for young poets



Advice about writing your own poems...

Getting an idea
I use poems for noticing and wondering.  I put into poems things that I've noticed--feelings, people, nature, events, ideas, colors, conversations, contrasts-- things that I think perhaps no one else has ever noticed before.  So maybe your poem will start when you notice something strange or funny or wondrous.  

Writing it down
As soon as you can, write it down somewhere (a special notebook just for this? your school binder?  your palm?), this thing you're noticing.  Use any old words for now, but try to remember the feeling you had when you noticed that strange or funny or wondrous thing.

First drafts (more than one of them!)
Now, when you get a chance, or when your teacher asks you, take that idea that's been rolling around in your head or your heart, look at your notes and write the poem.

first drafts of "What I Wanted and What I Got"
Don't I make it sound easy?  Yes, because it can be.  Just write down the what and how and why of what you noticed, as fast as you can.  If you don't stop to worry about each word and how to spell it, your imagination will surprise you with its good ideas.  DON'T ERASE.  It just slows you down, and you never know--the part you erased might turn out to be important later. 

I usually write three or four first drafts all in a row, which is when I'm especially glad that poems can be short! It takes me a few tries to figure out what's the most important piece of the poem.  I try to organize the ideas so that my readers might get the same feeling I got when I first noticed whatever I'm writing about. 

This part of my writing is the messiest--spread all over two or three pages of my notebook, with lots of scratching out, arrows pointing here and there, extra words and lines squeezed in.  Sometimes I even change pens to see if that will make a difference!  

Choosing words
When you've got your poem down on paper, you can start getting it to sound just right.  Poems are different from stories because they're meant to be read and heard out loud, so I always try to choose words that are interesting, that sound good together, that are fun to say out loud.  Read your words out loud to see how they sound.  Listen for rhythm and listen for words with similar sounds.  Can you choose words to describe what you noticed that SOUND like what you noticed?  Don't worry too much about rhyming, because that's darn difficult--but look for places where you can put words together that match in some way. 

When your poem is sounding good to you, it's time to read it out loud to someone you trust! Hearing your poem out loud will tell you right away what's working and what's not, and your listener can tell you what they think, too.

I'm always interested in seeing what you come up with!  You can send your poem to me, if you want, by clicking here to go to the contact page.


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