Ask Vivek: How do I write poetry?

How Do I Write Poetry

This week’s question was about how to write poetry. This is a question that I resonated with a lot. Working on my recent book of poetry, even this page is white, I often felt lost and unsure about what I was writing, and if it qualified as poetry.

Given what I learned, my two big tips on writing poetry are as follows:

  1. Experiment!

I had been originally working on a novel but the writing didn’t feel right. Something felt missing or off. I wondered if perhaps the writing would be richer in the format of poetry. It’s important to listen to these inner nudges as often your intuition knows what is best for your work.

I dusted off the ol’ highlighter tool in my Google Doc and began highlighting any word or phrase that I felt stood out. Then I moved these words and phrases into a new document and started playing around with non-paragraph formats. In this new context, the writing felt stronger. The words clicked. Poetry was indeed the answer!

From here, I continued to play with words and structures. Play is important here and with any writing. As much as writing is hard work, it’s useful to remember that writing should also be fun! So, I got rid of unnecessary punctuation and conjunctions (ie and, but, so, etc). I experimented with different line breaks.

  1. Read!

Reading works by other poets was useful as it allowed me to see how other writers were using the form and breaking “the rules.” I was especially inspired by Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn.

There was a world of poetry beyond the couplets I had been taught in school. I learned about concrete poetry and list poems. By discovering so many different kinds of poetry, it gave me the confidence to keep experimenting.

Writing poetry often felt like making a painting but with words. The medium is flexible and open for you to make it your own.

Lastly, Gwen Benaway’s Passage is the best book of poetry I have read this year. Who are your favourite poets? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you again for your question. Please keep sending me questions and I will keep answering them here!