Before I started studying the Open University‘s A215 Creative Writing course I had never tried to write poetry, even though I’ve written several short stories and novellas. For TMA3 of A215 I had to write 40 lines of poetry.

How I write poetry

With one exception, which was my first attempt, all of my poems start as a freewrite on the subject, title or prompt. Normally I discard the first paragraph of the freewrite because it is overly literal, I use words and phrases from the remainder to form the basis of the first draft of a poem. Unlike my prose, where I typically draft in scrivener, the poetry starts on paper or a basic text editor. Subsequent drafts use the track changes feaure in a word processor. This allows me to see how each poem develops. Each draft is its own file, which started with the ‘final’ text of the previous draft with the changes tracked on top.

Poetry is a Spoken Form

From the second draft onward I record myself reading it on a video camera. This lets me watch it back a couple of times to hear the flow, and to check whether or not the enjambment and the general rhythm and sound works. Sometimes the first time round I’ve found that I can’t breathe where the line ends, so it needs played with a bit. In most cases I make amendments iteratively, within the current draft, until I am content with the sound of the poem.

Here’s an example from one of the poems I didn’t submit for the assignment (but still works as a poem, it was just a little short of the required line count when paired up with either of the two that I did submit).

Poetry is a Process

When teaching me how to write poetry the Open University impresed on me that poetry is a process, and it needs time to work properly. My tutor was a published poet.

After the first draft I’ve left all my poems for at least a week and worked on other things instead. This gives it time to settle and for me to be able to look at it with fresh eyes. For subsequent drafts I leave a gap of at least a day between drafts.

Only once I am mostly fine with the flow do I share the poem with other people, so far just my wife and my fellow students. Any feedback I get then goes into the next draft which also goes through the video process. 


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