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How Poetry Can Inspire Your Writing

by Jennifer on August 25, 2010

By Breana Orland

All of us who claim the title “writer” have dry spells when the words just won’t come or times when the day’s writing is so uninspired, we decide we weren’t really cut out to be writers after all.

Inspiration is a geyser, not a stream, but we can’t always wait for the eruption to occur. In that case, it’s good to have a tool to bring inspiration gushing forth.

Poetry can be one of those tools, even (or especially) if you’re writing a novel, a short story or your memoirs.

Poems are nifty, infinitely renewable resources. You don’t have to write one to become inspired.  Looking to established poets can help you find your voice again, allowing you to slip into writing mode like an otter into water.

A Poem as a Picture
Just as a photograph can evoke memories, a poem can elicit smells, tastes and states of mind. Look up a poem, any poem, and see what pictures it paints in your imagination. Forget what you’re writing and write about the poem; not the poem, really, but what it makes you see, feel, smell.

A Poem as a Mood Setter

Let’s say you want to write about love, the end of love or your grandma’s cozy kitchen. Google “love poetry,” “poetry about loss,” or “poems about relatives.” Go through them till you find three that mirror the mood you want to create.

What kind of language did the poet use to move his or her readers? What imagery worked its magic most powerfully on you? Close your eyes and try to recreate in your mind what the poet must’ve felt to write the poem.

Once you’re crying over the break-up or salivating to the smell of cinnamon coming from grandma’s kitchen, you’re ready to write.

A Poem as a Diving Board
Even when we’re writing about unappealing characters or characters frightened out of their wits, we have to enter deeply into their psyches to bring them alive on paper. Whether you want to reveal horror, sexual abuse or madness in your character’s background, Edgar Allan Poe probably has a poem for you.

Try reading Poe’s Alone. If you’re not feeling it by the time you get to “…a demon in my view,” maybe you really aren’t a writer!

A Poem as an Exercise
An easy exercise to get you writing is to take one line from a poem that grabs you and finish or extend the thought with your own words.

For instance, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s famous poem, Oh Think Not I Am Faithful ends with the wonderful line I am most faithless when I most am true. What is she trying to say? And what kind of statement is she making about her ability to be constant in love?

If you were to take the first part of that line and finish it differently, what would you write?

Another example is Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Where would you go with that poem starting with the title alone?

Poets To Write By
Any poet and any poetry can work as inspiration for you, but if you don’t remember any of the poets you read in school or can’t find a poem that speaks to you, here’s a short list of poets whose work you can rummage through like old clothes in the attic:

Still can’t write? Make a cup of hot chocolate, drink it in bed. Read a book of poetry and let yourself fall asleep. When you wake up, write down your dreams. Then get up, sit down at your desk and WRITE!

About the Author: Breana Orland is a writer for College Scholarships and Grants. Breana also gives advice on the pursuit of higher education and career options for young adults.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alanna Klapp August 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Hi Brenda, thanks for this article! I’m going to give a few of these exercises a try, and I’m especially interested in the Poem as a Picture exercise. Thanks, too, for the list of poets to check out; it’s nice to have all this info in one spot.

Joy Katz is one of my favorite poets (http://www.tupelopress.org/authors/katz)

I’ve taken lines from her first book, Fabulae, and used them as prompts for freewriting exercises. Poetry is a great way to get yourself writing! Thanks again for the wonderful suggestions!

2 Alanna Klapp August 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I’m so sorry, I just realized I called you Brenda, and it’s Breana! Sorry about that!

3 Lisa Robertson August 30, 2010 at 9:55 pm

These are really good tips. My problem, however, besides procrastinating, is that I have SO MANY ideas going in my head all at once, to the point of being overwhelmed from not knowing where to start and/or what to write about first. I know I should just pick one subject and start from there, but I have a tendency to become bored before I finish and go to another topic. By doing this, I never finish anything. Any suggestions to overcome this problem?

4 Jordan Devin Murphy August 31, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I also think that poetry can lend prose writers a sense of language. The flow of words and the playfulness of imagery can help out nearly any writer. I would suggest at least trying to write a single poem (a rough draft to be sure) on a weekly basis. Getting poetry into your system can make a huge difference for the non-poetry writer.

5 Andrew Toynbee September 9, 2010 at 3:48 am

@Lisa
Get a few sheets of A4 paper and some highlighter pens. Write as many of the MANY ideas down on the paper at random…don’t group them together or you will start to channel and maybe miss a connection that could be inspiring. Once you’ve filled the paper, get out the highlighter pens.
(If you have access to a photcopier, copy your sheets a few times so that you can vary your ideas.)
Take one colour of pen and highlight any ideas that seem to work together, or even ones that wouldn’t ordinarily, but that could make a good story. Using a different colour, highlight other, secondary, ideas that might be useful, but wouldn’t necessarily form the main structure of your story.
Another colour could highlight ideas that are funny and could be used as a bonus.
What should emerge is a set of ideas that you like and could form your next project.
(The photocopied sheets can be used in the same way, but for a completely different project.)
If you already have larger, more complete projects in your head, choose the one that’s likely to be the most fun to write – you’ll be more inspired to continue with it if you’re enjoying yourself!

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