How To Write A Poem: A Step By Step Guide – Jericho Writers
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How To Write A Poem: A Step By Step Guide

How To Write A Poem: A Step By Step Guide

Have you always wanted to write a poem, but don’t know where to start? Trying something new is often daunting. But the wonderful thing about poetry is that it’s all about you – your feelings, your ideas, the way you see the world. And there are no rules! But there are plenty of things you may wish to learn first to give you a deeper understanding of the most beautiful form of written expression.

In this article I will be explaining what poetry is, the key elements of a poem, how to find inspiration, and how to edit your poetry.

What Is Poetry? 

When you think about poetry, your mind may go back to English lessons at school, and memorising and interpreting poems by the likes of Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Emily Dickinson. While those poets are rightfully revered, there is so much more to poetry than just the classics. There truly is a poem for everyone. And it’s wonderful to see that, with the rise of intersectional feminism, poets by women of colour such as Amanda Gorman and Rupi Kaur (as well as their predecessors Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Toni Morrison) are being recognised for their talent and hard work.

Poetry is varied not just in terms of who writes it, but also in terms of form. For those who prefer to process things auditorily rather than visually, there’s spoken word poetry (try Button Poetry if you’re interested). For children, there are nursery rhymes and acrostics. And many modern poets post their poems on social media so that you can enjoy their wonderful words while you’re scrolling. 

The definition of poetry has expanded greatly in recent years, but essentially, it is distilled language that intends to resonate with the reader. The effect poetry produces varies greatly and is largely determined by the poet’s intent. Whether you want to make your reader cry, laugh, or want to go on a hike, the limit of the form’s length means that every word counts. And every line should be working towards that goal of making the reader feel.  

The Key Elements Of A Poem 

There are multiple components to a poem, and each of them has its own value. Individual poets often have a signature style, which tends to be based around the poetic element which they focus on and excel at. Before you start writing a poem, you need to know more about how they are shaped. 

Voice 

The voice of a poem is arguably one of the most important parts. It carries much of the tone and emotion which helps the reader connect to the poem. The speaker in poetry is often somewhat vague, which enables the reader to empathise with them more. A popular, compelling way in which voice is utilised is through the poetic I (frequently using the word ‘I’ to frame the speaker’s feelings and experiences). It also affects the timbre of the poem when it is read aloud as the voice of a poem carries certain emotions, which determine how we vocalise. 

Form 

The form of a poem often indicates much of its structure and rhyme scheme. As it determines the shape of a poem, it is another vital component. Form includes the type of poem (villanelle, haiku, free verse), its overall length, line breaks, the number of stanzas, and the length of the stanzas. Some poets like to start off with a very strict idea of the form they would like their poem to take, some just start writing and see what happens, while others will add elements of form when they edit

Rhythm 

Rhythm is one of the ways in which poetry stands out from other writing forms. While, of course, almost all writing has some element of rhythm, in poetry it is the centre from which the voice, form, content etc stem, and it influences how they are expressed. It’s also linked to structure, as long poems with long lines tend to be more fluid than short poems with short stanzas and lines which often have an urgency to them. Rhythm involves pace and can be altered by things like syllable count and alliteration. Enjambment can be used skilfully to disrupt the rhythm and bring the reader’s attention to a specific line. Caesura and line breaks work similarly, and these sections can be further developed when paired with an interesting rhyme scheme. 

Rhyme 

Contrary to popular belief, poems do not have to rhyme. Whether a poem utilises full rhyme, half-rhyme, or no rhyme at all, rhyme usually influences how the poem is perceived and helps create its overall message. The rhyme scheme can be very regular throughout the entire poem (e.g. four stanzas with a common ABCB rhyming pattern), or entirely inconsistent, with a rhyming couplet placed at the end to act as the poem’s memorable thesis statement. Assonance and consonance can also be used to create more subtle rhymes, as can homophones because they don’t visually appear to rhyme. Iambic pentameter (favoured by Shakespeare) is a frequently used rhyme scheme, which is linked to form, as it’s often used in sonnets. It also relies on meter to create strong sounds and emphasis. 

Meter 

Meter refers to the pattern of stressed syllables and the number of syllables in a line, stanza, or poem. It’s more frequent, and notable, in traditional poetry, and highlights a poem’s rhyme, rhythm, and structure. Often, if you’re writing a poem and find that a section sounds off, it’s because you’ve been using meter in a regular pattern- intentionally or not-and then diverged from that pattern. 

Literary Devices 

Poetry is often rife with literary devices. Many poems are focused on clear images, and literary devices are often used to describe them. Motifs and symbolism are some of the broader ones used, and lyrical language, irony, metaphors, and similes are used to describe specific details. Choosing a literary device that interests you and trying to write an example of one can be a great way to start a poem or revitalise one you’ve already begun. 

writing-poetry

How To Start Writing Poetry 

One of the unique things about writing poetry is that there is no set starting point. Want to start with the last stanza? Fab! Want to shape your poem around an interesting title? Great! Want to have a freewriting session that produces a long meandering poem? Go for it! You can always edit later. Ultimately, when it comes to writing a poem, you can start wherever you want to. For some, this can be freeing. If it leaves you more daunted than excited, then one way to start is by using one of our poetry prompts.  

It’s also important to consider why you want to write poetry. If you want to take 5 minutes to write a poem because it’s a quick, accessible form of creative expression, then experiment with a few methods and just enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about finishing poems either (many writers never feel as though their work is finished; you could edit your writing in perpetuity). If you want to write a poem to the best of your ability, then you’ll approach things differently and spend more time on it.

Not only can you start a poem wherever you like, but you can also decide how long you want it to be, what style you want to emulate (lyrical, free verse, stream of consciousness, prose poetry), and how it’s structured. Poetry can be very personal, so if it reassures you, know that your poetry can be written just for you. No one else has to read it. Poetry can be a great outlet, and a poem’s value is about so much more than how many people have read it.  

Reading poetry out loud (to yourself or to others) is incredibly helpful, too. Rhythm is a key element of poetry, and it can be better emphasised and understood when we hear it compared to when we read it. Processing your work in a different way can give you ideas about what to write in a new stanza or help you to edit a section of an existing part of it. 

Start With Structure 

When it comes to writing a poem, a good place to start is with the structure. Decide whether you want to write a poem with a strict form (a villanelle that has a predetermined rhyme scheme and length) or whether you want to start with a free writing session that ends up as a poem written in free verse. It really helps to know what kind of writer you are. Do you find restrictions helpful, because they focus your ideas and give you clear boundaries? Or do you find them confining, and feel that more freedom enables you to think more creatively? Regardless of your answer, knowing the extent to which form and structure can help you provides you with a rough idea of what your poem will look like, which means you can then start to focus in a little more on the specifics. You could even start with a great title which you came up with (finding a strong title is often very difficult, so if this is the case, congrats!) and build the poem from there. 

Start With Your Content 

In poetry, as with all kinds of writing, the main content and message are key. Therefore, starting with the content of your poem can be helpful. Often, if you’re eager to write a poem it’s because you have a topic in mind. Maybe you want to write an ode to a loved one, process and express your feelings, or write about a current topic/event. If you already have a topic in mind, just start writing! You can always edit it later, and at least you’ve got something to work from. If you have no idea what you want to write about, fear not! You could do a short timed free write, and just see what comes up. If any lines or phrases stand out to you, use them as a starting point. Alternatively, you could use one of our poetry prompts to help you get started. 

Seek Inspiration 

If you’ve written poetry before, and find yourself feeling stagnant, or if you want to try something new, then seeking external inspiration is great. Read interviews from poets you admire or read lots of poems you like. Your inspiration doesn’t even need to come from the world of poetry. You could hear an interesting line from the song playing on the radio or watch an exchange between characters on a TV show which intrigues you. Be open to receiving ideas, wherever they might come from. You could even write a poem with a friend, and exchange alternate lines back and forth. 

Edit! 

The hardest part of writing a poem, as with many things, is getting started. Once you’ve chosen your form, decided what your poem will be about, or chosen a prompt, just start writing until you reach a natural endpoint. Or until your hand starts to cramp, and your eyes get tired. Which is a natural endpoint too. Then, once you’ve rested, it’s time to edit. People often think of editing as checking spelling, punctuation, and grammar. While those things are all important too, with poetry you can really have fun with the editing process. Move the first stanza so that it becomes the final stanza. How does that change the pacing, the message, the mood? If it doesn’t work, move it back. You could adjust the rhyme scheme by adding or subtracting words. You could even try erasure poetry, where you cross/black out words, lines, or whole stanzas, creating a new, sparser poem from what’s leftover. Regardless of the outcome, keep focusing on the joy you get out of writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect; no one has to read it if you don’t want them to, and it doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize level writing for you to consider yourself a poet. Keep moving things around and changing things until you are happy with how your poem ends up. Though, as Paul Valéry said, “a poem is never finished; it’s always an accident that puts a stop to it- i.e., gives it to the public.” 

Writing Poetry 

When it comes to writing a poem, you can do it however you want to. The most important thing is that you enjoy it and find it interesting. There are so many distinctive styles and forms of poetry, and numerous ways in which it can be shared (spoken word performances, audio recordings, and in classic print). So there truly is something for everyone. But if you’re struggling with where to start, or want a refresher on the key components of poetry, I hope this article is helpful. And remember, you don’t have to write using a quill and scroll to be deemed a poet. Though it may be more fun than using a laptop. 


 

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