tiny

No one told me

He would become a man

The very next day.

Some simple suggestions on how to write a poem

First of all, it’s important to let go of any ideas of writing a ‘good’ poem. Your poems are memories frozen in time. They don’t need to be important to anyone else.

Here are a few pointers that make writing poems enjoyable:

Focus on a particular moment

Poems work best if you focus on a moment that expresses an emotion or is a metaphor for an idea.

Such moments occur every day. We just need to notice them.

Imagine you see a cicada shell on the ground. At that moment you might remember that cicadas emerge from years in the ground – and then only live and sing for a couple of weeks. Here is what Zen poet Basho made of such a moment:

Shell of a cicada

It sang itself away

completely

The more details you use, the more vivid your poem will be. Sensory details help your readers to identify emotionally with your poem.

Here are some questions to elicit sensory details:

If your poem is set in a location, what do you see?

What colors are there?

What do you hear?

What do you taste or smell?

If a person is the focus of your poem, what details are telling?

What do they look like?

What do they say?

What do they see?

Here is a short poem with rich details by William Carlos Williams

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

The fun of found poems

found poetry

A found poem uses words from non-poetic contexts and turns them into poetry. It’s like a collage. You can find scraps of sentences in your everyday life and put them together to make a poem.

Here is where you can find material for your language collage:

  • instruction books
  • recipes
  • scraps of conversations
  • horoscopes
  • textbooks
  • dictionaries
  • graffiti
  • phone messages, notes you’ve written to yourself
  • shopping lists
  • billboards

Here are two examples of found poems. The first one is by William Whewell who found the following poem in a treatise of mechanics:

 An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics

Hence no force,

however great,

can stretch a cord,

however fine,


into a horizontal line

which is accurately straight.

The poet Hart Seely found poetry in the speeches and news briefings of Donald Rumsfeld. Here is one of his tongue-in-cheek poems:

 Unknown

 As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don’t know

We don’t know.

If you want to create a ‘found poem,’ make sure you carry a notebook around with you. Jot down any interesting bits of language you find. You’ll find that your ordinary life turns into a treasure hunt!

 Editing: the crucial phase

The most important part of writing a poem is to pare it down to the essential. When you edit your poem, you need to test every word to see if it can be left out.

If you are lucky, you might end up with just a few words.

Here is a celebrated poem by William Carlos Williams where most of the content is pared away, and only a few poignant words remain:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

 

 

What about you?

Do you write poems? If so, please share your poem so we can all enjoy it.

Or maybe you have a favorite poem someone else wrote?

Please share your poems and thoughts in the comment section.

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About The Author

Mary Jaksch

Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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