|Copyright Janet Cameron|
The following exercises are intended to help people just starting to write poetry by giving them an idea and a specific procedure to focus upon. A procedure that includes a few small steps, or objectives, can make the process easier to address. It's worth remembering that every sentence starts with just one word and every paragraph begins with a single sentence.
Choose one thing
It doesn't matter what subject you choose, so long as it appeals to you. It could be the sea, a cabbage, a cottage, a woodland glade, an animal or a fish. Then write a few descriptive sentences about that one thing, using all the senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
When you have written your piece, see how many words you can remove without spoiling the prose or changing the meaning. (This part of the exercise is useful to share with a partner if you have one, so that each of you can make suggestions about how to tighten up the other's work.)
Now see if you can find more interesting words for those you have chosen. For example, "sycamore" is more specific than "tree," and "hyacinth" more specific than "flower." Now see if you can arrange your sentences into lines, making them as rhythmic as possible. You do not need to make them rhyme if you don't want to.
Write an acrostic poem
Take an interesting word: an abstract noun that denotes a quality or condition works well, for example: contemplation, reflection, or anticipation. (If you want to rhyme your poem, you might prefer to choose a word with an even number of letters.) Write the word vertically down the left hand side of your page. Each letter starts the first word of a sentence.
The final poem should, of course, relate in meaning to the abstract noun you have chosen.
Write a poem using only four senses
Choose a subject, and start off in prose. Use only the senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch. Do not use the sense of sight. This will stretch you and help you to make good use of the other four senses, which are sometime neglected if you tend to focus on sight alone.
Remove superfluous words, and again, try to find more interesting words for the ones you have. (Using a thesaurus to write poetry is frowned on in some circles, but I think it's okay when you're just starting.)
Put the prose into rhythmical lines. At this stage you can include one or two sight observations if it helps enhance your poem.
Write a haiku
A haiku is a Japanese poem of 17 syllables, in three lines, of 5-7-5 syllables. Traditionally, haiku are about nature, seasons and perception, although many poets break this rule, sometimes very effectively. Try to write with wit, close observation and poignant detail. haiku is about personal and immediate experience.
There must be a contrasting or surprising last line. No title or capital letters are needed, but you can put in a dash if you want to.
If you are not familiar with haiku, you can find many good examples on the Internet.
Try using simile or metaphor
A simile is when you say something is like something else: "She is pale like a ghost," or "He is as angry as a raging bull." A metaphor is when you say something is something else: "She is a ghost," or "He is a raging bull." Write a few sentences about how you feel about someone you know, or who is close to you.
Discard what doesn't work and try to find fresher ways of describing your feelings for that person in simile and/or metaphor. (But don't overdo it. One good metaphor is better than six poor ones in a short poem.)
Try the "13 ways of looking" exercise
The American poet, Wallace Stevens, wrote a poem called "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Choose a subject, anything that appeals to you, so long as it's not a blackbird. Write about it in thirteen different ways in the style of Wallace Stevens.
It might be a good idea to change your title after you have written your poem, to make it entirely your own.
Write a poem using prepositions as a springboard
Prepositions are those little words that express a relationship to another word, for example: before, after, behind, below, under, on, to, for, etc. Write a poem where each line begins with a preposition. Wendy Cope wrote a whole poem called "My Lover" using the word "For" to begin each line.
Use the same preposition for each line, or vary them if you want to. You could just write a number of different prepositions down your page, on the left hand side, and see where it takes you. You can be flexible and change them as you go along, if it helps the poem.
The best way to enhance your sense of rhythm (or pitch) is to read as much contemporary poetry as you can, and always, always, to write about what matters to you.