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Want to write a poem? Here’s how to get started

Are you a budding poet? In this article for students in middle to upper primary school and lower secondary school, Diane Bourke offers some ideas and tips to get the creativity flowing.


It’s one of the resources to help inspire young poets, as part of our Student Poetry Competition 2020.

By Diane Bourke


Are you feeling creative?


Would you like a fun way to express yourself?


Why not write some poetry? It’s not difficult. Let’s get started.


First step is to read, or listen to, a few different poems, and then, to imagine how you create your own. If you can’t find a book or two of poems, there are heaps of poems to read or listen to at The Children’s Poetry Archive.


Poetry has been with us for a very long time. The earliest poetry that we know of was written on 12 clay bricks, about 5000 years ago. It appears that the first known poems were recited and sung. Poetry was then, not only art; but also, a way to remember law or history.


Why not challenge yourself to learning a poem by heart? Invite others in the family to do the same then conduct a family Poetry Slam.


There are over 50 different types of poems. The more common types include haiku, free verse, sonnets, and acrostic. (You may need to research what these terms mean). Over time, maybe with some adult assistance, research other forms and see which appeal to you the most.


Free verse poetry is great for beginners. It can follow whatever pathway you wish to take. Check out poet and author Shel Silverstein’s work which is mostly free verse. There are no limitations on what you can or cannot do and no rules to follow. You cannot lose. You are free to tell a story, play with words, express your feelings, or whatever else appeals to you at the time. Start by writing about yourself and what interests you. Later, you may decide to create poems that make others think about how they think and act.


Poetry does not require whole sentences, capital letters, punctuation or rhyme. That’s right. Poems do not have to rhyme.


With poetry, there is no right or wrong. Poems record your feelings and observations. They highlight the sounds of words, alone and in groups and often describe things in fresh ways. You become an effective poet by writing lots of poems. You become more skilful with each poem you write. The only way you can flunk is if you don’t write poetry at all.


A very good idea is to carry a notebook. This allows you to record ideas whenever they come to you. The poet Alan Wright does this and has now filled several. He sees his notebook as a ‘travelling companion’, one that is always ready to record an idea, whenever it may arise. Alan is a scavenger of words who calls his notebook ‘my catcher’. Notebooks can also be where you write poems or start poems that you can finish later.


One way to get started


Head outside into your garden, write a few sentences about what you see, sense or hear. Then see how you can use words to describe these things in different ways. You may decide to add line breaks to slow your reader down, so they are more likely to think about what you have written. Leave out words that don’t add any meaning or flavour to what you are writing about.


What you write is a draft. Forget about correct spelling. Cross out words if you think something can be improved. Concentrate on the process of writing and improving what you write. At some point you will decide that this version is the final version (at least for now). Editing to improve a work is an important part of every poet’s work. 


Poems are almost never done when you first think they are. Leave your poem for a day or two then check it out again. You may also show it to others to get their thoughts.


Things you might try


Similes are often used in poetry. A simile (usually using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’) directly compare two things in a way that adds meaning or humour to your message. Similes provide a deeper understanding of the object or person being described. Some examples are: “He is like a star that twinkles and glows”, and “They are like a barrel of monkeys”.


Alliteration is common in poems. Down the slippery slide they slid, sitting slightly sideways. Repeating the same letter or sound can add interest and maybe even intrigue? Try it out.


Another interesting idea is to draw an outline, perhaps of a cat, and to write a poem about cats inside your drawing. Check this idea out at How to Write a Concrete Poem


A thesaurus is a very helpful tool for a poet. This is a reference work that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning. This is different to a dictionary, which provides definitions for words and generally lists them in alphabetical order. You can find an online thesaurus as well as the printed ones.


Ken Nesbitt, at Poetry4kids likens writing poetry to carving a sculpture. He describes how the sculptor first carves out the rough form and later comes back to carve the detail then, later still, comes back to polish it. Think about writing poetry as ‘sculpting with words’.  Don’t try to polish it before you finish the detail, and don’t try to finish the detail until you have carved out the rough form.


Remember that you become a good poet by writing lots of poems. Your skills increase with each poem you write. As with any skill or sport you learn or play, keep in mind, ‘practice, practice, practice makes perfect’.


Diane Bourke is a Project Manager for Independent Schools Victoria. She was Head of Junior School, Campbell House, at The Geelong College for 16 years, and Head of Junior School, Morris Hall, Melbourne Girls Grammar for 15 years.


To find out how to enter the competition, go to Student Poetry Competition 2020.