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!

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!