Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry

(This was part of a book I was writing and I enclose the few chapters I have finished. I will post part of it every few days

No publisher took it on. Though a few were interested. So, I will share my knowledge.)


Chapter 1 Important words

Chapter 2 Don’t feel guilty (that you write poems)

Chapter 3 Haiku

Chapter 4 Telling a story from different viewpoints (I do this a lot)

Chapter 5 Concrete Poetry

Chapter 6 Performance Poetry

Chapter 7 Some poets and poetry styles. My ten favourite poems.

Chapter 8 Metre

Chapter 9 Metaphor

Chapter 10 “Found” text

Chapter 11 Multi-voice Poetry

Chapter 12 Different Techniques

Chapter 13 Some new Techniques I have developed.

Chapter 14 Improving your Poetry

Chapter 15 Analysing a Poem.



This book is aimed at both adults and young people who want to know more about how to improve the quality of the poems they write. I am a performance poet who has created a few new forms of poetry myself. I will also deal with some of the many different types of poetry that are featured in many standard poetry books, things like concrete poetry. Being a simple lad myself, I shall keep this account as simple as possible. Hopefully by the end of the book you will be trying out some of these new poetical forms yourself. This book is meant to be practical.

I believe that poems can sometimes be amongst the most beautiful things created by human kind. I am a “fan” of poetry and of poets.



Chapter 1. Important Words


It is probably worth asking ourselves, “What is Poetry?” at the start of this journey together. A hundred different poets will give you a hundred different answers. My own definition is that, “Poetry is text that shows reality in new and useful ways.” So for me the main point of a poem is that it usefully says something about the meaning of life; or nature, or relationships between people. I see poetry as something which in the main deals with the deep and difficult questions that philosophy and religion deal with. Usefully, poetry can sometimes show reality in ways that people find much easier to understand than they would if they read it in a Philosophical treatise. Words in poetry are important and do their “job” in a way that is hopefully interesting and that may stay with us, the reader (or listener), for a long time. However, some of my poems consist mainly of nice rhythms and interesting sounds. Indeed, certain important words and phrases (like parts of certain human rights documents)-merely because of their importance-I see as almost poetry.

Nowadays it is seen as the norm to belittle poetry and poets. Many people say they don’t like poetry. Yet the same people love song lyrics-which may on their own be poetry. Because you don’t like two poems that you got drummed into you at School doesn’t mean that you will dislike all poetry.

There are poems which are ideal for those who like to hear a good story. Other poems deal with human rights. Some poems set puzzles which the reader has to work at over numerous readings. There is a poet and a poem for everyone.

For some poets, the puzzle is the point of a poem. When I write a poem I sometimes allow certain ideas and facts to develop in the curious reader’s mind over several readings. But the puzzle in the poem is not the main point of a poem, to me anyway. Any difficulties in my poems tend to arise from poems that deal with intrinsically difficult human rights topics.

I try to ask questions. Not to answer. Who I am I to give answers?

Some poets like to impress others with their references to obscure historical figures or figures from mythology. I don’t believe that you have to have a Degree in Ancient Greek Literature in order to understand a poem. I feel that many people are turned off poetry by this type of poem and poet

If I am writing about Rwanda, for instance, I will hopefully know a lot about the particular theme of the poem and may deal with things that are little known. But they are things which you will still be able to understand in the poem even if you don’t know about the specifics of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. One of my poems (well, a few of my poems) deals with the killings in Rwanda in 1994. In one poem, I write about someone who conspires to have a neighbour killed because they wanted their Zinc roof. If you learn a little about Rwanda and the events of 1994 you find out that many people died because their neighbour coveted their land, or their cattle, their wife, or their zinc roof. Some of my friends come from Rwanda and I hope that I would never write anything about Rwanda that was gory just for the sake of it. You have to have knowledge of the subject that you write about. Perhaps you may have seen something that few others have noticed. Perhaps you can explain something in a new and useful way.

When I am preparing myself to write poems, firstly I read a lot about the subject that I want to write about. Then I may go somewhere that gets my creative juices working, for example hillwalking on Arran. A few of my poems are inspired by the hills of Lochranza in Arran. Also, I find that working my way up a difficult hill makes my brain jump into areas it normally doesn’t consider.

Sometimes I write down observations and facts as a story. Later, I see if this works being put into poetic form. Quite often, I use rhyming couplets. Other times I just use free verse-text that does not belong to a set repeatable structure. Usually I write a couple of lines and then look for another couple of lines. This gets built up into a poem. My main point in writing the poem is to get across an idea in a way that will make the reader look again and again at the poem and find out perhaps a bit more with each reading. Most of the time I ask questions in my poems: questions that are useful. Rather than just telling someone what I think is right or wrong. People don’t like being preached at. Also, the reader will pay more attention to something that they find out by themselves, with the poem as a catalyst. As I build up the poem couplet by couplet I will again and again reread lines aloud in order to get a sense of the internal rhythms and any end of line rhymes.

People like to hear alliteration. Alliteration is when you have the sound of a constanant repeated one or more times e.g. “slimy snakes are often slipping”. Verse in ancient and mediaeval times was often very heavily alliterated. I like to use a bit of alliteration.

Alliteration was used more often than end rhyme in the verse of the great Anglo-Saxon books like, Beowulf. A few years ago, I wrote an alliterative poem which used a similar (but not identical) line structure. In my poem I reversed the usual subject of the poem and had the hunted creature as the hero of the poem (and not the hunter). The Beast was the hunter. The Beast was the title of the poem.

Assonance is a harder technique to use properly. It is when you have words used as line endings (or even internally in lines) where the vowel sound is repeated but none of the consonants are e.g. “hate and bare”.

Pararhyme is not quite a full rhyme. Often it is when the sound of the consonants at the start and at the end of the two “nearly rhyming words are the same, but the vowel is different one example would be “blade” and “blood”. It is hard to use properly and can be picked up as a bit unsettling. Wilfred Owen deliberately used the unsettling effect of pararhyme in some of his war poetry.

It may be useful to you if I give some details of how I wrote one of my favourite poems. I was out walking on a lovely sunny day enjoying the countryside and hoping for inspiration. At one point I passed by an old shed with a rusty iron roof on top. Initially, my mind had this image of the rust being beaten by torrential rain. At the same time I started to try to nudge my mind towards images and text relating to this picture of a roof. After a few seconds I remembered that in Rwanda people had killed their neighbours to possess their very desirable zinc roofs. I had read a lot about Rwanda and had friends from Rwanda. Genuine empathy is essential in poetry.

As I wrote the poem I tried to see it through the eyes of one of the killers. I tried to make him seem ordinary and a “nice” guy. At the end of the poem-which at that stage was just a story without rhyme or alliteration, I had the teller of the story betray his friend so he could get his zinc roof. I thought that was an OK ending. But then a better ending came to mind and I imagined the teller of the story angrily asking the audience, or the reader, “You would have done the same wouldn’t you?” This makes the audience part of the story and makes them think about whether they themselves in such a situation could betray a friend in order to get their valuable zinc roof. And zinc roofs were a life saver in Rwanda. Some audiences do (rightly or wrongly) get insulted at this. After that I then put in some rhyming couplets. Then, added some alliteration to make the poem sound pleasant. I tried to give the poem a very strong rhythm.

I never think of trying to make poems into sonnets or set out to use Iambic Pentameter. My focus in a poem is mainly to get across some important statement or question. This poem was written down in a little notebook in about half an hour. I then worked on it over the next two weeks: I would think about the poem a lot while out walking and at lunchtime in work would go away somewhere quiet to try and get the poem as perfect as possible.

In all my poems, I go over every line every phrase every word in a poem again and again. Every poet should make sure that they do not have a single weak line or an unnecessary word. Read the poem aloud and in your head. Try to remember it so you can recite it without looking at the words. Imagine that that poem is going to be the one put on your Gravestone and that you will be remembered for that and that alone. It is that important. If the poem is not important to you then…Well, what can I say?

If I intend using rhyming couplets, then I will not change the meaning of the poem to suit the rhyme structure. I read some poets’ work and it seems that they are setting out to show the reader how clever they are. A poet has to be genuine and if writing about a subject must have sympathy for the subject, or person, or creature, or whatever. Lots of poets just seem to me to be trying to create very complex rhyme structures filled with obscure historical references. Personally, I cannot relate to that type of poem.

If you are trying hard to find an end rhyme to match an obscure word in the second line of a couplet, you can try reversing the order of the lines so that the obscure word comes first. This trick is often used by poets. Listeners and readers find it more acceptable to hear a complicated word first and then a common word. It makes it sound as if the poet has solved a difficult puzzle rather than having to make do with an obscure word for the end rhyme.

In Ancient civilisations important words were often remembered by monks or other holy people chanting them. Sometimes these chants had a repeatable structure. Many people’s Holy Books were first remembered as chants. Often this was for hundreds of years. How accurate this process was is debateable.

Every word in a poem is important. Not only should it be the right word for meaning but it should sound good. A nice rhythm throughout the poem is important to me. And each word should be part of this rhythm. The rhythm can be one that is mostly repeated line by line or it can be one that builds up line by line. I find my rhythms by instinct. I read aloud the lines that I have got and feel for the rhythm already in the poem. I then either build on these or work to a rhythm that I want to use.

It is good practise to read the work of poets who genuinely had lots of rhythm in their work: poets like Dylan Thomas. I write my poems to be performed as well as to be read. And I think this is good. Knowing that your poem is to be performed makes you pay attention to the rhythm in the verse.

To me visual imagery is important. When I read poems by other people I see the images in my mind and they are a way “into” the poem. Dylan Thomas uses a lot of visual images in his poems.

Try to be pleased that you want to read poems. I also think that anyone who reads poems has a desire, no matter how deeply hidden, to write poems themselves. I am not a great fan of creative writing Courses. But I do think that anyone with a desire to write poetry can write poetry.

On and off for ten years of my adult life I would write poems than leave them aside for a week or so. Then give them another read and then put them in the bin. It was a long time before I ever wrote anything worth reading.

When you do write you may want to write about someone you love or about someone in your family who has recently died. These things mean a lot to you and you want to write about them. That process may be useful to you and may be a kind of poetry. However, it will be of a type that is similar to thousands of other sentiment based poems. You need to say something new to get people to read your words, or listen to your voice.

I often write poems influenced by things that are important to me: human rights, Buddhism, animal rights and the countryside.

I used to read in poetry books how important the Metaphor is. I didn’t think I used it a lot. But on re-reading my poetry, I do.


In some of my poems I have messages which the reader or listener is intended to get only subliminally. Most people while listening to poems try to “feel” what is going on in a poem. They use their instincts to tune in to the hidden message. As well as messages that are “hidden” in the normal poetic manner (e.g. using metaphors) I also deliberately lay a trail sometimes. This trail is not meant to be discovered but the listener should “feel” a connection between – for example – different verses. For instance, my poem, While writing a Poem has a thread that links the verses. If someone were to work at it they would easily discover it. However, I like it when there is only this subliminal message. This is not a gimmick and I feel it does work. I think people feel a link that is not mentioned-between the verses. There are different uses of this technique in different poems.  Most of these messages are visual. These subliminal messages are never the main “theme” of the poem but are intended as a useful adjunct to the other techniques used in the poem.

I should add that there is nothing naughty about these messages. I am not e.g. trying to get the listener to like chocolate by having “hidden” or “ghost” images for chocolate in the poem (or prose piece). Such a technique could easily be done but would be unethical.




































Two haiku style poems

Two Haiku style poems


For long hours I struggled to learn his language
Yet, the calligraphy of the haiku
Meant nothing to me


(Lagg, in Arran, is a pretty village near to the sea. A chambered cairn has been there for thousands of years.)

As it tumbles over the shoreline at Lagg
No longer confident of its power
A wave senses the humans
As they too rise and fall



Sheep on the hill, silent, as the
Day, dark falling
Filling the pools is the swift rain – cruel and nourishing – high hill
Into the night

With the morn,
Hordes of clegs and midges gorge themselves on the sheep
And the humans, they too shall bleed them

No sheep on the hill. No sharp hooves to break up the soil,
Make to flood. Turn to mud.
No hungry teeth eating fresh saplings. So Ash and Lime, Birch and Cherry
And birds, singing on the branches, so merry.
Tree roots embracing the soil, help to stop flooding on the ground
Look anywhere, fragrant wildflowers all around
From tree to flower to tree
The happy Bee

To blame the sheep isn’t fair
The shepherd places them, there and there



Dreams of warriors

and cowards and peace


twelve poets

the old, the ill


and children

and a dog

Are revealed as indistinct shadows on the wall


Dry grasses merely burn

Birds in flight are dust in the wind

And the words in this poem burn on the page


No creature moves

A strange kind of peace





This poem alludes to a famous haiku by M. Basho (first line of which is: The summer grasses). Who in his poem alluded to an even earlier poem by Du Fu [also know in the west as Tu Fu] (called: Gazing at Spring). Both works are well worth reading but neither is essential to an understanding of this poem. Both poems deal with the interaction between nature and war.




This is an idea for a commission that could be set up in any country when elections are being held. Anywhere in the World. The USA and the UK have seen a need for such a commission. It would run in the lead up to an election. It would have powers to fine media outlets that report factual errors as fact. And to ensure that misreporting does not happen again. Or they face bigger fines. The panel to be independent media experts and experts in the law.

There are three types of errors that the Press make during a campaign. There are errors of fact. This could be an error or could be a lie. The second type of error is where one side is given all the coverage. They have no need to lie as they just deal with one side of a campaign (or issue). The third error is where there is no error in fact but the media outlet campaigns for the one side and stories are twisted. This can become the reporting of inaccuracies when candidates who are intelligent are made out to be fools. At present there is a great need for a commission to be set up in the U.K. The campaign of Jeremy Corbyn has met with all three types of errors in media reporting. I trust Jeremy Corbyn but most of the Media seems biased against him. When factual inaccuracies have been shown to a media outlet they often repeat the error. I presume that there will be some kind of investigation into Press reporting if Jeremy Corbyn gets elected. I would totally understand that. My main idea though is for a commission to work in the run up to an election. I think probably that it could only deal with errors of the first two kinds. It would be hard to deal with the “campaigning for the one side” type of error. I think if such a commission where set up and worked it would encourage other countries to do the same. This is an important human right-knowing the truth about political candidates.

People I know believe in Press reports about Jeremy Corbyn that are false (and have been shown to be false) but they have not seen any other reporting. Many people I know will not vote for Jeremy Corbyn because of the Press’s biased reporting.

If such a commission where set up and worked it could possibly lead to other areas of checking on the Press with regard to reporting of e.g. human rights issues like Palestine.

I have to follow independent investigative Journalists and Media Bias sites on Twitter to get any idea of what is happening in the World. I trust no mainstream media outlet.



Below is a set up I used with Amnesty youth groups in the last School I worked in. Young people need to know about media bias. This worked so well I made a Peace Treaty audience participation play out of the ideas used. I wrote the piece below at the time of the second Intifada and it does not try to be pro one side or another. (Although I personally am pro-Palestinian).

Amnesty Youth Group, Media Bias exercise


I have made up the following “facts”. Even facts, of course, can lie when taken out of context. Each group will use these facts to write up a report (or a Radio broadcast) which is written from one of three viewpoints.


  1. You are an Israeli reporter who writes for a Zionist magazine.
  2. You are a community activist who writes for a Palestinian journal.
  1. You are a Peace activist who is trying to show hope for the future and is trying to defuse the tension. Do not use inflammatory adjectives and try to show what the two sides have in common. Do not talk only about violence.


May 5th. Israel reports that it is arresting suspected Islamic militants. Some Children are killed in the raids into a refugee camp. Two Palestinian gunmen are killed. Israel claims the raids are necessary to foil a possible future terrorist attack.

May 9th One of the suspected militants dies during questioning.

May 12th. A report is issued which shows that 20% of young people in the refugee camp are infested with intestinal worms from having sewage in the locale. 50% of those children do not have access to a proper education. Unemployment rates are three times the national average.

May 20th A suicide bomber kills himself and ten people (two of whom are soldiers) on a bus. All the victims are Jewish. Three victims are young children.

May 25th. A peace conference is cancelled because of claim and counter claim of alleged violent activities by both sides in the dispute.

May 26th. Israeli bulldozers destroy four homes of people who are related to the bomber.

When writing up the report you should use inflammatory adjectives – if a reporter from group 1 or 2. You can lie, take things out of context, and demonise. You do not need to mention all the above details. Inflammatory reports are best based around a few inflammatory adjectives and phrases (“it was a massacre”, terrorist, extremist, bloodthirsty, murderer etc). Deal only with the “faults” of the “other side”. Try to gain empathy from your reader/listener by mentioning things you both have in common, and dealing at length with the strange beliefs and culture of the “other” side.

Most people interested in Human Rights believe that the Palestinian’s suffer greatly from Israeli actions. But in this piece we are only dealing with the “Facts” I have outlined. It helps to know a little about the subject before you talk about it. However, sometimes our knowledge of events around the world comes from journalists with little knowledge of the history that is involved themselves. Indeed, they may also be under pressure from their newspaper or from pressure groups to Bias the story in a certain way.

Someone taking violent action will usually claim that they are taking it in response to the violent actions of another i.e. they are only defending themselves. This topic is dealt with at great length in the excellent book, More Bad News from Israel (Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Pluto Press, 2011).




The four “Truths”

[This is something I wrote for myself – at first – to answer the question, “Why do so many people who have lived through war, hold alternate views of what happened?” It is perhaps something for those involved in my Peace Treaty play to consider.]



In every conflict there are at least four “Truths”

The first two are the truths as seen by all of the combatants and their supporters. There may of course be more than two groups involved in the conflict (in that case five or six truths). In addition, groups may change sides or direction throughout the conflict.

Thirdly, there are the “Independent” observers who may be more or less Independent. They are not from the conflict zone but may be under the protection or territory of one group and may only see events from their side. They may have their own prejudices or racism inside them when they go to the war zone. Even if they try hard to be impartial they may be unable to travel to see what is happening in other parts of the war zone. Journalists are occasionally sent out with troops of one side and even without threats from the troops (which does happen) may feel the need to give only that side’s view of the situation. Of course they quite literally do only see one side of the conflict.

Fourthly, of course, there is also the truth that really happened. That truth can be unbelievably hard to find out. Historians years later with documentary evidence, witnesses, and grave sites to examine, still argue between themselves about battles within living memory.

So after conflicts, people from the losing side will often have very strong views that their “truth” was the real truth and was accurate. They may be right. Sometimes however groups have access to the personal testimonies of friends and remember isolated incidents of violence against their group, and they argue very strongly that their view of truth is the correct view: and they can be mostly wrong. They may not be lying or trying to be biased. They may only have ever seen one truth. Their version of truth may relate to one particular time and one tiny geographical area. And after conflicts, interested groups try to give out their own view of the truth e.g. via the internet, meetings, and books.

Sometimes in countries where the Government has control over all the media, people may have only the Government’s view of the truth to look at or consider.

To consider one case. In Rwanda in 1994, there are claims that there were large scale atrocities committed by the mainly Tutsi army (the Rwandan Patriotic Front). Those listening to the local Radio (Tutsi and Hutu) at that time would have heard a view that was (most people now believe) extremely biased and exaggerated against the RPF. So there are survivors of what happened in 1994 that saw bad things being done by the RPF to their friends and who listened diligently to the biased Radio reports and believed that similar things happened to everyone on their side. After the physical war the losing side has fought an information war trying to convince Rwandans and the world that their truth was right. They have support groups and witness testimonies and internet articles.

So how do Rwandans know who to trust? My opinion is that they must look to independent human rights bodies like Pen International. And to the writings of the U.N. commander on the ground who lived through the conflict (Brigadier-General Dallaire). These are as unbiased as you can get. No human rights group or truly independent international witness has denied the genocide of moderate Hutus and Tutsis by Hutus in 1994. But still many Rwandans do. They ask for Justice and believe strongly they are right.

In many countries aggrieved groups’ desire for their view of Justice leads to further conflict. For they are speaking the “truth”. Well, sort of.

Another thing that can make someone biased towards the losing side-when their side have been mainly responsible for war crimes-is that the person whose view we are considering was pressured into seeing things the way others around them saw it. People can be so influenced by figures around them so that they remember things differently from what really happened. Also, if people all around you all have a certain perspective you would be very strong willed and brave to hold an alternative view. Pressure to conform can be so strong in isolated communities after wars that it results in bullying and death threats.




This is the introduction to my Peace Treaty Play.


Looking for The Truth

[One male actor and one female actor who change costume on stage in front of the audience]


Dr. James [woman]:                      Good Evening. I am Dr. James. As a high flying Dentist I know all there is to know about the Tooth. The Tooth is white, and hard, and… Oh, the Truth!  Sorry. Bit of a misunderstanding. I thought I was to speak about the Tooth. I studied the Tooth for seven years. Never attended any lectures on the Truth. However, in my opinion, the truth is, that you must always eat lots of fruit and visit your Dentist regularly. Or you will have a decayed truth, Oops. I mean Tooth!


Fast Eddy:                        Hi. I’m Fast Eddy. I’m a cynical, tough journalist. The Truth is something that I have to interpret for the readership of the Newspaper that I work for. I have a rough idea of what my editor expects me to write, so I may need to nudge the Truth in a certain direction. And I try to tell stories that invigorate the news and make it easy to see who are the bad guys and who are the victims. People reading the news don’t have the time or the background knowledge necessary to digest all the material that I sift through. But things are easy if I am dealing with an African war of course. It’s always the same scenario. It’s always just a case of, “two tribes who are untouched by civilisation carrying on with an ages old ethnic war”. There, that’s easy to understand.


Denise:                  Hello. I am Denise. The only truth I know is that I love George. Love him truly, for ever and ever. Till the seas dry up and stars fall from the sky. Or, until he meets another woman who is prettier than me. Unlikely though that is!


Arthur Schopenhauer:       My name is Arthur Schopenhauer. I am a bad tempered European philosopher who sees pain and misery suffused throughout all existence. For me, Truth has to pass through the stages of ridicule, and then violent opposition, before it is finally accepted as being self-evident.


Svetambara Jain Nun:       As a Jain Nun, I perceive reality as being multi faceted. This knowledge is a tool for me in my attempts to live a life without violence: if no one can claim to know the ultimate Truth, why then should we quarrel about differences of opinion? Words cannot express ultimate Truth.


Alfred Adler:                    Hi folks. I am Alfred Adler. I am, or rather was, an Austrian Psychologist who believes that, we are not blessed with the possession of absolute truth; on that account we are compelled to form theories for ourselves about our future, about the results of our actions, etc.


Female Lay Buddhist:      I am a Buddhist and I believe that our understanding of the Truth is dependant upon the state of our Mind. If my Mind is tainted by Ignorance and under the control of Desire, then I cannot see things as they really are. Logic is not enough; I have to first free my Mind before I can attempt to understand reality. The Truth can even be used inappropriately. For instance, if I tell someone who has a big nose that they have a big nose, and I tell them this once a day: then it’s not useful, it’s an insult.


Mohandas K. Gandhi:      I am Mohandas K. Gandhi. I believe that, truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth.




If you see him, tell him from me

We need a new kind of world

We need truth and compassion

Rules, based on morality


No bad guys on either side

No either side


If you see him, tell him from me

I will buy him a herbal tea

If he smashes in no more doors

And he kills no more


They say he is a hero on the T.V. show,

Across the World he will parachute or row

Black ops and anonymous assassinations,

As he travels through the nations


He kills the innocent in my name

Can he be held to blame

When, in the game

He plays,

He says

He lies for me?


The desert sun is darkened by

Death dealing drones that fill the sky

My drones


Is a bad guy still a bad guy,

If he kills for me?

For my Government and me?




What went wrong? (a prose poem)


What went wrong?

Every window


A crater that kills the road

     23 bodies blown

                                                          To bits and

15 bodies than could have been


           Put back together –

If the Hospital hadn’t


Been targeted

                                                 Men, women, children, and one

Foetus dead – in the womb




What went wrong?

Practising another religion

From a far-away land

With a different colour skin

With a different culture

With a different language

With a different set of values

Can those demonstrative mothers really be said to Grieve

Like a British Mother or an American Mother?


What went wrong?

Bribes are the oil that lubricates trade

Trade is a wheel that supports the Government


What went wrong?

This item in our catalogue has a high rate of successful detonation

It did what it was meant to do

“One of our most popular items”


What went wrong?

Looking with the Company’s eyes

Thinking with the Company’s brain