How do I start writing a poem?
In many different ways! Often, I have already researched around the subject and thought about it for a while. Sometimes an idea just lands in my head – but that is because I am always looking out for things to write about. If you carry a notebook with you, you can jot down sounds and sights and words and ideas as they come to you.
Sometimes I have an end line. Having an end line and writing towards it is very helpful. By the time you get to the end, the end may have changed – but just having that goal, the rhythm, gives you a structure. Having the ‘feel’ of the poem stops you wallowing on an empty piece of paper.
In fact having an empty piece of paper is not a good idea when you start to write anything. You need to start writing straight away, jotting down ideas and sounds and feelings and colours and emotions and facts and anything else that might be helpful while you are writing your poem.
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago. I needed an animal poem beginning with ‘Y’. And I knew I wanted to play with the saying ‘yackety yak’, which is used to describe people chattering, probably quite loudly and uninterruptedly. I’d been thinking about it for a while and decided a simple poem would be best. It was going to be for a shape poem book.
I scribbled words down – I didn’t worry about punctuation or grammar or being tidy! Creativity is not tidy. It lands in a pile in your head or on the paper and you arrange it afterwards. It’s like a building – you start with what you need to put into it, and then put each part where it needs to be – and if it is not needed, you leave it out.
You can see that I have written down other animals that live in the Himalayas, along with yaks and the mythical yeti, and also written out words that belong in the mountains, and a list of rhyming words, before starting the poem. I have changed several parts of the poem as I have written it out again.
The poet Coleridge said that prose is ‘words in their best order’, but that ‘poetry is the best words, in the best order’. Choose words that are precise.
When you are writing your poem, you could write down words that are to do with your subject that rhyme, or that alliterate, which could be useful – but it is better sometimes to write a poem that doesn’t rhyme. If you have a rhyming scheme there is a temptation to write lines that are ’empty’. An empty line is one that is just there to supply a rhyme.
Poetry is very personal. Every person writes and finds ways to write differently. The poet Robert Frost said: ”I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” So he did not write towards an end he already knew!
Nothing is wrong, in poetry. You can write about anything! It is YOUR poem, coming from YOUR heart.
But it will be a better poem if you think about some of these things:
If you don’t use rhymes just for the rhyme’s sake
If you use precise words
If you speak the truth
If you describe something as if the reader has never seen it before
If you are original
If you think of sounds, colours, smells, emotions, texture, feel
If you are surprising
If you use alliteration, metaphors and similes
If you have fun writing it!
Here is the yak poem in the final book – you can see that even though it is a very short poem, in between writing it and getting it in the book, I have changed one of the words:
Below in other posts are two competitions you can enter your poem in – one is for poems about anything, the other is for poems about bird song.
If you enter the bird song competition, don’t forget to listen to birds singing! You could go for a walk, or listen to files of bird song by type of bird on the internet. This website has the songs of 257 British birds, so you have plenty of choice!
Here is my shape poem about the blackbird’s song:
© Liz Brownlee