Five Poetry Writing Exercises

Updated on July 13, 2016

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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 awhile, 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 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.

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 gentle as a child wakening.

Leaves rustling like distant voices.

Leaves falling like men on a battlefield.

Breath from her mouth like a wave of sea water.

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?

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 chap stick (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 anytime. 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 places. Get nitty gritty about the details—don’t leave anything out.

Afterwards, 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.

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Ismat 

        12 months ago

        A very nice article

      • profile image

        HelHagalaz 

        14 months ago

        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!

      • matthewJlillie profile image

        Matthew 

        3 years ago from toronto

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

      • rls8994 profile image

        rls8994 

        3 years ago from Mississippi

        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 :)

      • Wolfkat93 profile image

        Kathi Truscott 

        4 years ago from Canada, Windsor Ontario

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

      • akader profile image

        Kader 

        4 years ago from Algeria

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

      • profile image

        Marie Powell 

        5 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Dilip 

        5 years ago

        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!

      • profile image

        FranKie 

        5 years ago

        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

      • profile image

        Dhella 

        5 years ago

        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

      • profile image

        alysa/star 

        5 years ago

        here's a poem

        snowflakes fall to the ground

        falls at night

        when soft and sound

        the morning melt them by the light

      • chef-de-jour profile image

        Andrew Spacey 

        5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

        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 profile image

        KrisL 

        5 years ago from S. Florida

        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.

      • wisdom25 profile image

        Maurice Wisdom Bishop 

        6 years ago from San Tan Valley

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

      • profile image

        Dan 

        6 years ago

        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!

      • profile image

        lovinghim2-8-57 

        6 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Dorji Tshering 

        6 years ago

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

      • profile image

        Chris 

        6 years ago

        Thanks, I'll try this exercises weirdoo xxx

      • profile image

        Nick 

        6 years ago

        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 :)

      • profile image

        evan 

        7 years ago

        Awesome! Thank you!

      • TheWhisper profile image

        TheWhisper 

        7 years ago from Macomb,MI

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

      • profile image

        iktomi 

        7 years ago

        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?

      • profile image

        pendrop 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Poetic Fool 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • Neverletitgo profile image

        Abdinasir Aden 

        7 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

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

        Abdi

      • John P Safranski profile image

        John P Safranski 

        7 years ago from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

        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

      • yshashikant profile image

        yshashikant 

        7 years ago from Mumbai

        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.

      • agaglia profile image

        agaglia 

        7 years ago

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

      • shecriedpeace profile image

        shecriedpeace 

        7 years ago from New York, NY

        GREAT hub, thanks!

      • bosun lawal profile image

        bosun lawal 

        7 years ago from Nigeria

        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.

      • Davorunner profile image

        Davorunner 

        7 years ago from Australia

        Very good suggestions. I do like your metaphor example. I've also found that magnetic poetry can be an awesome source for inspiration. Just to have the words all over the fridge for you to arrange at will without caring if it makes sense or not is a very unique and mind blowing exercise

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        Another Masterpiece! (Also bookmarked). I can hardly wait to begin your "observance" exercises. This information is so exciting. With your help, I will become a much improved writer. You are so kind to share such valuable information with us. I appreciate your skills and thank you for your inspiration. :)

      • profile image

        CollB 

        7 years ago

        A really inspiring post, thanks! I like the idea of going out and jotting down a few thoughts that come to mind - sometimes I do that with my mind's eyes.

      • profile image

        Prophet 

        7 years ago

        Great! This is really inspiring. U've made it easier 4 me 2 write poetry in a clever & adroit form. Respect & 1 luv!

      • Leptirela profile image

        Leptirela 

        7 years ago from I don't know half the time

        Love it . I write poetry and fiction,but this is a thorough hub =) eay to understand and now i have to take a few goes at these exercises !

        thumbs up!!!

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        A great hub! Wonderful exercises. Very helpful. Thank you so much.

      • acaetnna profile image

        acaetnna 

        7 years ago from Guildford

        Thank you Stacie this has been so helpful. I have always loved reading and listening to poetry but your article has inspired me to try to write some myself.

      • profile image

        lekshmi  

        8 years ago

        it is really good thanks

      • wilbury4 profile image

        wilbury4 

        8 years ago from England I think?

        Interesting.... Like exercise 5

      • Steele Fields profile image

        susan beck 

        8 years ago from drexel hill,pa

        Exercise #5 is especially intriguing. Thanks for the great hub.

      • Leptirela profile image

        Leptirela 

        8 years ago from I don't know half the time

        I Love this Hub

        I seem to have a very odd way of writing

        maybe I need to take care and be aware of all this when am

        writing a poem.. will keep it in mind...

        Thanks for a great Hub :))

      • emmajayne89 profile image

        emmajayne89 

        8 years ago

        Thanks :) this is great and i simply love reading new inspiration tips!

      • profile image

        gulnazahmad 

        8 years ago

        great hub for new writers :)

      • profile image

        Janine 

        8 years ago

        Wow, thank you sooo much. This is exactally what I needed to get my Clever Waves of Brilliance flowing. LoL

        Thanks Again

      • profile image

        ematthews 

        8 years ago

        Clear, commonsense advice for poets at any stage of literary production. Thank you.

      • HunterGiftBaskets profile image

        HunterGiftBaskets 

        8 years ago from Newcastle, Hunter Valley, Australia

        absolutely.

        As a failed writer who now grumbles along in his own business (after i dropped out of law school) I appreciate your consistency. Keep it up , if only for the others like me..

      • lorlie6 profile image

        Laurel Rogers 

        8 years ago from Bishop, Ca

        Stacie-What a fabulous introduction to poetry this is! I took my very first stab at non-prose just today, and had a ball with it.

        Your writing is quite inspirational...thanks!

      • Neet8 profile image

        Neet8 

        8 years ago

        Thanks for an excellent hub!! Will try out some of these excercises in the future!!!

      • Astra Nomik profile image

        Cathy Nerujen 

        8 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

        Gosh, this is a great resource for poets. I have just published my 2nd hub and its a romantic poem, and I see myself doing even more here. You are very knowledgeable about poetry and how it is made. Thank you. I am a fan,

      • eonsaway profile image

        eonsaway 

        8 years ago from New Mexico, USA

        I am going to practice these exercises everyday, thanks!

      • Mystique1957 profile image

        Mystique1957 

        8 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

        Thank you very much Stacie!

        I`ve written poetry and short

        stories in Spanish, some in

        Japanese and some in English!

        Writing in English has a different

        feeling, and this hub has made me

        want to write again!

        Thumbs up for you!

        Warm regards,

        Mystique1957

      • LittleWing<3 profile image

        LittleWing<3 

        8 years ago from Northern Virginia

        this is excellent!!:)

        i am hugeeee into journaling, every day.

        and about 90% of it are poems that I've read/or favorite quotes, OR my own poems.

        You've now given me even more ideas to fill my Journal, AND my brand new Hub Page:) !

        Your Hub is the first Ive read so far since Ive joined(just a few minutes ago...)

        And it has gotten me VERY excited for this website already. God Bless

      • baprice profile image

        baprice 

        8 years ago from Texas

        I love these exercises, especially the ones with metaphors. Well honestly looking back at them, I cant single any out because I plan to do all of them. Thanks for these, I am a seasoned poet and this will be some things I do to make sure I am always staying fresh.

        Thanks a lot you don't know how much fun I am going to have on long trips, No more computer games for me!!

        B. Price

      • asheliz2 profile image

        asheliz2 

        8 years ago

        wow-i love poetry but occasionally get stuck,you've totally helped me get past that...thank you

        I feel like singing

        dancing in the rain

        my love has come back

        i can see again

        im counting my blessings

        and the first one i thought of was

        you

      • profile image

        Chantel 

        9 years ago

        I think these suggestions will help me out alot, I could do poetry, but it's like all the same, like for example, I see a butterfly landing on a blooming flower, a grasshopper hopping from blade of grass to blade of grass, A water ski bug gliding with incredible ease. Those were the main things i used in a poem, pretty much whenever i think up a poem, grasshopper, butterfly, blooming flowers and a water ski bug gliding, and tonight i decided that i would like to get help from a famous poet, and it worked!!!

      • pinkhawk profile image

        pinkhawk 

        9 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

        hmm...very hubilicious words ma'am, thank you very much!!! informative and really interesting.:)..hidden words in a scribbling treasure! (i'm just trying :)! ..thanks once again! :)

      • tomdhum profile image

        tomdhum 

        9 years ago from memphis tn

        Like to have your thoughts on any topic. Like to have it written in poetry. If not just start typing and post your thoughts on anything at poetry post hub. great hub will use the information provided in your hub. LOL tomdhum

      • Cupideros profile image

        Cupideros 

        9 years ago from Cincinnati

        Good Hub.

        --Cupideros

      • profile image

        L. Andrew Marr 

        9 years ago

        Genius.

      • Disturbia profile image

        Disturbia 

        9 years ago

        I started writing poetry as a teen as an alternative to some other not so creative outlets for my feelings. I just write my emotions and feeling in rhyme. Never had any formal classes or training. This hub is great. Thanks!

      • agaglia profile image

        agaglia 

        9 years ago

        Thanks for the tips on poetry writing. Great ideas for practice and creating.

      • Kushal Poddar profile image

        Kushal Poddar 

        9 years ago from Kolkata,India

        Interesing

      • RooBee profile image

        Arby Bourne 

        9 years ago from USA

        Great ideas! Thank you so much - I love these exercises and am excited to gain some inspiration in trying them.

      • profile image

        Kimberly 

        9 years ago

        I can write poetry very well.... that`s my dream job!

      • Christie Chene profile image

        Christie Chene 

        9 years ago from Florida

        Thanx for the tips! Its very helpful, I love writing poetry!

      • stressrelief profile image

        stressrelief 

        10 years ago from Nevada & Maryland

        What a wonderful hub, and I'm going to be sure to reference my son to it for his English projects - you know the ones where they ask high schoolers to "just write a poem" lol and it turns into pulling teeth :)

      • Stacie Naczelnik profile imageAUTHOR

        Stacie Naczelnik 

        10 years ago from Seattle

        That must be such a powerful hub. Would you mind sharing a link?

      • djtphn1 profile image

        djtphn1 

        10 years ago from Riverside County, California

        Wow, Stacie....my mind is blown right now. A while back, about 10 years ago, I had a boyfriend pass away at my house in his sleep. I woke to find him dead....anyways, I ended up writing this poem about him, acutally it is published on Helium and it is called First.....and it talks about all the firsts that I encountered w/ him and I just cannot believe you touched upon this in this hub....what a trip. anyways, thanks for reminding me

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