April is National Poetry Month! To celebrate, the Academy of American Poets, the organization that created National Poetry Month, is sharing tips on how to write great poetry from their Executive Director, Jennifer Benka.
The Academy is also hosting the Dear Poet project, where students can write letters responding to poems by award-winning poets. Click here to participate!
How to Write Poetry
All great poets are also great readers of poetry. So before you tap your keyboard or press the tip of your pen to paper, we recommend that you start with the classic book Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. In the book, Rilke offers time-tested advice on how to write excellent poems. He says, for example, “There is only one way: Go within.”
You can read one of Rilke’s letters here.
The contemporary poet Edward Hirsch has written that a poem is “an inexplicable (though not incomprehensible) event in language; an experience through words.” So a poem is not a journal entry, short story, or essay. It is, perhaps, more like a painting. It is an experience.
What do you have to say that needs to be expressed in a poem—in language that is musical, rhythmic, electric, and ultimately memorable?
Spend some time reflecting on what the subject of your poem will be. Remember: go within. Maybe it’s something you saw today that stopped you in your footsteps, or the weird dream you had last night. Maybe you are ready to tell a secret or share a memory. Perhaps it’s a bit of all those things.
Once you have the subject of your poem in mind, settle yourself, close your eyes, and write.
Give yourself a good ten minutes of writing, longer if the words are flowing. When you have reached the end of that period of writing, pause, then look back at what you’ve written. Perhaps you’ve perfectly captured and communicated what you hoped you would. Or perhaps you agree with the writers who believe that there is no great writing, only great rewriting, and are then pleased with producing a good draft of a poem.
Either way, writing poems requires great craft, serious attention, and patience. But if you ask yourself, as Rilke suggests, “Must I write?” and you answer “Yes,” then, as the great poetry teacher says, “Build your life upon it. It has become your necessity.”
Don’t miss our next Figment Chat with poet Dana Walrath, author of Like Water on Stone. Got a burning question about poetry? Now’s your chance to ask!
Check out these great poetry titles to celebrate National Poetry Month!