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How to start writing poetry

By BBC Maestro

Last updated: 06 December 2022

For thousands of years, people have been turning their thoughts and feelings into poetry. It’s a craft that had prevalence in prehistoric Africa and it’s evolved to shape Shakespeare’s sonnets, Edward Lear’s famous limericks and today’s rising ‘insta poet’. 

If you’ve ever wondered what makes a good poem, and more importantly how to start writing poetry, you’re in the right place. Read on to find out.

What makes a good poem?

All good poetry evokes something in its reader. It may be the result of delicately used figurative language or a rhyming pattern that makes the words on the page feel alive.

Good poetry is also thought-provoking – whether that be in a serious sense or a light-hearted one. It makes us reflect on the world around us and nudges us to see things a little differently. Take a look at this roundup of popular poems which are celebrated for shifting the reader’s perspective on life, a little.  

A person writes

How to start writing poetry

There’s a lot of work that goes into writing good poetry. Even those that seem simple have required plenty of consideration, time and effort from their writer. So let’s take a look at a few ways to help you start writing poetry.

1.     Pick your subject

This is something every creative has to do – whether you’re a songwriter, playwright, painter or sculptor.

What do you want to write about? Maybe it’s the feeling of hope, love or power? Or perhaps grief, isolation or dishonesty are captivating you more? You can write from your own experiences or imagine the experience of another, and how you can retell it in an evocative way. As a beginner to poetry, the first route might be easier, but try both if you’re lacking inspiration.

It’s likely your subject will act as a grounding motif in your poem – reoccurring throughout. For example, if your subject is death, you may choose to write similes that speak of darkness and loss, and imagery that refers to graveyards or funerals. These are examples of two literary devices to help bring your poem more depth.

Why not have a think about other various poetic language tools you can use to help you explore your subject before you get writing? It may help you refine your ideas before you get writing. Once you have your theme, it’s time to think about how you want to write it.

2.     Choose the form

Matsuo Basho opted for Haiku poems and Shakespeare went for sonnets. But there are plenty of forms you can choose from when it comes to writing your poem.

Beyond the former two, there are limericks, elegies, acrostic poems, villanelles and free verse (to name a few). The latter is a favourite of former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, although she’s known to famously present her works as monologues too.

You might want to create a visual poem – where the layout of your words forms an image on the pages. It’s one that requires a bit of artistry but makes for very engaging reading if done well. George Herbert’s Easter Wings is a great example.

The first line of Easter Wings is a certain length, and as the reader continues each line gets smaller in width beneath the other until the reader reaches a mid-point with only two words. Then the lines then get longer again, line by line. The second verse follows the same format, mimicking the shape of wings.

Perhaps there’s something creative you can do visually with your theme? Or maybe you want to let the words speak for themselves.

3.     Finding the words 

Now it’s time to get writing. Differently to prose, which generally follows standard sentence and paragraph structure, poetry is a little looser with its rules. And it comes with a whole host of literary tools you can use to create something great. Explore figurative language, juxtaposition, simile, metaphors and imagery. These are incredibly expressive tools for writing poetry.

It can be a little daunting putting those words to paper. One way to get over the hump is to just start. Don’t expect to write an award-winning poem straight away. You don’t have to write your first line and then the second, and so on. You might find you write one brilliant line and a weaker one that follows. Or you may write a whole stanza (verse) and it may fit somewhere else differently down the line.

Turn away from distractions in the writing phase too. Switch off your phone or devices and find a comfy corner where you feel relaxed. You could also choose to play a soothing playlist to help increase your creative flow. Remember that whatever you come up with now isn’t final. So have fun with it. See what you come up with.

Someone reading a book

4.     Start editing

Now for the next part. It’s likely you’ve gotten your poem to a stage where you’re either happy with it, or it could do with some help. This is where you can cut, crop, remove and replace any lines that you think don’t work with ones that do.

That rhyming couplet on the fourth line which doesn’t quite rhyme, and it bugs you –remove it. The simile you used which doesn’t quite capture the rawness of your feelings –strike it out.

Before you do anything drastic though, keep your first draft safe – whether that’s on a laptop, or on a notepad. You don’t want to lose the first thoughts you had. They may come back in handy.

If staring at a now blank space that was formerly filled with an average turn of phrase is grinding on you, here’s a quick tip. In the blank space, write down a few words you want that part of the poem to achieve.

It may be emotions (relief/joy/dismay), it may be situations (rock bottom), or it may be just a simple note to yourself – ‘something punchy’. Sometimes in the editing process, we remove too much of that great impulsive creativity that was captured in our first go of writing. So, as you remove words and struggle to replace them, jotting down what you want to achieve in these parts of the poem may be quite useful.

Remember too that no book, article or poem was ever published after just one sweep of edits. Take your time. Walk away from it and come back to it. Looking at it with fresh eyes will really help.

5.     Ask for feedback

This stage is an important part of the process in any creative endeavour. If you’re lucky enough to have friends in the literary world, send your poem over to them for a review. Ask for honest opinions and elements of feedback they may have.

If you’re not in those circles yet, that’s OK. You could also use your work as your ticket to a local writers' group or submit them to online writers’ forums. If you’re feeling confident, poetry slams are one of the best ways to gain authentic feedback on your work too.

There’s nothing wrong with getting the opinions of family members, friends or colleagues on your poem too. Maybe give them a feedback task to do and make any amendments you think are worth it. For example, you could ask them the following questions:

  1. What emotions do you feel after reading it?
  2. What were their favourite lines?
  3. How would they describe this poem to someone who hasn’t read it, in one sentence?

Once you’ve written one, why not write another? You could have your very own collection in no time. If you need a little more inspiration, take a look at Carol Ann Duffy’s course, Writing Poetry.


A collection of BBC Maestri including Julia Donaldson, Alan Moore and Edgar Wright displayed alongside some gift boxes with orange bows

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