Break the Law: Poetry Writing

Our September Writers’ Studio focused on some fundamental elements of poetry writing, while looking at a smorgasbord of poems including:


“Someday I’ll Love” by Ocean Vuong

“A New National Anthem” by Ada Limon

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Myth” by Natasha Trethewey


Here’s a distillation of the class, which it just so happens, also breaks laws of paragraphs and turns them into lines and stanzas, written by workshop leader, Sara Kaplan.




As we read the poems in the packet and I passed around the collections of books I brought with me, I piled on techniques. Lots of craft. Line breaks break in all kinds of ways. Not one way, but this way and that way. You can turn syntax around and flip the sentence around, so it sounds better this way or that way. If you do not put punctuation at the end of the line this happens or that happens. If you use an & instead of “and” this happens instead of that. You can. If you want to. Why not. What do you think will happen? There are no word police.

Break a rule. Know the rules first—by reading.

Read:

That’s why I brought lots of books of poems with me. Books of contemporary poems. Read what new poets are doing so you’re writing within your time period.

Break a word-law.

Try. To take a risk and…lie about whatever you’re writing about in your poem. Whatever happened, lie about it for the betterment of the poem. Don’t really tell everything. For the poem, lie to make it better. What’s the goal for the poem? You’re not telling us the truth in the poem. Now, you’re writing the poem, you’re not telling us every little detail. Focus.

It’s heart-pounding. Chilling. … Zippity-doodah.

If something doesn’t work, put it back. But if you don’t try, nothing improves. I guarantee you get better if you do something.

Do something.

Use words. Use them well—try them in new ways.

Nobody owns words—


Where do you find poems? When you’re stuck, where do you go?


Poems are not made from ideas. Poems start from the sounds we hear (words) and other poems and they start from the world around you.


1. You find your poems in the everyday images that exist right in front of you: write down exactly what is in front of you. Then, lie about it.


2. Write down words from poems and lines from poems. Notice those same poems took from other poems. Use a first line or a middle line or a penultimate line. Use a word. Keep word lists.


3. Break lines on strong verbs. Break lines in the middle

to complicate metaphors by dis-

connecting or implying their connections.


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