20 Easy Poetry Writing Prompts and Exercises

a journal, pen, and coffee

Although I mostly write fiction now, I started out writing poems. My MFA is even in poetry. I’ve taught beginning poetry workshops at university and also in some fairly unusual settings.

I know a lot of people can use ideas for poems, poetry writing prompts, and inspiration. Even if you write poetry all the time, one of these idea starters might spark your muse or take your writing in a fresh direction. And if you’re a teacher—whether you teach creative writing, English, or grade school—you might be able to adapt one of these for your class!

My favorite thing about poetry is that there aren’t any real rules about how to write a poem. When you find your creative inspiration—whether it’s love, life, or something else—you can just let the words flow. (You can always shape it up later.)

Here are some idea starters, prompts, and exercises that have worked for me before as a poet. You might want to pin or bookmark them for future reference!

 

20 Easy Poetry Writing Prompts and Exercises #ideas for poems #how to write a poem #classroom #creative writing #idea starters

 

1. Pick a song on your iPod, phone, or a playlist at random and let it influence you as you quickly write a first draft of a poem.

2. Go to a café, library, or fast food restaurant. Sit where you can see the door. Write a poem about the next person who walks in.

3. You can also do this in a public place where there are a lot of people talking: write a poem based on an overheard conversation.

4. Write a poem about a wild animal. Mary Oliver, who passed away recently and who was such a great talent and inspiration, has written many poems like this, including “The Hermit Crab,” “The Shark,” and “Wild Geese.”

5. Write a poem inspired by a piece of art. (By the way, the word for a poem or literary work inspired by visual art is ekphrasis. Pretty cool, right?)

6. Write a poem with a refrain: a line or a few lines that repeat, like the chorus of a song.

 

 

 

 

7. This isn’t the easiest poetry-writing exercise…but I’ve gotten some good poems this way!

Set your alarm for two hours earlier than you usually wake up. Put a notebook and pen next to your bed. When you wake up, free-write for about fifteen minutes. (“Free-writing” means “writing down whatever pops into your head, without thinking too hard about it.”) If you woke up in the middle of a dream, use the dream as inspiration; otherwise, just write whatever comes into your head. Go back to sleep. Later, turn your free-writing into a poem.

8. Write a poem that’s an open letter to a whole group of people.

9. Write a poem that’s a set of directions or instructions.

10. Write a poem about a food. The poet Kevin Young has many examples to inspire you, including “Ode to Gumbo”:

 

 

11. Write a poem in which every line begins with the same word. You can change that in revision…or maybe you won’t want to.

12. For this one, you’ll need to either write in a notebook or journal, or on your phone. Go to a store that would be a weird place to write a poem—like a convenience store, a department store, or a drugstore—and write a quick poem.

13. Write a poem that focuses on one color. Federico García Lorca’s poem “Somnambulist Ballad,” translated from the Spanish, or Diane Wakoski’s poem “Blue Monday” might inspire you.

14. Pretend you’re a fictional character from a book, movie, or TV show. Write a poem in their voice.

15. Write an acrostic poem. The first letter of each line spells out a word vertically down the left-hand side of the page. Even for serious poets who would never try to publish an acrostic poem, this is a great exercise to get creative juices flowing.

16. lose your eyes, flip through a book, and put your finger on a page. Whatever word you’re pointing at, use it as a poem title and write that poem.

17. Write a poem late at night, by hand, by candlelight.

 

 

18. Fill a page with free-writing using your non-dominant hand. This can help you tap into less rational, more creative thought patterns.

19. Write a poem with very long lines. Walt Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass might inspire you.

20. Write a poem saying goodbye to someone or something. It could be a happy poem, a sad poem, or both.

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this list of creative writing exercises and poetry prompts!

Would you like some more ideas? My book 5,000 Writing Prompts has 80 more poetry-writing exercises in addition to the ones on this list, plus hundreds of master plots by fiction genre, dialogue and character prompts, and much more.

 

Do you have a method or exercise that inspires you? Let us know in the comments! I’ve said it before, but I learn so much from the comment section, and I always appreciate it. Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

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11 thoughts on “20 Easy Poetry Writing Prompts and Exercises”

  1. I took a class I thought was on creative writing but the instructor turned out to be a poet. She had us write a short story about a snow storm. She gave us specific things that had to be in it, like a snow shovel and various other objects.
    Over the next few meeting we condensed the story down until we had the basis for a poem. At the end of the semester, after we had moved on to other things, she asked me if she could submit my poem in a contest for submission in the school’s literary publication. I did not win butI I was thrilled to be nominated. I did however, have a haiku poem in that publication.
    At the time, I was disappointed the class was slanted more to poetry than creative writing, but what I learned there helped me win some poetry contests along my journey.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wealth of information! I have many methods of exercise when it comes to writing. Being creative in other ventures helps my writing and helps me move past “blocks.” I will write poetry or listen to music, but I find the most helpful is being outside, in my garden or simply playing fetch with my dog and looking around at nature to inspire me.

  3. What a wonderful list. While I don’t (can’t?) write poetry, I do enjoy reading it. I had to laugh at #18. When I write with my non-dominant (left) hand I tend to write backward. Others need a mirror to read it, but I don’t. I will be back to try out a couple of your prompts. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Jo! I think anyone can write poetry, but that doesn’t mean everyone enjoys it, of course! That’s funny about writing backwards with your left hand—I don’t think I could do that if I tried. Thanks for reading, and commenting!

  4. Thanks, for sharing this, and I took a creative writinh class in college and even found a website that has all sorts of poetry styles, and forms with examples of each one and definitions as well. It definitely helped me with my poetry, and I also read two books on wriing poetry as well.

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