writing prompts: poetry


  1. WRITE A POEM a day during a journey abroad. “When everything is a possible poem, the world is suddenly more interesting.”
  2. Write a villanelle about a place: See The Society of Classical Poets: “How to Write a Villanelle (With Examples)”.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: schoolchildren at abbey ruins.
  3. Use anaphora: (Repeat phrases) I know… I know… This is a story about….This is a story about…. Now that I’m free, I will….Because my time here is short… If I were rich (or kind, sincere, happy, loving, open-minded, and inhabitant of a different place…), I dream of….
  4. Write an acrostic about a place. “The basic acrostic is a poem in which the first letters of the lines, read downwards, form a word, phrase, or sentence. Some acrostics have the vertical word at the end of the line, or in the middle.  The double acrostic has two such vertical arrangements (either first and middle letters or first and last letters), while a triple acrostic has all three (first letters, middle, and last)” (from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms).  Some examples of acrostics can be found in Seasonal Sonnets (Acrostic) by Mark A. Doherty.
    1. Examples from my blog:
      1. poetic journeys: U T A H
      2. poetic journeys: A R I Z O N A
      3. poetic journeys: NEW MEXICO
      4. poetic journeys: C O L O R A D O
  5. Write an apostrophe poem: a literary device used to address a third party. This third party may be an individual, either present or absent. It can also be an inanimate object – like a dagger, an apple, a hummingbird – or an abstract concept, such as death or the sun.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: o, teddy!
  6. Write an ekphrastic poem, focusing on a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art — a postcard, painting, photograph, or sculpture.  Explore how you can interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to your subject.
  7. Write a haiku: A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of seventeen syllables in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time. Another rule one should follow in haiku besides the syllable count, the number of lines, and the opposing two images, is that lines one and two should read as a complete sentence and lines two and three should read as a complete sentence.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: camino haikus
  8. Write a Five Senses “Haiku.”  The title should be a real physical place you will describe.  Write a poem in five stanzas of three lines each.  Each stanza should be dedicated to one of the five senses (sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell).  The total syllable count of each stanza should not be more than 17 syllables.  You can choose to arrange the syllables within the stanza in any order you like (3/5/3, 5/3/5, 2/4/6, etc.).
    1. My example: poetic journeys: bookstore café
  9. Write a poem about the things you carry on a pilgrimage, in a backpack or in your suitcase.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: what i carried
  10. Write a two-line poem each day and when you return home, see if any of the lines fit together to reveal a poem. Observe how the lines relate to each other.
  11. Write a poem mixing Spanish and English words (p. 158 Poetry Everywhere).
    1. My example: poetic journeys: refugio
  12. Write several poems that use personification in a straightforward yet unexpected way: “I walked abroad, / And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge / Like a red-faced farmer.” In an interview with Anselm Berrigan at Literary Hub, John Yau, winner of the 2018 Jackson Poetry Prize, talks about puzzling over the personification in these lines from T. E. Hulme’s 1909 poem “Autumn.” In what way does personification affect imagery in poetry? How does this kind of description enhance not only the perception of the object being personified, but also the idea of personhood and the narrator’s idiosyncratic perspective? (poetry prompt from Poets & Writers: Week 31 – August 3, 2018)
    1. My example: poetic journeys: awakening
  13. Grab any book off your bookshelf and use the last line in the book as inspiration for the first word in your poem.
  14. Write a poem using assonance and alliteration.
    1. Assonance: Assonance takes place when two or more words, close to one another, repeat the same vowel sound, but start with different consonant sounds.
    2. Alliteration: Alliteration is a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the same first consonant sound, occur close together in a series. Remember that it is a repetition of sounds, not letters.
      1. My example: poetic journeys: psychic at the beach
  15. Write an abstract poem.  An abstract poem is meant to be an experiment with sound; the meaning of the words is secondary.  There are several ways to write abstract poems, according to the The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms:
    1. One is to say a word aloud over and over until it loses its meaning.  Your mind quickly focuses on the sound.  Then you write as quickly as possible whatever words come to you because of their sounds.
    2. Take a poem by you or someone else and change most of the words.  Count the number of nouns in the poem, the number of adjectives and the number of verbs.  Make a list of an equal number of new nouns, adjectives, and verbs – all of which you choose because you like their sound rather than their meaning. Then use your lists to replace the corresponding words in the poem.
    3. Take a poem and remove enough of its words so that the remaining words make no sense but sound good together.
      1. My example: poetic journeys: great sand dunes
  16. Write a poem about something that seems or may always be unreachable.
  17. Write a found poem: “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.” (poets.org)
    1. My example: poetic journeys: lives moving as fast as possible
  18. Write one type of Found Poem known as Erasure.  Here you choose a source and erase away most of the “text” and leave words and/or phrases and/or sentences so that what’s left says something very different from what the original writing said and is art.  The end result should be something different from what the original text said.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: let it all, all, all
    2. My example: poetic journeys: home
  19. Write a found poem using first lines from a poetry collection: Instructions from poet Mary Bast: “Copy the first line of each poem in a published collection by a single poet and craft a poem — you must keep the wording of the original lines intact, but may alter elements like line breaks, punctuation and capitalization, creating a piece from YOUR voice.” (See “The Days Have Done with You” by Mary Bast)
  20. Experiment with run-on free verse.  The rhythmic character in run-on free verse derives from strong run-on lines broken between the adjectives and nouns. The breaks are meant to force a slightly abnormal pause. This extra hesitation rhythmically evokes a tentative, uncertain feeling.  The choice of where to break the lines is arbitrary.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: evensong
  21. Write a poem that evokes a “vivid dream-like landscape.”  You can try to recreate the strangeness of a dream or nightmare, or you can create a surreal landscape with images that make “intuitive” sense rather than logical or literal sense.
    1. Impose some order (but not logical meaning) on this landscape by using a specific syllable count pattern to arrange your poem.  For example, you could use the standard Haiku arrangement of 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables per stanza. OR, you could create your own pattern.  You might write in ten couplets (two line stanzas) with 10 syllable per line, for example, or in tercets (3 line stanzas) with lines 3/6/9 syllables long.
    2. While couplets traditionally rhyme, not all do. Poems may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme.
    3. Use assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme to make the sound of the poem evoke a certain mood to match the landscape.
      1. My example: poetic journeys: yearnings
  22. Write a list. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is; what’s important is the associations between the words. Listing adjectives that relate to the concept of ‘yellow,’ ‘dance,’ ‘eggplant,’ or ‘bakery,’ for example, can lead to bizarre or surprising word combinations. Listing phrases or clauses can reveal interesting thematic bonds. They may even become the basis of a poem.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: óbidos stroll
  23. Write down some words or a phrase that inspires you. Freewrite using that word or phrase in relation to your journey and see what comes up.
  24. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day or week of your travel.
  25. Write a poem about an experience when nothing went according to plan.
  26. Write a poem about getting from here to there, on foot, by car, bus or airplane, by tuk-tuk or horse or elephant.
  27. Write a poem about uncertainty during your travels.
  28. Grab the closest book.  Go to page 78.  Write down 10 words that catch your eye.  Use 7 of those words in a poem. If you can, have four of them appear at the end of a line.
  29. Write a poem inspired by textures: textiles, tree bark, stones, flowers, leaves.
  30. Turn the radio or TV on to any channel and write a poem inspired by the first thing you hear (lyrics to a song, a commercial, a news story).
  31. Look on the front page of a local newspaper when you are traveling and write a poem about one of the headlines.
  32. Use participles: Getting off the phone… Running down the road … Climbing out of the car… Balancing on the edge of the pool…Yelling at her kids to come in for dinner…Toasting bread in the morning…
  33. Write a poem to your favorite letter of the alphabet, your favorite dessert, your favorite article of clothing, your favorite place, your favorite fruit or vegetable, your favorite color.
  34. Write a poem about being on the outside looking in.
  35. Write a poem about something you don’t want to do, and what you’d rather be doing instead.
  36. Write a poem about streets, highways and bridges you encounter on your travels.
  37. Write a poem that explores your vision of a place before visiting and your actual experience of a place.
  38. Write a poem that is less than 25 words long.
  39. Pick 6 words describing something you encounter in your travels and write a poem weaving these together.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: portugal redux
  40. Write about anticipation: feelings you experience or things you notice while waiting for something.
  41. Write a poem about a place that has great meaning for you, using as many specific images and memories as you can. One example is to write about returning to your hometown.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: yorktown
  42. Take a word or phrase from a sign you see while traveling and use it as the first line in a poem.
  43. Write a poem based on a favorite travel memory that brings to mind a rich mixture of emotions and a connection with modern-day issues, perhaps touching on ideas of alienation and belonging.
  44. Take an intangible: hate, joy, loyalty, sorrow, imagination, frustration, beauty, success, failure. Make two simple opposing statements using the word you choose: “Success is sweet. It is as bitter as unripe apples.” Give the word an ability to perceive. Personify the word further. Freewrite about this.
  45. Use prompts: “The last time I heard ______, I was ________.
  46. Write a poem about “maps to where she’s been.”
  47. Create a poem inspired by a poetry collection or a specific poet.
    1. My example: poetic journeys: a contagion of fireflies
    2. My example: poetic journeys: the flamenco i never danced
  48. In the manner of Pablo Neruda, write three Odes about various things I encounter in my travels (See Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon by Pablo Neruda).
  49. Write a List Poem using sounds. “I hear….” Add an ending that gives a twist or gives meaning, but make it reveal something the reader doesn’t already know (Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, p. 59).
  50. Write a pantoum about some aspect of the journey. In a pantoum, 8 new lines make a 16-line poem. Create 4 lines of stanza 1. The two even-numbered lines of stanza 1 (lines 2 & 4) become the odd-numbered lines in stanza 2 (5 & 7). Then the new lines of stanza 2 (6 & 8) become the odd-numbered lines of stanza 3 (9 & 11). Stanza 4 comes entirely from earlier stanzas. You can decide what order you will use (Getting the Knack 72-84).
  51. Write a poem that explores your vision of a place before visiting and your actual experience of a place.
  52. Write a “thirteen ways of looking” poem, where you focus on a single subject and reexamine it in a series of imaginative leaps (Poetry Everywhere, p. 173).
    1. poetic journeys: eight ways of looking at italy
  53. Write a “recipe poem” using language used in cookbooks, but make it about a non-food topic. Brainstorm a list of words found in recipes, especially verbs. Besides verbs, use categories such as ingredients, action, tools, containers, temperature, accompanying music, setting or décor. (Poetry Everywhere, p. 147-148).
  54. Write a Quadrille: BEFORE writing a poem, pick one word that must be included in the poem. Limit the poem to 44 words exactly, including the given word.
  55. Do a cluster diagram about a day of travel in a town. From the cluster, write a poem starting with “This is I who…” using particular details of the culture and its food, natural settings and customs. Use the power of repetition to come up with a new perception. (Writing Personal Poetry, p. 119).
    1. My example: poetic journeys: aït-ben-haddou
  56. Write a letter poem. The poem can be to a town, the sky, a camel, the desert, a famous person, a part of one’s body, to myself, to an idea. Make up a name for myself to sign with. I can write inquiries, or about little things that happen, or things I’ve seen, or made up things (Poetry Everywhere 86). Express affection, fear, curiosity or hope, outrage or gratitude, pride or shame. (Getting the Knack, “Letter Poems,” p. 24-36).
    1. My example: poetic journeys: letter to the moroccan sahara
  57. Write a Cento, or Patchwork poem, using either a poem by a Moroccan poet or a book I read to prepare for my Morocco trip. Unite lines from that authors’ work (usually poems). The new poem must find a new meaning that is not similar to the original poem. The Cento can also come from a passage of prose, where you keep the lines in the same order or rearrange them; it’s important to make your own rules and then not break them. Centos can be rhymed or unrhymed, short or long.
    1. The poem should be casually cited, but not in a traditional way. Example: “Found poem from Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sestina’.”
      1. poetic journeys: the far off world
  58. Write a Headline poem, taken from headlines of the city papers of the places you visit.
    1. To write a Headline Poem, cut out 50+ words and phrases from a city newspaper. The words should most often be individual words cut from larger headlines.
    2. Spread the words on a large table or the floor and move them around; play with them.
    3. Read aloud the word combinations you make.
    4. Glue them to a piece of paper when you decide what form your poem should take. Give it a title.
    5. At the bottom of the poem, put where the words came from and the date. (from Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises)
      1. My example: poetic journeys: lives moving as fast as possible
      2. poetic journeys: a dose of mercy
  59. Throughout the day, jot down bits and pieces of conversation you’ve either partaken in or overheard, song lyrics you have in your head, and any phrases or words that strike you.  Use these bits of language to compose a poem that will become your travel song, a way of detailing the encounters you’ve had throughout a day of travel.  Capture where you have been and what you have heard. (Poets & Writers Magazine)
  60. Write an Imitation poem. Copy a poem you like.  Now using the structure, insert different words. When you have a draft you like, credit the poet whose structure you borrowed.  (See “Imitation 1 & 2” on p. 85-94 from Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises. (Also “Imitation 3” on pp. 166-170 and “Imitation 4” on pp. 195-198)
  61. Do the “Memory Map 1” exercise in Getting the Knack (p. 95-106), using the room you slept in as a child or your childhood home.  Draw the room/house and answer a series of questions to get your memory flowing.
  62. Do the “Memory Map 2” exercise in Getting the Knack (p. 140-156), using a neighborhood you once lived in.  Draw the neighborhood and answer a series of questions to get your memory flowing.
  63. Write a cinquain.  The sequence has five lines altogether: lines of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables.  Use a rhythmic pattern such as iambic pentameter: ta-TAH, ta-TAH.  Focus on a strong image from nature, making connections with other images, feelings and activities.  Move toward a surprise at the end. (Getting the Knack, p. 124-125).
  64. Write a number poem, basing the syllables of each line on a sequence of numbers important to you (a phone number, a Social Security number, a date).  Jot down images that connect with your number. (Getting the Knack, p. 125-126).
  65. Write a Confession poem where you expose some of your own character flaws that come out during your travels. (Getting the Knack, p. 171-182).
  66. Write a Monologue poem where you take on a character and speak in a monologue, using “I.”  Listeners can be present, as well as other characters.  It should be set in a particular place. Show something happening in the poem. (Getting the Knack, p. 183-194).
  67. Write a poem in a conversational manner that describes how you are affected by certain types of weather. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you look out the window?
  68. Write a zuihitsu, a form of prose poetry that is much like a journal of sorts.  It can be fragmentary, spontaneous, and can use haiku-like imagery. For an example, see The Narrow Road to the Interior: Poems by Kimiko Hahn.

FORMATTING.  To format your poems you can see: How to Format Poems in WordPress.


There are hundreds of great writing books and resources with ideas galore.  A few I recommend are:

For Poetry:


  • Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, Ed. by Carolyn Forché
  • The Best American Poetry 2000, Guest Editor: Rita Dove
  • The Best American Poetry 2001, Guest Editor: Robert Hass
  • Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth Century American Art, Ed. by Jan Greenberg
  • Houseboat Days: Poems by John Ashbery
  • Margaret Atwood: Selected Poems 1965-1975
  • Toward the River by Mary Bast
  • Lifelines: Selected Poems by Philip Booth
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Selected Poems
  • The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives by Fleda Brown
  • Questions About Angels by Billy Collins
  • Hayden Carruth: Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991
  • Selected Poems: Robert Creeley
  • Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems
  • Leaving Yuba City by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • Velocities by Stephen Dobyns
  • Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem in Daylight: Two Volumes of Poetry by Mark Doty ****
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Poems by Rita Dove
  • Landscape at the End of the Century: poems by Stephen Dunn
  • The Nerve of It: poems new & selected by Lynn Emanuel
  • Erotic Poems
  • Louise Glück: The First Four Books of Poems
  • Wild Dreams of New Beginning by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Selected Poems of Robert Frost
  • Amplitude: New and Selected Poems by Tess Gallagher
  • The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni
  • Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings and the essay “How Poetry Saved My Life” by Natalie Goldberg
  • The Narrow Road to the Interior: Poems by Kimiko Hahn
  • Day for Night: Poems 1993-1999 by Griffin Hansbury
  • How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975-2001 by Joy Harjo
  • The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo
  • In Search of Small Gods by Jim Harrison
  • My Life by Lyn Hejinian
  • The October Palace: Poems by Jane Hirshfield
  • Donald Justice: New and Selected Poems
  • Between Two Rivers: Selected Poems 1956-1984 by Maurice Kenny
  • Smoke: Poems by Dorianne Laux
  • Rose: Poems by Li-Young Lee
  • The Politics of Snow: 100 New Poems by Barbara F. Lefcowitz
  • before it’s LIGHT: new poems by lyn LIFSHIN
  • Federico García Lorca: selected verse (a Bilingual Edition) Ed. by Christopher Maurer ***
  • Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 by Heather McHugh
  • curse this blue raincoat and other poems by Paul Robert Mullen
  • An Octave Above Thunder by Carol Muske
  • Science of Desire: Poems by Erin Murphy
  • Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Blood, Tin, Straw by Sharon Olds ***
  • House of Light by Mary Oliver ****
  • Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 by Linda Pastan
  • Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
  • The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
  • Inside Outside: Poems by Sue Silver ****
  • Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems
  • A Wedding in Hell by Charles Simic
  • Mark Strand: Selected Poems ***
  • Wistawa Szymborska: Poems New and Collected
  • The Horse Show at Midnight and An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards: poems by Henry Taylor
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
  • Escaping Words: Poems by Margaret Weaver
  • C.K. Williams: Selected Poems
  • Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright
  • William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems, Ed. by Charles Tomlinson
  • Wordsworth: Poems, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets