How to Write a Poem

Ribboned Plant

The other day a good blogging friend told me he wants to write a poem, but he's afraid. As far as I know, he's never tried writing a poem before.

I understand his fear. Sometimes I cannot approach the empty page because I'm all tied up in knots with the thought of failure. What if my poem ends up being really terrible? Where do I start? What should I write about? It's like I'm writing a poem for the very first time again, and I stall.

In a way, I cannot explain how to write a poem. I told my friend, "Just write a sentence with a picture in it. Maybe use a memory or look at something that's near you. Break it into lines."

Would that be a poem?

My daughter asked me at the table yesterday, "What makes a poem a poem? Why isn't a book a poem? Or a movie a poem?"

We talked about the relative brevity of poems, but she interjected, "What about Beowulf?!" Okay, epic poems aren't short. But then she said, "Maybe Beowulf is a poem because it has 'form'." I liked that. Yes.

But we have to begin somewhere. Nobody wakes up and becomes Keats or Yeats, or the bard of Beowulf, in a day. Begin with a single sentence, or a phrase. Use a memory or something you see. Maybe pick up a few cool words from someone else's poems and play with them like a kid with a mudpie. Don't worry about what you're going to end up with.

Okay, I'm going to try it now. Just to see if it works. Of course I feel nervous doing this right here in front of you. But I want you to see that even poets feel afraid.

Here are my borrowed words, from the Yeats poem "The Wild Swans at Coole": scatter, wheeling, sore, passion.

Bananas soft curve
on counter, deep yellow
turning brown, sore with
wish to hang erect again,
green with passion
on the tree, scatter
sun to wheeling
birds, scatter
sun to wheeling

Fun. I had no intentions of writing a poem about bananas. Or wishes. Try it out, and if you do, drop your poem here in the comment box. I'd love to see what you found on your counter, your desk, or even in the bathroom. :)

Ribbon Plant photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Anonymous Maureen said...

Sore with chasing
dreams, I scatter

fresh-bought seed
in un-neat rows.

Ravens, wheeling
through cotton clouds,

show me the meaning
of passion

at ground level.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...


Tiger paw all
claws out tearing
flesh off
in ragged ribbon strips
flaying cat 'o nine tails
cruel punishment
raping joy
he rides me screaming
no bucking torment
off at eight minutes
where is relief?

2:17 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

great advice and a fun exercise! I love your banana poem.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Renee Howell said...

with what
i see.

and few

thank you

11:09 PM  
Blogger Glynn said...

Here's the link for mine: http://faithfictionfriends.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-western-city-dreaming.html

10:57 PM  
Anonymous cheri said...

why write a poem
words to share, to dare spill what's within
like the clutter on the desk
seem unrelated, worthless
yet have their place
tape measure, hole puncher, dollar bill
and the camera's back is turned
as if to say
none of you matter

* we met @ the jubilee conference, laura. a tired mother of young ones who enjoyed your session. thanks for continuing to inspire!

12:40 AM  
Blogger M.L. Gallagher said...

I love your explanation of 'how to write a poem'

I took the image from Glynn's river and a question -- what makes an old river? -- and wrote what's at this link -- http://recoveryourjoy.blogspot.com/2010/04/river-deep.html

thanks for the inspiration!


9:47 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Good Morning, L~

A link for you, and many thanks for sharing all of this. Happy Easter and Happy Poetry Month to you.


12:06 PM  
Blogger n. davis rosback said...

here is the link to my "how to write a poem" poem.
for RAP


11:04 PM  
Anonymous cheri said...

i did post it and would enjoy being included. thank you for responding!


4:01 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

Thanks for doing that, right in front of us. :)
You make us brave.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I know it is really late, but here is mine. :)

Pages scattered
mind the same
jailed, restrained.

Sore from pushing
against the chains

taut with tension
until it pops
and freedom reigns.

(from work)

3:59 PM  

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