Poetry Writing Lesson #1: Read Poetry

When talking to young, aspiring writers, the first thing I tell them is “To learn how to write, you need to read. And read what you want to learn how to write.” For example, if you want to write mystery stories, then read mystery stories. If you want to write scary stories, then read scary stories.

This it true of poetry as well—to learn how to write poems, you need to read poetry. It’s as simple as that. Through reading, you will discover how other authors use words and language, rhymes and sounds, meter and enjambment to craft their poems. You will also learn the many wondrous things that poetry can be as well as realize the many ways poems can be written.

Some poems rhyme:

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though:

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

From “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Others do not:

I caught a tremendous fish

and held him beside the boat

half out of water, with my hook

fast in a corner of his mouth.

From “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

Some poems are written in formal verse, meaning they have a specific meter, rhyme scheme, and number of syllables per line:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darting buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

From “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

Yet others are written in free verse, as in they do not have a set meter or even rhyme:

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.

Mother and daughter sing like young girls.

If my father were alive, he would play

his accordion and sway like a boat.

From “I Ask My Mother to Sing” by Li-Young Lee

And then some poems do not even bother with punctuation or capitalization.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

From “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” by e.e. cummings

Some poems are serious:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

While others are just plain silly:

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumlous Bandersnatch!”‘

From “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Start your poetry writing lessons by finding a poet you enjoy reading. It could be anyone from Shel Silverstein to Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, or one of the poets cited above. Just search out a poet who writes the type of poems that you also want to write, whether they are formal verse or free verse, serious or silly. And enjoy!

Writing Exercise: Mimic Poem

Once you find a poet you like, pick your favorite poem of his or hers. Then write a mimic, or imitation, poem. Compose a poem by copying the rhyme scheme, syllable count per line, style of language, and meter (if there is one) of the poem you picked. Also, try to write about the same subject, so if the original poem is about a tree, write about nature. If the poem you picked is serious, be sure to write a serious poem. In mimicking a poet’s work you can learn to use the traits that you admire in his or her poetry in you own poems.

Terms to Know:

enjambment—when line in poetry does not end with a punctuation mark, such as the first lines of “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

formal verse—poetry that has rules, such as a rhyme scheme or set number of syllables per line

free verse—poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular meter

meter—a rhythmic pattern of accented and unaccented syllables

rhyme scheme—the pattern of rhymes at the ends of lines


Blake Hoena is a published poet and children’s book author living in St Paul, MN. To learn more about him and his writing, go to bahoena.com.