Writing a poem for the first time can be intimidating, but there are many possible ways to get started. In this post I’ll talk about just one of them, which is a list poem.
Defining a Poem
The first step when introducing poetry to clients is to define poetry. Show what a poem looks like on a page. Explain that a poem is usually short, and that each line has a fixed length. It uses carefully-chosen language to express a feeling, and sometimes uses rhythm, rhyme, or repetition.
Writing a List Poem
A list poem is a poem in which each line begins the same way. List poems are wonderful for beginning writers especially, because the start of each line is provided, creating a comfortable way in (at least I have this part that I can write, and know I’m spelling it correctly). A list poem can be simple and powerful. One client, who struggles with depression, wrote a poem in which each line begins, “I love” followed by one thing that makes her feel happy.
5 Tips for Writing a Successful List Poem:
Read poems together as a group, to get clients familiar with the sounds and rhythms of it. After reading a poem, ask if there is any line that clients like or find interesting. Ask why they like it, what makes it stand out. Keep your ear open for things clients say—does something sound like a list poem? “Every morning I…” “I want to read…” “If I had a million dollars I’d…” “I love the way…” The possibilities are endless.
When clients are ready to begin writing, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Be specific
Help clients bring their poems to life by including specific details. In other words, show, don’t tell. “I wake up early,” becomes, “I wake up at 3:00 am every morning to go to work.” Instead of “I cook Chinese food” help the client write, “I cook catfish with spicy sauce.”
2. Five senses
Can you see this poem? Can you hear it? Smell it? Feel it? Taste it? Is this poem bringing a world to life? If not, think about describing with the five senses.
Pay attention to the order of the list. Does it have a beginning? A middle? An end? Does it need an additional line to bring it to a close?
4. Word Choice
Think about word choice. Could another word be more effective? Sometimes beginning writers want to use the word “beautiful,” but write “nice” instead because it is easier to spell. Help the writer actualize the poem in her mind.
Don’t be afraid to edit. ‘Make it Messy’ is a good mantra for first drafts. They should have crossed out parts and additions. Are any items in the list extraneous? Are there unnecessary repetitions? Help students build the confidence to edit themselves.
Por Pablo Neruda
I stumbled on Pablo
sitting-writing-scratching like a chicken in the dirt
every once in a while a tear would fall
making mud on the floor
sticking to our shoes-making tracks everywhere we went
I asked Pablo for some paper…”and perhaps a pen….?”
He looked up …” No habla ingles “…. he sighed. “Habla en español”
I looked up
and saw my tongue-trying to speak the language of his childhood