Happy National Poetry Month, everyone! I think it’s fitting that the month we celebrate poetry should be the same month when spring coming into full bloom. The hope of new growth, warm rain, and the scent of wisteria on the breeze sparks the poetic spirit in many of us.
Even if you don’t normally consider yourself a poet, writing poetry can be a great way to hone important skills that translate to all genres. Writing poems, for example, strengthens our ability to be concise in our word choices, because every word counts. Through poetry, we train our ear to hear the rhythm and cadence in writing. We further develop our creativity in using descriptions and figurative language, because poetry often challenges us to find new ways to say old truths. While writing poetry is very different from writing prose, it teaches an appreciation for the precision and beauty of language that’s invaluable to all writers.
So in honor of National Poetry Month, I hope you’ll try your hand at writing a poem or two.
Here are 5 poetry prompts to get you started:
1: Write an ekphrastic poem:
Ekphrastic poetry is poetry inspired by art. It takes a piece of artwork and explores the meanings and emotions evoked by the piece. To write one, simply choose a painting or photograph or sculpture that catches your attention and write a poem about it. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider checking out Rattle’s Ekphrastic challenge. Every month, Rattle magazine posts an image and invites poets to submit pieces based on the art. They choose two winners at the end of the month to publish online.
2: Write a paint chip poem:
Paint chip poetry uses the power of color to inspire our words. Pick up a paint chip (or several) at your local hardware store and write a poem playing off of the names of the colors. Many paint chips having varying degrees of creativity, ranging from soothing colors like Japanese Windflower to quirky colors such as Dinner Mint. This is a great project to introduce kids to as well and might be fun to try as family game one afternoon.
3: Write a haiku about something you see daily.
Haikus are wonderfully powerful in their simplicity. The best haikus use imagery to show the beauty in ordinary things. In three little lines, haikus capture a moment (or even just a sliver of a moment), and magnify that snippet with the care of their attention. A single thought is given clear and total focus. Trying to write a haiku can be a great way to practice imagist writing, and it can also help remind us to be present to the things and people around us.
4: Write a poem mimicking the style of a favorite poet.
While we want our voices to be unique, sometimes mimicry helps us grow our writing and tune our voices. Trying to write in the style of a poet we admire can be an exercise which trains our writing muscles to think in terms of particular techniques. For example, mimicking Gerard Manley Hopkins’ style of sprung rhythm makes us attentive to the way language can dance to an interior music. You might also try answering a poem you love with your own unique response, such as how Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” was a response to Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.”
5. Write a concrete poem:
Sometimes form gives rise to meaning, and this is especially true in concrete poetry, which use the visual aspects of typography, word placement, and the overall shape of the words to add to the poem’s effect. (An example of this is “Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree” by George Starbuck.)
Writing a poem in a shape that reflects your theme is a rewarding challenge. Concrete poems are almost a puzzle, as you try to format your work for visual effect, while also trying to adjust your phrasing to fit the format. Sometimes the attempt to shape words into an image makes for awkward lines breaks, but sometimes, it creates incredibly impactful lines you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Either way, writing a concrete poem will definitely give your creativity a work-out.
Whether you try one of these 5 poetry prompts or just enjoy rereading the work of your favorite poets, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating poetry this month.
What are some of your favorite poetic forms to write?