Shelley Widhalm

Writing poetry (tips and advice)

In Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 26, 2014 at 11:00 am

Unlike writing novels, writing poetry is a little freer in structure, especially if it’s outside of form.

A novel requires a beginning, middle and end, tension and conflict, a climax and the structural elements of setting, plot and characters.

Poetry is about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. The shape poems take range from free verse to a fixed form, such as a sonnet, sestina, villanelle or haiku, with a specific meter, rhyming scheme and syllable count. Poems also can bridge poetry and prose by taking the shape of a prose poem that is poetic, while looking like prose as a block of text filling part of a page.

Free verse poetry is the most open form of poetic writing that doesn’t use a specific meter or syllable count or employ a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open while engaging any of a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

These devices can include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds; and rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

The musicality can come from the tempo of the words, or the feel they create as they are spoken or read, as well as how they are put side by side and down the page.

Poems can tell a story and have a plot with the novel’s beginning, middle and end but in a smaller space. Or they can capture a single moment, image, thought or emotion. They communicate through sounds, which appeal to feeling the same way music does as the words become the music.

Writing poetry is an individual art, but to prompt the process, there are several ways to enter a poetic state of mind. Try to:

• Use the senses – those of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting – when making observations.
• Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
• Avoid using clichés, especially about well-loved topics, like love.
• Choose a title for your poem, then write from that point. Or choose a topic, an experience or a feeling you want to write about and compare it with something concrete like a pigeon on a window ledge to express risk-taking.

Lastly, think about the intent of the poem and the feelings to be expressed and say it in a fresh way. Trust your subconscious, which makes connections your conscious mind might not readily make. And surrender to your writing.

See how Zoey the Cute Dachshund writes canine poetry at her blog at

  1. Helped me a lot! I love wordplay, but the whole thing can’t be clever. There has to be some ‘fillers’ to construct the setting, narrative etc.

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