Playing with Poetry May 2020

by Carol Brennan King

I watched her blue-jeaned self

sitting on the morning damp grass,

picking violets, dropping the stemless blooms

into a mason jar.

One of many poems we examined today! ——–by cbk

We had a great workshop today, and the students did remarkable work. I wish you could have been there via Zoom to hear what they produced in the few minutes allotted to group work. I am looking forward to reading their completed works.

Since we were attacking several week’s class work in one seminar, I am posting my teaching notes here for those students, and for you, dear readers, in case you would like to stick your toes in the poetry water.

  1. Getting to know you poem exercise: Try a new perspective: look at life (even yours) from a different perspective, through someone else’s eyes and heart.  4 – 5 lines The poem at the top of the page is a sample of this exercise.

2. Poets allow themselves to be inspired by the normal things of life, so

*Never leave home without a small notebook.

*Write as much as you can with a writing instrument, thus engaging more of your brain in the process and allowing more meditative/think time.

*Write when you are moved by something, so that you don’t forget those thoughts.


Go somewhere you would not normally go and sit for 20 minutes without writing anything, just looking at the possibilities before you.

Pick a year and write what you can see in that year and what you feel. This is a no-pressure exercise. Just wander through the year in your memory and see what comes up.  You are looking for things that had significance or meaning to you.

Write it down when you hear or create even a beautiful phrase.    “Sunbeams lightened the weight of the long feathery branches and for a moment, the old evergreen smiled.”cbk

Pay attention to how people speak. People use more than words to communicate. Note what some of those elements are and how they affect those listening…or hearing. And try to show that in a poem. 

3. Read other poets. Contemporary poets, especially if you wish to publish. Discover what or who you like. Thinking about what you have read, write your own poem(s) using one of those you read as a model.

4. Redeem the detritus of life.

Make lists of observations and see if they want to be something more

A scene remembered

An overheard conversation

Even small things you notice

A gesture someone makes

A garment someone wears

A piece of trash or something left behind

A sign or sticker

A fragrance or odor

5. Use the right word: every word carries meaning, taking you down a specific road and is a message in itself. The poet’s job is to give words life, so they take up a bigger space than the few letters that comprise them.

What words paint a bigger scene or more feeling than the few letters they are comprised of: pain, death, birth, wound, dinner, victory.

6.  You will develop your own style. In the beginning you might try to sound like another poet as you try on style, but you must and will develop your own style.

a. The style of a particular poem refers to all the decisions made in order to create the poem’s meaning.

b. It can include technical choices, such as short or long lines, varying punctuation or omitting punctuation, or using a set rhythm or rhyme scheme.

c. It can also include poetic choices such as word choice (diction), form (sonnet or haiku for example, and subject matter.

  d. Style can also be non-technical. It can refer to content. If an author always uses imageries from nature, then it can be his or her style. In short, style can refer to almost any aspect of poetry as long as the author tends to do it often.

e. Note that white space on the page is also a tool available to the writer. How is the poem arranged on the page?

f. All of these things contribute to the reader’s overall experience as they read a poem.

7. Form: there are two kinds or forms, based upon the “structure or pattern of organization” that a poet adopts when writing his verse.

a.  Closed form, the poet has adopted a pattern that the poem will follow in more than one area.

 b. Open form poem does not follow set guidelines. There is no required rhyme scheme, rhyming pattern, or set number of lines in a stanza.

And some more thoughts:

  1. Research isn’t cheating – If you want to include a snake in your poem use the internet to find pictures and facts on snakes. Find a snake in a local zoo and take notes.  All these things will improve the specific detail in your poem.
  2. Ask a friend to read your poem aloud – so you can hear what it sounds like.  If it doesn’t  sound right, change it.
  3. A poem evolves –  After writing put your poem away for a time and then review it later with fresh eyes. I had a successful poet friend who did not consider a poem finished for five years.

10 Tips to Improve your poetry:

  1. Know Your Goal
  2. Avoid Clich�s
  3. Avoid Sentimentality
  4. Use Images
  5. Use Metaphor and Simile
  6. Use Concrete Words Instead of Abstract Words
  7. Communicate Theme
  8. Subvert the Ordinary
  9. Rhyme with Extreme Caution
  10. Revise, Revise, Revise

Poetry Vocabulary:

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