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)”.  See also my example: poetic journeys: fountains abbey.
  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.
  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.
  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 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.
  8. Write a poem about the things you carry on a pilgrimage, in a backpack or in your suitcase.
  9. 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.
  10. Write a poem mixing Spanish and English words (p. 158 Poetry Everywhere).
  11. 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)
  12. Grab any book off your bookshelf and use the last line in the book as inspiration for the first word in your poem.
  13. Write a poem using assonance and alliteration.
    • Assonance: Assonance takes place when two or more words, close to one another, repeat the same vowel sound, but start with different consonant sounds.
    • 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.
  14. 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:
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Take a poem and remove enough of its words so that the remaining words make no sense but sound good together.
  15. Write a poem about something that seems or may always be unreachable.
  16. 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)
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.).
  20. 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.
    • 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.
    • While couplets traditionally rhyme, not all do. Poems may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme.
    • Use assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme to make the sound of the poem evoke a certain mood to match the landscape.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day a week of your travel.
  24. Write a poem about an experience when nothing went according to plan.
  25. Write a poem about getting from here to there, on foot, by car, bus or airplane, by tuk-tuk or horse or elephant.
  26. Write a poem about uncertainty during your travels.
  27. 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.
  28. Write a poem inspired by textures: textiles, tree bark, stones, flowers, leaves.
  29. 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).
  30. Look on the front page of a local newspaper when you are traveling and write a poem about one of the headlines.
  31. 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…
  32. 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.
  33. Write a poem about being on the outside looking in.
  34. Write a poem about something you don’t want to do, and what you’d rather be doing instead.
  35. Write a poem about streets, highways and bridges you encounter on your travels.
  36. Write a poem that explores your vision of a place before visiting and your actual experience of a place.
  37. Write a poem that is less than 25 words long.
  38. Pick 6 words describing something you encounter in your travels and write a poem weaving these together.
  39. Write about anticipation: feelings you experience or things you notice while waiting for something.
  40. Take a word or phrase from a sign you see while traveling and use it as the first line in a poem.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. Use prompts: “The last time I heard ______, I was ________.
  44. Write a poem about “maps to where she’s been.”
  45. Create a poem inspired by a poetry collection.
  46. 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).
  47. 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).
  48. 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).
  49. Write a poem that explores your vision of a place before visiting and your actual experience of a place.
  50. 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).
  51. 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).
  52. 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.
  53. 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).
  54. 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).
  55. 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.
    • The poem should be casually cited, but not in a traditional way. Example: “Found poem from Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sestina’.”
  56. Write a Headline poem, taken from headlines of the city papers of the places you visit.
    • 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.
    • Spread the words on a large table or the floor and move them around; play with them.
    • Read aloud the word combinations you make.
    • Glue them to a piece of paper when you decide what form your poem should take. Give it a title.
    • At the bottom of the poem, put where the words came from and the date. (from Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises)

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:

  • poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge ****
  • The Poetry Reader’s Toolkit: A Guide to Reading and Understanding Poetry by Marc Polonsky ***
  • Writing Personal Poetry: Creating Poems from Your Life Experiences by Sheila Bender ****
  • The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, Ed. by Ron Padgett
  • Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises by Stephen Dunning and William Stafford
  • Poetry Everywhere by Jack Collom & Sheryl Noethe
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
  • Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making by John Fox
  • The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux
  • Talking Back to Poems: A Working Guide for the Aspiring Poet by Daniel Aiderson
  • The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja
  • The Practice of Poetry, Ed. Robin Behn and Chase Twichell
  • How to Write Poetry by Nancy Bogen
  • The Haiku Anthology, Ed. Cor Van Den Heuvel
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
  • Fruitflesh: seeds of inspiration for women who write by Gayle Brandeis
  • writing poetry from the inside out by Sandford Lyne
  • Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
  • The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser
  • The Poetry Foundation
  • Poets & Writers
  • Poets.org
  • List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets