How to Write a Poem


















How to Write a Poem

To write a poem
Go out the front door.
Walk around
Your neighborhood,
Following your nose
Down this or that street.
Cross for the latest bloom.
Track the ants to their castle
Of dust. See where the bees
Dance their maps. Crawl
On your belly. Open your mouth
And funnel the dirt through you
Like a worm. Listen to the rhythm
Of your footsteps and the song
Of passing cars. Eat daisies.
Smell asphalt. Rub your elbows
On oak bark. All the while
Compare your trip to a bird
Or to death. But if you want
To write something new,
Go home. Go up to the attic.
Open a window and



I got another rejection this week (Can we please agree to stop calling it this? How about a “pass?” Anyone else have a suggestion?). Getting a “pass” is too common to be noteworthy. What was remarkable was that the editor said I was close and told me which of the poems he preferred. (Because he replied to me like one human being to another, I didn’t actually feel rejected.) As I considered the two poems he mentioned, I realized they had something in common, not in terms of the product, but in the process that had produced them. With both, I had somehow let go. I had stopped writing from my head and wrote from my gut. I had gone up to the roof and jumped and out in the air, I had caught something a little more unusual.

To metaphorically jump, I literally did something like a cross between free writing and brainstorming. I wrote as quickly as possible, without judging or revising, or even developing any one idea. I tried to get out as many different approaches as possible. Only after 20 or 30 or 40 different options did I go back and see if there were a few I wanted to develop. I think that by writing quickly and getting out as many ideas as possible, I was able to get off the well-worn paths and find new associations and connections.

What do you do when you want to get past the usual?

I hope you’re enjoying National Poetry Month.

Jama Rattigan has an extensive list of Kidlitosphere events celebrating our favorite month.

Irene Latham is once again hosting the Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem, which I’ll be contributing to later in the month.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Robyn Hood Black.

(c) Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved

13 replies
  1. Linda Baie
    Linda Baie says:

    Liz, I’ve never published a poem, not even sent anything out there, but I agree with you, & I wish other “experts” would answer too. When I sit & just ‘go’ I do get something that is not my usual fare. It surprises me what my pen writes! I love your poem, & will print it out, keep close!

  2. haitiruth
    haitiruth says:

    Wow, it worked! I have had lots of trouble posting comments on your blog in the last few weeks. I am glad I tried again!

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      Thank you for trying again! I am really struggling with WordPress. Everything looks like it works on my end but then doesn’t work for other people… I will have to study more.
      Hope all is well with you.

  3. Janet F.
    Janet F. says:

    I like your poem a lot, Liz.
    I judge and judge and judge and overthink and wonder if it is good enough. I, like Linda, need to hang this!
    And remember!
    I am struggling with the tech issues for a blog. I have heard WordPress is good, but when things don’t go as planned, not sure I have the back-up resources tech-wise to prevail. Laura Salas uses WordPress. Maybe I will hire her to guide me in her “spare time”. Ha ha! (Excuses, I know!!!) I admire the time-manager poets I “know” out there!! One thing I don’t like is that when you want to receive comments in reply you always have to confirm with an email from WordPress. I “get” why, but it is sometimes a pain….

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      That’s exactly my problem. I have figured out how to post with images and links and finally how to put an image in my sidebar but when something goes wrong I can’t really troubleshoot.

  4. Tabatha
    Tabatha says:

    Sounds like you learned something interesting from your “pass”! I was impressed that you made so many different options for yourself … you go, Liz!

    “Open your mouth
    And funnel the dirt through you
    Like a worm” grabbed me, and I also really liked the way you structured the poem to have “jump” by itself at the end.

  5. Buffy Silverman
    Buffy Silverman says:

    Love the details of your poem, Liz, and the surprise jump ending. That’s a terrific visual metaphor. I’m intrigued by your thoughts on quick writing–that’s something I don’t seem to be able to do. I usually revise every line dozens of times before going on–and perhaps that prevents the surprising discoveries. But sometimes on the 50th search for a better word, something exciting pops up–so maybe we each have to discover what works for us.
    Rejection/pass is something I wouldn’t mind. The few attempts I’ve made at submitting recently have resulted in a resounding silence. One could interpret it as: your poems are so unworthy that it’s not worth my time to send a rejection. I prefer to think of it as lost in the shuffle.

    • lsteinglass
      lsteinglass says:

      I’m guessing there are lots of ways of getting to the surprises. But I wonder if they more often happen at attempt 40 or 50 than at 5 or 10. Yes, it’s really an awful when you send things out and get nothing back. Thinking of it as lost in the shuffle sounds much better than rejection.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *