Celebrating National Poetry Month

By IYWP Intern Kelsey Foster

As an avid poetry reader and writer, April is one of my favorite times of the year. Aside from the beautiful weather and blooming flowers, it’s also National Poetry Month! This year I celebrated by challenging myself to write a poem everyday. It was definitely difficult but very rewarding to be left with 30 new poems, even though a good amount of them weren’t very good. As April draws to a close, I want to encourage our young writers to keep up the spirit of National Poetry Month, regardless of what month it actually is. There are so many ways to celebrate, such as reading a new poem everyday, writing new forms of poetry, or a mix of both! There’s no wrong way to celebrate as long as your creativity is being stimulated. To jumpstart that creativity and give inspiration, I’ve provided several fun poetry exercises and challenges to try out. 

Make Metaphors or Similes

If you’re feeling stuck and can’t write a complete poem on the spot, try writing several comparisons about things around you. It can be anything: comparing the grass to the ocean, a mail truck to a bumblebee. It doesn’t have to make sense either. It can be anything you find interesting or even just a random thought you’d never share with anything. The great thing about this exercise is that oftentimes a poem can be sparked from one of your comparisons, but even if nothing comes from your list of comparisons at the time, you can always return to it and see if you find inspiration later on.

Sign Up for Poem-a-Day

            One of my favorite resources for poetry is poets.org which provides thousands of free poems, backgrounds of famous poets, and many other features. One of these is their free subscription for a poem a day. By signing up, you get to read a new poem everyday by new, previously unpublished poets. It’s a great resource to expand your understanding of poetry and to introduce you to new poets. 

Blackout Poetry

            This is one of my favorite poetry exercises because your end result is always a surprise. For this exercise, start with a block of text. It can be from your favorite book, a magazine, a pamphlet—anything. Then grab a marker and underline your favorite words or phrases in the text. After this, blackout all the other words and voila! You have your blackout poem. 

Create an Anthology

            For this exercise you can either use your own original work, your favorite poems, or a mix of both. With all your poems in hand, combine them into a series in whatever order you see fit. Not only will you have a collection of your favorite poems, you might find that whatever order you put them in gives them a whole new meaning. 

Sensory Images and Observations

            With summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time for this one. Go outside with a notebook and jot down your observations about your surroundings. Pay attention to all 5 senses—sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. A lot of times we ignore the beauty and inspiration found in our surroundings, especially if we’ve grown accustomed to them. This exercise helps you open your eyes to details you might’ve missed before and provides imagery for you to use in your poems. 

Soundplay Lists

            One of the reasons why I love poetry so much is its use of sound to create a blend between prose and lyrics. Reading or writing a poem that flows off the tongue effortlessly is so satisfying, but this can be pretty difficult. One use of soundplay in poetry is alliteration, which is when the same sound or letter is used within a group of words. In this exercise, try making a list of alliterative words, even if it doesn’t make perfect sense. Experiment with which sounds you use and how that influences meaning. Another use of soundplay in poetry is onomatopoeia. This long word might sound made up but it’s simply the use of words that mimic the actual sounds we hear. For example, the word bark mimics the sound a dog makes. Using this literary device creates a multi-sensory experience and helps the reader visualize things without explicitly stating the image. For this exercise, think of a sound or a feeling (loud, soft, sharp, textured, etc.) and come up with a list of words that mimic it.  Save this list for the next time you write a poem and use your words to enhance your meaning and soundplay. 

Exquisite Corpse Poetry

            This collaborative poetry exercise isn’t as gruesome as its name might suggest. Gather a group of friends and write a line on a sheet of paper. Fold it to hide what you wrote and pass it to the next person, who does the same thing. The fun thing about this game is that you have no idea what everyone else wrote, so the final result is oftentimes surprising and absurd. However, you might find yourself with a beautiful poem because this exercise allows you to be free of logical constraints.

Revisit Old Poetry

         Have you ever read one of your old poems only to find new inspiration? I love looking back on my old poetry because it shows me how much I’ve improved, the ideas I used to find interesting, and the change in my perspective over the years. Even if you don’t revise an old poem or write a new one inspired by it, it can still be really rewarding to read some of your old work. 

            Even though April is drawing to a close, I encourage you all to continue celebrating poetry throughout the year. Inspiration and creativity are so important, and they certainly do not stop just with the end of this month. 

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