How to Write a Poem - 10 Steps to Writing Great Poetry

If you want to write a poem and you don't know how or you merely have writer's block, follow these ten simple steps to writing great poetry. This guide and its step-by-step process of writing can help when composing or trying to find inspiration to write a poem. This template allows poets to form an entire poem in a semi-methodical way.

You can produce good poetry when you draft your poem around a specific style or theme. For instance, some writers think all poems must rhyme and have a meaning behind them. This thinking is not correct. Poems don't always have to rhyme nor do they need to have a meaning. Sometimes poetry can merely be an image or a concrete visual. However, good poetry often conveys a definite meaning and has a purpose behind the entirety of the poem. It should not only read well but as with certain modern-day verse, it should make you feel something. 

An excellent example of good poetry comes from the likes of Robert Frost. He was considered one of the best American Poets of all time. His poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" is one of the most studied poems in American literature. With this in mind, we will analyze "Nothing Gold Can Stay," to help you learn how to write a poem.

The ten steps to good poetry have specific elements. Thus, regardless of the writer's literary background, you'll be able to put your "words of expression" on paper gracefully. Here are the steps...and be sure to add your comments and insight below.

  1. Pick a Specific Topic, Idea, or Theme
  2. Choose a Poetic Form (Ballad, Haiku, and Couplet, etc.)
  3. Use Literary Devices (Symbolism, Metaphor, and Simile, etc.)
  4. Consider Meter, Flow, Rhythm, and Poetic Presentation
  5. Make Your Voice Heard by Avoiding Cliches
  6. Expand on the Topic While Controlling Emotions
  7. Enhance Your Vocabulary
  8. Read Examples of Famous Poetry
  9. Refine and Produce a Clean Copy of the Poem
  10. Read It Aloud

1. Pick a Specific Topic, Idea, or Theme

How do you start a poem? A good way to start a poem is by selecting a topic, idea, or theme. When you do this, it sets up the entire creative foundation of the work. In modern-aged poetry, selecting a theme as the first step is as important as brainstorming off that theme. With the topic chosen, you will automatically begin to develop ideas centered around the theme. For example with 20th-century poet Robert Frost and his poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," there are many elements he uses to discuss the beauty and the death of life. The poem's topic or theme is nature's natural beauty and how short it is.

Nothing Gold Can Stay 

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.

While choosing a topic is integral, sometimes the topic chooses you. :-)

2. Choose a Poetic Form (BalladHaiku, and Couplet, etc.)

Next, you have to pick a type of poem or poetic form to frame the content around. For instance, in Frost's poem, his choice in using couplets for his poetic form is clearly evident. What lies within these couplets is the "iambic trimeter." This becomes the writer's poetic format or the form of his poetry. Using couplets and having them rhyme in such a blunt way like Frost did in "Nothing Gold Can Stay," is a simple way to create good and easy to read poetry. Frost does this brilliantly.

Although poems don't always have to rhyme it works well with Frost's poem. With only 4 stanzas, it makes sense to keep it short and simple when illustrating mother nature's beauty is not going to last forever.

3. Use Literary Devices (Symbolism, Metaphor, and Simile, etc.)

Determine how you want to say it by using literary devices. Do you want to state it plainly or do you want the reader to become absorbed in the poem? Often, great poetry involves some investigating, solving, or explaining by the reader. To accomplish this, use literary devices.

Symbolism in Poetry

When using symbolism, you are using an object, word, or phrase to represent an abstract idea. This means that you are asking the reader to unravel your writings. By writing in a language that uses symbols, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and analogies, you are asking the reader to experience your poem in a way other than its literal meaning. There can also be more than one meaning a poet wants to express behind certain stanzas. You are, in fact, leaving the interpretation up to the reader. 

Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are what Frost used in this particular poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. When you use literary devices such as similes and metaphors effectively, along with the steps mentioned earlier, the poem is on its way to becoming a masterpiece in its entirety. Honestly, it can help even beginning poets write like an accomplished author. However, developing good poetry by using literary devices such as those mentioned require creating thinking and time. Take time to brainstorm multiple ideas by writing them down. Writing the content or message by using these literary devices will enhance the beauty of your poetry when read aloud. For example, the "Gold" in Frost's poem (Nothing Gold Can Stay) is a metaphor for the beauty and happiness that "Eden" represents.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold., 

When you put it all together, you can almost sit back and see the 'artwork' from a larger perspective. 

4. Consider Meter, Flow, Rhythm, and Poetic Presentation

Next, engage your readers with patterns, rhythm, meter, or with the flow of words you choose. Recurring patterns are evident in Modern Age poetry. The use of rhythm (or meter) as a device to keep the momentum going is an essential element of good poetry writing. In Frost's poem, the first two lines begin the rhyming scheme and the pattern used is AABBCCDD.

This is a good example of the use of stress and unstressed syllables in certain words of a poem. For instance, using "rhythmic patterns" in poetry helps readers sort the poem out with sound and beat. This avoids monotony like Frost did with his poem in "Nothing Gold Can Stay." In general, the simple use of rhythmic patterns keeps the content tight.

This is good poetry. The "flow" and "rhythm" shifts to a feeling of withering or subdue feelings when you get to the middle. Frost used caesuras or the interruption of such a "luminary" highpoint of the poem so when you get to that part of the poem, you can almost visualize what is being talked about. He describes how "nature" looks like Eden yet only for a short time. In fact, it was only for an hour that it looked 'gold'. It's expressed beautifully in the rhythm of the poem especially when you pause because of one word, "subsidies".

This poem can go deeper in meaning and symbolism, but the rhythm is the main element that Frost uses to engage his readers. Nevertheless, It's one of the critical steps in beginning on the "right track" when writing. For one, the theme plays out well because rhythmic patterns are easier to read.

Keep in mind that writing free-form poetry does not remove the need to have rhythm and flow.

5. Make Your Voice Heard by Avoiding Cliches

Everyone knows cliches in literary works are not very appealing. Therefore, avoid cliches in poetry writing. When you write from the heart, it will be special and unique and you'll be able to hear your voice once it's written. It will be your voice and not the words of another. The tone of your poem will reflect the "you" in the narrative. In this case, the poem is a reflection of the speaker or the writer in many respects. Frankly, isn't this what most poets want to accomplish? Poets want the reader to feel what he or she is saying, not someone else.

PoetrySoup provides a comprehensive list of cliches not to use in your poetry.

6. Expand on the Topic While Controlling Emotions

It was Oscar Wilde who appropriately said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling (or emotions)." Why is this true? Sometimes new poets think that to express themselves they need to offer wild and uncontrolled emotions. As a result, their writing becomes melodramatic or emotionally overdone. In poetry, you can expand on the topic or theme of the poem, but avoid relying too much on emotions. This is where the magic is when you add or emphasize certain words or lines in your poem without being overdramatic. 

The wonderful thing about poetry is that you can expand on any word or line. It helps with the message overall when you expand. You may want to say more about the topic or theme you've picked. When doing this, handle emotion deftly, offer nuance, allow imagery to tell the story. When Frost expands on his subject of nature and time, he does it by adding Eden into the mix which shows a significant amount of space in timing. After all, in the Bible, Eden was the brief home of the two "first humans" on earth. So, comparing time with that of nature, and how short it is, Frost expands on another element and that's with Eden. Frost let the imagery speak while controlling his emotions. 

Remember, poets do not cry. Readers of poetry cry.

7. Enhance Your Vocabulary

When you enhance your vocabulary it will translate to your poem and will illustrate to your audience a clearer understanding of the words you've chosen to use. Use each word appropriately since seemingly similar words have subtle differences that can change the entire tone or message of a poem. Remember the angle of your poem is coming from you. Therefore, your tone and voice should match up with the vocabulary you choose to use.

When Frost uses the word "subsides" in the third stanza, it has so much meaning. Notice that he doesn't say "becomes," he says "subsides." This means that the first leaf sank down, or settled, to become another leaf. 

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief
,

Additionally, it not only makes the reader pause, as it should in this style of poetry Frost uses, but it turns the entire poem around with just that word "subsides." In other words, it has a lot of meaning in just that one word. Hence, it shifted the tone and voice of the poem from a happy feeling to a grieving emotion.

8.Read Examples of Famous Poetry

Like step 7, this step allows you to step away from the poem for a while and add to your reservoir of knowledge and writing diversity. The purpose of reading famous poetic works is not to copy phrases but to expose your mind to new ways of thinking and writing. 

A Few Examples of Famous Poems

9. Refine and Produce a Clean Copy of the Poem

Now that you've exposed yourself to new ways of thinking in steps 7 and 8, you can revisit your poem and produce a clean copy of it. When you consider how the poem looks, such as the poetic presentation, ensure that you have a clean copy of it or at least saved on your computer or tablet. When you have your final draft completed in its entirety, the rule is to proofread it and edit. Do it once or twice, otherwise, you'll never complete it.

Many poets have their own way to complete their final draft. You may not want to edit too much though otherwise, you'll take away from the original version. In fact, the message you express should still be there when you edit. Revise and restructure if you feel you have not made your message clear to your audience.

Remember that a poem is an expression of your feelings. Therefore, what you felt during the time of the writing, you should still be able to hear the original expression you had when you wrote it.

Now you can create a clean copy of it. Here are some tips:

  • There's something about writing a poem with pen or pencil and paper. It seems more original and personable when you write a poem. Of course, many today find "writing" directly on a computer just as efficient.
  • For record keeping and printing out, save your poem on the computer or USB. Once you've saved it, print it out.
  • If you make a presentation on PowerPoint, decorate it with a minimal amount of images, photos, or clip art.
  • Each slide should be a stanza or meter if you do create a presentation. Don't forget to save it in that format too!

10. Read It Aloud

Reading your poem to someone will help you 'feel' it especially when you read it out loud. If you recite it in front of a mirror it will help you express your poem to the fullest and enable you to determine if the rhythm and meter are correct.

Conclusion

Certainly, writing a poem can be a challenge for anyone. If you happen to be writing one for your loved one, remember it comes from the heart. Frost's does it so eloquently in each line. When the poet places so much value per line, such as what Frost did, it seems to have more substance for the poem's overall message and great poetry results.

Additional Tips

  • Become a good listener. By that we mean listen to what is going on around you while in line at a grocery store or while at a business meeting, etc. In doing this you may hear an expression or a word that resonates or can serve as inspiration.

See also: What is Good Poetry? What Makes Good Poetry.

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