writing poetry

Writing poetry is an activity most of us have tried over the years. Even if it was decades ago for a fifth grade writing assignment, chances are you’ve taken a crack at experimenting with the sound, function and form of words on a page.

But there may have been a gap in the ensuing years, a time when you stopped writing poetry. It’s during this time that you may have been exposed to all sorts of ideas about what poetry writing should be: it should do this; it shouldn’t do that.

This gap is where we get stuck. It’s where we’ve developed judgements and where we’ve simply not developed the habit of writing poems. I know this from experience.

“How can I start writing poetry?” was a common question asked by my university students. I’d see them furrow their brows in class, blame writer’s block, and otherwise struggle to break through to get words on a page.

And today I see it in the passionate students of my online poetry class, who often reach out about how they can practice poetry outside of class.

So, how can you start writing poetry? Here are 5 ways to get started.

1. Write poetry inside a poetry book

This approach has opened up avenues of creativity for me over the years, and I’ve watched in awe as students who simply could not get their pen moving all of a sudden start writing poems they’re actually proud of.

Here’s how it works:

  • Purchase a book of modern poetry (contact me if you want recommendations)
  • Flip to a section in the book where there’s a poem on the left and right pages (if you’re right-handed, write on the right page, if left-handed you’ll write on the left page)
  • Read the poem on the side opposite where you’ll be writing, letting the poem‘s topic and form inspire you
  • Jot down notes in the top margin
  • Begin writing a poem of similar form

2. Start writing poetry where you are

I’ve had many poetry students express their concerns about how their ideas for poems are fleeting, that they rarely have a pen and paper precisely when that important idea arises.

My answer to that is simple: If you want to start writing poetry, you need to adequately equip yourself to do so. That said, you need not carry pen and paper around everywhere (it’s great if you do, though).

The solution that has worked the best for students is to simply use their phone’s notetaking app. Many of us carry our phones wherever we go, so this makes it easy to type our ideas or even write entire poems as we’re on the train, walking through the park or even at work.

3. Writing poetry demands reading poetry

Remember the gap I mentioned? This pertains not only to writing poetry, but also to reading poetry. Perhaps the most limiting factor in those wanting to write poetry is that they simply do not or have not read enough poetry to understand the art form.

It’s not necessary to be a scholar of poetry to start writing poetry, but it is important to have read enough modern poetry to be exposed to the many ways poems can move. Again, send me a message if you need recommendations on who to read.

4. Develop the capacity to think like a poet

I believe the physical act of writing poetry is actually the final stage in the writing process. All the other stages have to do with living and thinking like a poet. What do I mean by that?

I mean cultivating the capacity to have an endless curiosity with the world around you—to be captivated by the way a bridge’s shadows look as the sun sets, to be enthralled by how a smell triggered a memory you didn’t know you remembered, to be enamored by the song of birds in the morning.

In essence, this is a practice as much about remaining radically mindful of the world around you as it is about seeing the beauty in the minutiae of moments. Every poet has a different strategy for this, and for some it may come more naturally, but I challenge you to find yours.

5. Find your place of focus

Writing poetry, in my experience, doesn’t happen in the midst of multitasking. For most writers, it takes a concentrated period of focus. So I encourage you to find that place and space, keeping in mind that this may take some experimenting.

Do you need an ultra quiet environment, or do you like the steady hum of a busy coffee shop? Do you think better when you’re entirely disconnected from your computer and phone, or does the sense of connectivity foster your creativity?

Take some time to really explore what works for you, and once you’ve found it try to build pockets of time into your schedule where you can enter into that place.

To recap, here are 5 ways to start writing poetry:

  1. Write poetry inside a poetry book

  2. Start writing poetry where you are

  3. Writing poetry demands reading poetry

  4. Develop the capacity to think like a poet

  5. Find your place of focus

These are all easier said than done and how they manifest will likely be different for every poet, but I’ve watched so many students over the years thrive through a combination of these and I believe there’s room for you to as well.

Lastly, if you learn visually and prefer a bit of structure, my online poetry class may be helpful. I built it out to help students start writing poetry they can be proud of in as short a time as possible.