Poetic Practices

April 17, 2015 by Amy Groening


Poetry Month is halfway through—we hope you’ve all had the opportunity to drink in some beautiful sonnets, haiku, free-verse, slam, and maybe even a rhyming couplet here or there.

Writing poetry comes naturally to some of us; to others it can take a lot of work. I remember the first time I discovered there was a poetry component to the Creative Writing course I was taking. I clammed up immediately.

I love poetry, but I had never thought of it as something I could actually create. I wrote a lot of short fiction back then; I had worked for several newspapers; I had it on good authority that I had a knack for stories, fictional or not. But poetry? I had never had the guts to share any of my attempts. Now suddenly my grades depended on it.

And so I made it my mission to become a poet. My first attempts were rather painful: lines of verse that were fighting to escape their minimalistic, poetic confinement and become the full-fledged story they wanted to be. But as I worked at it, I began to discover a love for poetry. One of my first poetry teachers explained poetry thusly: “When life becomes so intense, so painful, so exciting, so insane that you hit a wall and can’t find a way to explain it all in full sentences, what’s hiding behind that wall is poetry”. Even if you’re not a natural-born poet, poetry can have some amazing healing effects. It can help to put meaning into experiences too intense for words. It can help to coax beauty out of the mundane. It is an incredibly complex, diverse genre of writing.

Whether you are a natural-born poet or the idea of writing rhyme makes you feel like you’re all poetic thumbs, it’s an important art form to explore. Throughout history, writers have been trying new techniques to stretch and challenge themselves. Delve into the poetry world and find a technique to help shake up your writing (or find a way to write, for us non-poets). Here are a few to get you going:

Erasure poetry: Erasure poetry can help you find the poetry in prose. Take a piece of prosaic writing (whether it’s yours or someone else’s—a short story, a blog post, an excerpt from a novel, or even a news article), and try to turn it into poetry solely by removing words and letters that are already there.

Emergent poetry: similar to erasure poetry, emergent poetry uses a single line to generate the idea of the poem. Edwin Morgan’s poem “Message Clear”:http://edwinmorgan.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poems/message_clear.html, is a famous example of this. It takes the phrase “I am the resurrection and the life” and turns it into an exploration of this message by pulling different phrases from it for each line of the poem.

Constrained poetry: Pick one letter of the alphabet and challenge yourself to write a poem using only words that begin with this letter. Or, try univocalic poetry—use only one vowel throughout your poem. Check out writers like Canadian poet Christian Bök’s for inspiration; he used this technique in his book, Eunoia.

Postcard poetry: Find an interesting postcard and write a poem on the back of it, based on what’s happening in the postcard imagery. For added fun, send that postcard to a friend and challenge them to write you back with their own poem.

Cut-Up poetry: Take a finished text, cut it up into words or phrases, and rearrange it into a poem. Or, if you don’t have scissors handy, try fold-in poetry instead: take a printed out piece of text and fold it in on itself to create different poetry phrases.

There are two weeks left to celebrate poetry month, so roll up your sleeves, break out your notebook, and dive in! Have a poem you’d like to share? Post it in the comments section!

About this Contributor

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Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.