Tag Archives: how to write a poem

Hey, You, Where Did You Get That Poem?

You can find a lot of good books about writing poetry.  They usually are divided into chapters such as metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, and image.  

But Kenneth Koch approached the subject a little differently.  He theorized that to teach poetry writing to children, you had only to teach them to tap into their imaginations and to give them quality poems to read.

For his simpler book Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, he created practical writing prompts for kids.   Chapters include Class Collaborations, Wishes, Comparisons, Noises, Dreams, and Poems Written While Listening to Music.  It’s exciting just to read the titles.  I want to sit in his class and start writing.

So that’s what I do, sort of—I use his ideas for poems.  After all, aren’t these great prompts for adult poets, as well?

Still, Koch knew that kids—and adults—couldn’t just stop there.  To prime our mental pumps, we have to read quality poetry.  The more we read, while keeping the gates to our imagination wide open, the more we can grow as poets.  Of course, in the circle of reading and writing, by writing our own poetry, we enrich our reading experience of the poetic greats.

In Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, Koch structures this interconnection of reading and writing around ten poems by masters such as Blake, Donne, Whitman, Steven, Ashbery, and Rimbaud.  I’m sorry to say that he did only use poems by male poets.  I’m not going to make any excuses about that tremendous oversight.  Ahem, let’s continue.

Koch introduced the children to Blake’s poem “The Tyger.”

He didn’t want them to stumble over Blake’s “language and syntax,” so he tried to connect the poem to the experiences of the kids, asking questions, such as had they seen a dog’s eyes glowing in the dark.

Here is the prompt he eventually gave them, and it’s one you can use too:

Write a poem in which you are talking to a beautiful and mysterious creature and you can ask it anything you want—anything.  You have the power to do this because you can speak its secret language.


Filed under Poetry, Writing prompt