How to Write a Poem

When I was a little girl I watched my grandmothers cook. They never used a recipe book. To me, it seemed like magic. A poof of flour, a whisk, the whir of a beater and an amazing cake appeared. When I got older and realized I only knew how to cook spaghetti and meat loaf, I called on my Grandma Bert to teach me this magic. She tried to write things down but it was hard for her to remember exact measurements of things. She could mainly tell me based on feel, touch or smell. So I went into the kitchen with her and followed her instructions as she watched over my shoulder, taste-testing along the way.

I didn’t understand how she could cook this way without leveled cups of flour, without exact fourths of a teaspoon. Now as a poet I understand this. The page is my kitchen and how the words appear there is a bit of magic I sometimes have a hard time explaining. A poof of rhyme, a whisk of rhythm and a poem seems to just appear. I also realize this isn’t helpful for the person who wants to learn how to discern and recreate this magic. So like my grandma, I will try to take myself to the very beginning in hope that anyone who would like to can write a poem and make their own magic too.

All cooks, the same as all writers, are different. Here’s my approach to writing a poem.

1.    Decide on form.
Are you writing a haiku? Sonnet? Sestina? Limerick? Free verse? Rap verse? Spoken word poem? Each of these forms, no matter how rigid or freewheeling have rules. In the creation of art, you break a rule better when you first learn how to follow it.

2.    Choose a subject.
Pick a word randomly out of a dictionary. Ask your Facebook or twitter friends to send you words or topics. Start with a question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to.

3.    Clear your mind.If you are a person who needs quiet to write, silence as much of the distractions around you as you can. If you need a bit of noise, try a coffee place, library, bookstore, or whatever world you can create for yourself with your headphones on.

4.    Use your senses.
When you think of your subject matter, what images, aromas, sounds, textures come to your mind? Describe them, keeping in mind the form you’ve chosen. Write as if your poem is an experience you are trying to describe to someone who has never been there.  

5.    Write. Revise. Rewrite.
Do this until your idea is as complete as your brain can accomplish that day. Some days this may happen in one day. For me sometimes this process takes weeks or months. Sometimes I start an idea and set it aside, coming back to it months or years later.

6.    Read.
Once you have written something you feel slightly proud of but mostly nervous about it, read it aloud to someone else. That someone could be an open mic audience or it could be a family member or friend, just needs to be someone that has different ears from your own.

Hopefully, after completing these steps you will experience a little bit of magic.

How do you write poems?