Tips for Writing Free Verse Poetry

I’ve been in a poetic frame of mind lately–partly due to my poem, “Reaching for the Stars” in this month’s HIGHLIGHTS magazine, but also because I’ve been working on a classroom project to help some 5th graders explore poetry.

“Reaching for the Stars” is written in Free Verse Poetry. This is one of the easiest types of poetry to write. Why?
  • It sounds more like regular speech.
  • There is no set length to lines.
  • There is no rhyme or meter or counting of syllables.
  • It lends itself to any subject matter–serious or silly.

Tips for Writing Free Verse Poetry:

  • Remember to use rich words (juicy nouns, powerful verbs, original phrases)
  • Create unique similes and metaphors that make an instant connection with your readers
  • Appeal to all five senses
  • Orchestrate a lyrical flow to your poem with your word choices and placement
  • Speed it up or slow it down with the length of your lines and of your words
  • Use line breaks to punctuate your poem
  • Evoke a mood with your poem
  • Stop when you’re stuck. Take a walk, shoot some hoops, let your mind float free and that’s when you’ll discover just the word or the idea you needed.                                                 

One of my favorite poetry how-to books is from Scholastic publishers. It’s called HOW TO WRITE POETRY by Paul B. Janeczko. You can find this book at your independent bookstore or library. 

I hope these tips for writing Free Verse Poetry make you want to grab your pen and give it a try. 

HIGHLIGHTS and Halloween

One more note about my HIGHLIGHTS poem, “Reaching for the Stars”–

You can see and hear the poem online at HIGHLIGHTS Kids magazine. I hope you have a chance to explore all the other fun stuff they have there as well.
Now for a Halloween treat. Be sure to visit KidLit Central News blog on Halloween for a chance to win some spook-tacular prices.

Poetry Highlights from Nikki Grimes

On Friday, June 13, at Harding University I had the great privilege to listen to readings and teachings of poet and author, Nikki Grimes.
Ms. Grimes stated that as our world grows more complicated nothing can prepare a child for it like poetry.
She said poetry can be a message or a massage, depending on the words used in the poem. She takes a natural, organic approach to poetry and has been a lifelong student of it. Ms. Grimes said, “I’m a poet down to my soul.” She explained that a poem tells a story or paints a picture with as few words as possible. She directed us to tune into our senses and draw on the environment—to play with the words.
She told us to begin with a simple description of a subject and then play around with a couple of the phrases we had written. We were to use word tools, like a dictionary and thesaurus. And she cautioned us about using rhyme—it should only be included when used well and with intention. But she does like internal rhyme and uses it often.
She shared with us the galley of her picture book biography of Barack Obama, which is to be released in September of this year. Her poetic voice shaped the story of the senator’s life from childhood to his current Presidential election campaign.
Ms. Grimes read excerpts from her latest novel in verse, THE DARK SONS. The story parallels the lives of two boys, one modern (Sam) and one ancient (biblical Ishmael) She also read selections from two of her narrative poetry picture books, WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING, and MEET DANITRA BROWN. Ms. Grimes explained that every poem in a narrative poetry book must be a complete poem in itself, but it must also add to the development of the story. And a novel in verse is more complicated than narrative poetry because it must have a more detailed plot, setting and time period.
Ms. Grimes wove the words of her poems with the skill of a master. She truly was an inspiration–a revelation, a celebration, pure jubilation! (And I hope she will forgive me for using these rhyming words to describe it all.)