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Five Poetry-Writing Exercises

Stacie is currently a law student in Seattle. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Seattle University.

five-poetry-writing-exercises

Back to Basics

Every poet can benefit from writing exercises because they give you the opportunity to brainstorm and practice new forms. For beginners, poetry exercises are a good way to learn how to write poetry. For poets who have been writing for a while, these exercises can help refresh your style. Writing exercises can also be fun, like allowing your imagination an afternoon at the playground. You never know—a spectacular poem may be born out of a simple writing exercise.

Pull out your notebook, journal, laptop, or whatever you use to write. Some of these exercises can be completed at home, but others force you to head out to a public place (unless you have a fabulous view of a busy street or the doings of your neighbors).

Exercise #1 – Lists

This exercise requires you to write a title at the top of your page, and then create a list down to the bottom of the page. You may find the beginnings of a poem, or a wonderful line, in some of your lists. Here are some examples taken from one of my old journals:

Frustrations

  • Feeling tired
  • Not having enough time
  • Being misunderstood
  • Not able to speak clearly
  • Having a disagreement
  • Being late
  • Feeling incompetent
  • Feeling depressed

Firsts

  • The first time…I was scared when home alone;
  • First time I felt comfortable crying in public;
  • First time we kissed;
  • First time we kissed and it meant something;
  • First apartment, the craziness;
  • First time I said, “I love you;”
  • First time someone told me “I love you;”
  • First pair of glasses, with the black frames;
  • First hangover…oh, yeah…

Make a list of fears, losses, happy memories, accomplishments, dreams—whatever you can think of. Take some of the ideas from these lists, and see if you can expand upon them. Example: “Feeling tired, like an ant trying to get somewhere with a rock in its.” Or, “Incompetent feels like a fish in a bowl, always swimming, but hitting nothing but glass.”

All of these lists are opportunities for a poem.

five-poetry-writing-exercises
five-poetry-writing-exercises

Exercise #2 – Making Similes

Look through a book of poems you like, and find a few similes to use as inspiration. Now go someplace where you can observe nature, people, traffic, or something. Based on what you notice, begin listing some similes. They don’t have to make complete sense. Don’t think about what else you would write with them. Just write whatever you think of.

Some inspiring similes I’ve written in my journal:

  • “Sounds of leaves moving overhead like so many whispered conversations.” –Jane Kenyon
  • “He slumps like the very meaning of surrender.” –Ted Kooser
  • “Lawyers encircled the farm like a fence.” –Ted Kooser
  • Now, start making your own. Some from my journal:
  • Ivy creeping like silent footsteps.
  • A breeze as gentle as a child awakening.
  • Leaves rustling like distant voices.
  • Leaves falling like men on a battlefield.
  • Breath from her mouth like a wave of seawater.

Go back and read what you wrote to see where the opportunities are. Sometimes, you simply need to close your journal. Come back to the list another day, with fresh eyes. You may be surprised by what you find.

What do you observe?

What do you observe?

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five-poetry-writing-exercises

Exercise #3 – Sensory Observations

Poetry is truly indefinable, but there are a lot of things poetry can do. It can describe a feeling, make a reader see a sight, help you smell a smell, and make something inanimate come to life. Sometimes, a poet has trouble finding ways to describe what she wants to express. This exercise will help you stop and pay attention to the smaller things around you. Go out into the world, and make observations. Wherever you go, make five sensory observations for each sense.

Examples from my journals:

  • At Elliot Bay tonight, I see…white, square tiles; the backs of strangers; endless rows of books; a lonely microphone; shadows of chairs.
  • I hear…chattering voices; espresso machines whirring and fizzing; dishes clattering, softly, just clinking together; laughter; the crinkle of newspapers.
  • I feel…brick wall under my arm; a warm cup in my hand; hot air blowing against my face; the hard seat against my bottom; a wooden curve across my back.
  • I smell…coffee, mm; my plum chapstick (smells better than it tastes); used books; cinnamon; baking bread.
  • I taste…a soft coffee flavor; a hint of honey; the thickness of hot air; the ink of a fresh pen; more coffee.

You can do this exercise anywhere at any time. Try it on the bus, at work, in a classroom, on a park bench. You may be surprised at the observations you make, and the opportunities for poetry that you find.

What can you write about this scene?

What can you write about this scene?

Exercise #4 – Describing a Scene or Picture

Either choose a physical place to observe, or find an interesting picture, and fully describe everything you experience. Don’t forget to include all of the senses, but also describe any action taking place. Get nitty-gritty about the details—don’t leave anything out.

Afterward, go through what you have written to see what stands out. Some detail, description, or word might be the beginning of a poem. You can also try to write a quick poem based on solely on the scene you choose.

five-poetry-writing-exercises

Exercise #5 – Making Metaphors

This is actually a really fun, imaginative exercise. You are going to make three columns of lists, one for adjectives, one for concrete nouns, and one for abstract nouns. After you have filled at least one page with these lists, you will create another list: of metaphors. Take a word from each list to create your metaphor.

An excerpt from one of my journals:

Adjectives:

  • Scrambled
  • Empty
  • Withered
  • Sour
  • Dark

Concrete Nouns:

  • Outlet
  • Doghouse
  • Medicine
  • Hook
  • Clock

Abstract Nouns:

  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Apology
  • Hope
  • Anxiety

Metaphors:

The empty outlet of anxiety.

The withered doghouse of grief.

The empty medicine of hope.

What do you see in your metaphors? Are there opportunities for poems?

Don’t be afraid to alter or trash any of the ideas you come up with while doing poetry exercises. It is perfectly normal for a lot of what you write to be crap (one of my metaphors was “the marbled doghouse of apology”—huh?), but there will also be a lot of gems. Writing exercises offer you opportunities to practice and brainstorm. The more you write, the better you will be at finding what works.

© 2008 Stacie Naczelnik

Comments

The english guy on June 18, 2020:

I dont get it.....

Heather on April 11, 2020:

When your teacher is making you do this.

aGuyWhoTypes on March 24, 2020:

This is very useful, thank you so much for posting this.

Wing Li on March 16, 2020:

I like this,even this is useless

Mohini on October 22, 2019:

Thank you for advising

Khatir behol on May 11, 2019:

❤️❤️❤️

fsdfdfs on September 28, 2018:

this is useless

Ismat on September 21, 2017:

A very nice article

HelHagalaz on July 14, 2017:

Thank you! This is very helpful. I like to try and write six word stories and feel like these can also be used as inspiration similar to the similes and metaphors. I look forward to using your suggestions!

Matthew from toronto on February 28, 2015:

great list going to try a few of these the next time im having trouble getting started.

rls8994 from Mississippi on October 12, 2014:

I have always wanted to try writing poetry and this informative and educational hub has really inspired me to get started. You have explained everything so well. So much good information here! Thanks for sharing this :)

Kathi Truscott from Canada, Windsor Ontario on July 27, 2014:

love this hub, hope it helps me get back into writing

Kader from Algeria on February 26, 2014:

Thank you so much for the exercise ,it s very helpful

Marie Powell on September 12, 2013:

Thanks for this posting of five exercises. We have a free-writing group at our library and I'm going to let everyone know about your site. We may even try one of these ideas out in our journals.

Dilip on August 30, 2013:

Hahaha, Annie! You made me laugh about the dash thing! I'm trying to avoid putnucation And I guess the dash fills the void perfectly You can add whatever you like! (Or anything at all!)And I loved what you wrote I guess we'll be laughing and crying a lot, for a very long time!

FranKie on August 30, 2013:

Hey!Welcome to WebPoets! And thanks for the poem. :-)I have a few coenmmts, and I want to hear yours too.First, I LOVE how you end this very nice impact. Second, I also like the rhythm a lot it's not a strict rhythm, but it DOES have a regular beat and that's hard to accomplish.I just have a couple of suggestions, and a question:1. If you aren't going to break lines, it's best to not use capital letters inside of them. For example, instead of this: I can barely look into your eyes, Because I could never stop staring Do EITHER THIS: I can barely look into your eyes because I could never stop staring OR THIS: I can barely look into your eyesBecause I could never stop staring 2. The word shall here seems a bit out of place it's an old-fashioned word, and a good one, I think, but everything else in this poem says NOW, and so I'd replace it with the more common will. Now my question: can you tell me about your title?One more thing before I go: anything I suggest is meant as a take it or leave it. Plenty of times people give me advice about my poems. When I think it's good advice, I take it, and when I don't agree, I leave it behind. So, anything I say is there for you to use or not as you want. :-)Thanks for giving me something good to read on this rainy day. :-)Miriam

Dhella on August 29, 2013:

Hey!Yeah, Marlowe was a character. Apparently (according to many acuotncs), VERY out as a gay man, very flamboyant, very much a favorite of the queen, but killed (some say exiled in secret) because of some reason I honestly don't remember.That's a GREAT line you are so right, Shakespeare was indeed excellent with the dark humor.If you like MacBeth you MUST SEE THIS MOVIE: Scotland, PA. I can't BELIEVE I get to recommend this movie to someone who actually knows AND loves MacBeth, after all the other people I've forced to sit through the movie. It is BRILLIANT. Simply brilliant sets the play in the 1970s in a fast food place. Really wickedly funny, very well done.Me, I have liked Shakespeare since I first read him in high school, liked him even more in college (thanks especially to a couple of FABULOUS teachers who really brought him to life), more when I saw a few of the movie adaptations of his plays, and then, when I taught high school English myself, even MORE because I read his stuff over and over and over and it never got old, just deeper and deeper.I think for me, Shakespeare was amazing because of his insights into the minds of people. Even today, we can still relate to so many of the themes he explored, as well as HOW he explored them that sort of timelessness is incredibly difficult to pull off, especially when the writing itself is just so gorgeous.That's a short version of my unhealthy love for Shakespeare (which is a very funny way to put that, by the way). :-)Miriam

alysa/star on April 12, 2013:

here's a poem

snowflakes fall to the ground

falls at night

when soft and sound

the morning melt them by the light

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on November 26, 2012:

Thank you for this poetic menu with its many tempting dishes, including a salad or two and not forgetting the fruity desserts. I agree, poetry is many things to many people and shouldn't be boxed in, cornered or made accessible only to the romantics!!

You're getting people out and about using their senses and sensitivity to focus in on things that previously they might have passed by without a sniff or a glance. I'll be a votin' for this 'ub.

KrisL from S. Florida on November 26, 2012:

Great hub! Voted awesome and sharing with my followers . . . so glad your hub was at the top of "how to write poetry" along with one of mine today.

One of these exercises, Sensory Observations, would be good for haiku. Of the others I want to try the simile and metaphor ones most.

Maurice Wisdom Bishop from San Tan Valley on May 02, 2012:

This is very informative and interesting. These are exercises I can do on a daily basis. Much Love and Respect.

Dan on December 27, 2011:

Hi Stacie, great tips here. I write a blog for Hello Poetry and we've set up a little experiment called adopt a metaphor that you and your readers might enjoy!

http://hellopoetry.com/experiments/adopt-a-metapho...

Let us know what you think!

lovinghim2-8-57 on November 17, 2011:

I have a question....about poetry. Are they written so that that usually rhyme? I have in my heart so much to write...but seems to me that it comes across better when it rhymes.

Dorji Tshering on October 22, 2011:

Thanks for your insightful information for the beginners, and I will try to use your tips in writing my poems.

Chris on October 18, 2011:

Thanks, I'll try this exercises weirdoo xxx

Nick on September 24, 2011:

Thank you so much! this helped me with my foundation for all of my pomes. before I read this they would bounce in almost every direction thanks again :)

evan on August 19, 2011:

Awesome! Thank you!

TheWhisper from Macomb,MI on July 29, 2011:

Very informational, I too write instructional aricles on writing. Mine focus more on beginners and basics. Please check them out when you can. :)

iktomi on July 10, 2011:

great information in 2011 as any time. what do you DO with creative written words? after your thoughts are on paper? or in the computer? Is the idea to make money from being creative? In school you are creative to earn a grade. How do you take that to the world?

pendrop on July 09, 2011:

Great information. I think that there is more to writing poetry than just rhyming some words and you pointed this out. Great writing exercise advice.

Poetic Fool on May 06, 2011:

Stacie, this is really great stuff! I am a newbie to writing poetry and I'm anxious to give these exercises a try. Thanks for a great hub.

Abdinasir Aden from Minneapolis, MN on May 06, 2011:

Thanks for your tips, this is great hub for helping beginner as well as experts.

Abdi

John P Safranski from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin on May 05, 2011:

Hi Stacie,

Time has no limits to learning opportunities. I am fisrt reading this and you offer sound, quality tips that will help like I have been writing for years.

Thanks

john Safranski

Alejandro Paci from Mumbai on April 21, 2011:

I truly appreciate your help for us novice writers. And i guess, its not just for the poet in you but a writer can also improve with all the above advice. Thank you, for making hubpages a better place for some useful content.

Annette Gagliardi from Minneapolis on March 06, 2011:

Thanks. This will be fun. I love the ideas you have.

shecriedpeace from New York, NY on February 22, 2011:

GREAT hub, thanks!

bosun lawal from Nigeria on February 03, 2011:

Thanks stacie, actually i started writing poems about 6 years ago, though without knowing the nitty-gritty of it, but it was just born out of many experiences and thoughts i had all my teenage life which with some kind of professional support i later collated to publish as a book last year with the title 'Heart crux'though i-proclaim. If i had been priveledged to read your post earlier than now may be i would have been faster in realising my dreams. thanks anyway as i promise to share some with you soon. cheers.