English 50 Intro to Creative Writing: Exercises for Poets

1. Five Ways to Begin Writing a New Poem

  1. Actively seek inspiration by looking in your journal for ideas or reading other people's poems; don't analyze, just seek stimulation.
  2. Use your five senses don't rely solely on visual images; remember your senses of touch and smell. Pay attention to music, and not just the music we hear on radio and TV: listen to the natural and manmade rhythms around you, including the sounds of mechanical objects and engines. Remember to always strive for "fresh language" and avoid clichés.
  3. Make a list of your most memorable experiences from the past year. Are there details you remember that no one else did? Do the same for your early childhood. The chances are, if you have siblings, that you remember things differently than they do. Focus on the images that are unique to your memory.
  4. Consider your friends, relatives, worst enemies: have you had experiences with any of them that seem contradictory? For instances, is there something about someone whom you actually dislike that you nevertheless find admirable? Have you ever been in a position in which you found your roles reversed? Have you, for instance, ever found yourself "parenting a parent?" or experienced a situation in which you found yourself filled with two strong but contradictory emotions like anger and respect?
  5. Once you select a subject, start putting lines down quickly. Don't worry about ordering them or otherwise editing them, including whether you are writing in complete sentences.
Keep in mind that these are just ways to BEGIN writing a new poem. You are not like to end up with a poem at this point. Most writers have to WORK towards that most of the time.

2. Persona: Actors speak as someone other than who they are all the time. Writers need to be able to do this as well. Try the following, doing so once for the purpose of satire and once for the purpose of empathizing.

  1. Write in the persona of someone of the opposite sex.
  2. Write in the persona of someone twenty years older than you.
  3. Write in the persona of someone ten years younger than you.
  4. Write in the persona of someone who is less well educated than you.
  5. Write in the persona of someone who is more educated than you.
  6. Write in the persona of someone who is blind or deaf or mute.
  7. Write in the persona of someone who holds different religious or political or social opinions than you.
3. Rhyme: Many beginning poets assume that a poem must contain exact end rhyme, but most contemporary readers have found that such repetition of sound to be boring. Try employing one of the following methods of using rhyme.
  1. Use off rhyme or partial rhyme at the end of lines (bad/dead).
  2. Use rhyme WITHIN the line instead of at the end.
  3. Use rhyme at the BEGINNING of lines instead of at the end.
4. Rhythm: Words are made up of sounds that are either accented or unaccented when we speak them. In order to find the STANDARD way of pronouncing a word and to see where its accent falls when spoken in this fashion, see any good college level dictionary. Thus when we say words in groups, patterns begin to develop. We create rhythms in poems by being aware of these patterns and manipulating them. One of the most recognizable patterns of rhythm in English poetry prior to this century was the iambic pentameter, a five beat, ten syllable line of poetry. It has been said that this rhythm was popular because it matched the way English was spoken between small breaths; that is, they rhythm was simply a heightened imitation of normal speech. It has been further argued that in the Twentieth Century in the US the lined was shortened as a result of the changes in the way we spoke.
  1. Write a poem that imitates the way someone speaks, using line lengths to make breath pauses, during a heightened emotional moment, such as an argument or a plea.
  2. Write a poem that varies line length to create  a rhythm that doesn't rely on being repeated line after line. In other words, develop the rhythm across a variety of lines.
  3. Write a poem whose lines all end with full stops (caesuras).
  4. Write a poem whose lines are all enjambed except for the final line.
NOTE: A caesura is a pause, usually caused by punctuation, although it can occur naturally when the formation of a sound that ends a word changes dramatically from the way the next sound is formed, thus causing the speaker to pause long enough to reshape the mouth in order to pronounce the next word. An enjambed line is one which has no stop at its end so that the speaker naturally goes on to the next line without pause.

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This page created and maintained by Jim Manis; last updated January 28, 2000.