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How to Keep Writing Activity 2: Poetry Writing

Updated on January 3, 2018
Meisjunk profile image

I have a BA in English Writing and a Minor in Sociology. I am a writer, editor, feminist, and potterhead.

Why Poetry Is Perfect Practice

Writing a poem freestyle can seem like an easy job. I'm sure you're already groaning from memories of angsty high school teenage peer editing groups. But even a freestyle poem has to sound exactly the way the writer and voice want it to sound.

This takes editing.


Editing Poetry

Because poems are so particular, the editing is tedious, detailed, and can very well take all day to complete 73 words. My favorite poem of all time is 8 lines of 16 words. Crazy, right?

It's called The Red Wheelbarrow, and was written by William Carlos Williams back in the sixties. It's part of a movement of poetry called Imagism, which (of course) focuses on imagery. I've taken a picture of the poem to the right for you. You can also read it here.

And trust me, the tedious work of editing a poem is a good thing. And this makes poems the best way to hone your editing skills.

Get Ready!

Pick a super difficult poetry form; we are going to hone your editing skills. You could start with a sonnet, if you like. I'm sure that's what you were most used to having teachers throw at you in high school. But since we want to focus on how well you edit let's try something more difficult, like a sestina.

The Sestina

The sestina is a poem made up of seven stazas. Each of the first six stanzas will have six lines, and the last word of each of those lines will be repeated as the end word of a line in each of the follow stanzas, though they do not have to follow that same order. The seventh stanza has only three lines, but it must contain all six of those repeated words in those three lines.

Sound difficult? It is.

Get Set!

It's especially difficult if you want the poem to actually make sense rather than just throwing words in. This is where your editing skills come in!

Do you keep diagrams to make sure you're following directions correctly? Do you like lists more? Once you have the pattern down for the sestina (or another poem you're working on), take a pee break, and then come back and brainstorm.

Get out as many ideas and lines as you can (and as fast as you can!). Don't pay attention to whether it's in order yet. Remember that we're going to focus on the editing that comes in later. For right now, just get it out!

The good news about the sestina is that the words do not have to be exact repeats. you may use homonyms, which are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and also have different meanings, so keep that loophole in mind! Need an example or two before you begin your own?

Have at these three:

Please vote! =)

What is your favorite form of poetry to write?

See results


Now that you (maybe!) have the pattern down, write your sestina! I think it would be easier to write a silly sestina. That way if there is something that doesn't quite make sense, the line could reflect that. A serious poem would of course be more hands on, but it is possible.

On To The Editing!

Now that you have scribbles (or whatever you call your first drafts), take a break for an hour, or a day (or a week).

Come back with a clear head. Keep these in mind while trying to move things around:

Things to keep in mind while editing your sestina:


How does a line sound? Does it roll off the tongue or does it make you trip over your words? Which do you want it to do, and which serves the purpose of the poem better?


The sestina does pay attention to this, though I do know many people who prefer free style poetry. Keep in mind whether you do or do not want to follow a rhyming pattern (no matter which type of poetry you're attempting) and stick to it!


Do you tend to use commas or hyphens to indicate a pause? Or do you prefer just starting a new line? Either way works, but feel free to experiment with which to use when. Mix it up! Try all three! See what works perfectly.


How's the editing going? Are you seeing progress when moving things around, when being picky about which word to use where and how to put in a pause? Have you tried to say the poem aloud to see if it sounds right coming off your tongue?

And what about the sestina's particular pattern; how close are you to sticking to it?

I'd love to see any and all efforts! Send me a link even! =) I'd love to read them all.

How Poetry Keeps You Writing

Was the exercise gruesome? How about worth it? I've always found poetry to be calming as well as a creative juicer.

Whether I'm trying to stick to a super scary form like the sestina or just trying to get my feelings out before they overflow, writing poetry helps center me. And then I am able to write even more. =)

I hope writing poetry does the same for you! Remember, keep writing, no matter what your day job.

I wrote my own Sestina!

To see my own sestina, check below!

Please feel free to critique my work. =) I know I did not put it in iambic pentameter, but any other suggestions and critiques are welcome!

Diagram of word order in a sestina
Diagram of word order in a sestina | Source

Specific Sestina Word Order

The specific word order for a sestina is hard to remember. Above is a diagram.

But! If you can't remember the pattern, here is the long-hand of the pattern:

Stanza 1: A, B, C, D, E, F

  • Stanza 2: F, A, E, B, D, C
  • Stanza 3: C, F, D, A, B, E
  • Stanza 4: E, C, B, F, A, D
  • Stanza 5: D, E, A, C, F, B
  • Stanza 6: B, D, F, E, C, A
  • Tercet: AB CD EF

Source: How to Write a Sestina

The Song I Wrote For You

By Jennifer Kessner (Meisjunk)

I've written this for you,
so read it slow and clear,
and then when questions form
in your nimble head so dear,
I'll sing It soft, aloud
so all around can hear.

I sat alone in here
waiting a year for you
to say the words aloud,
"I love you!" loud and clear.
But you apologized, "My dear,
my love's in no true form."

Then, in my bitter, sad form,
I pouted for all to hear,
"Then I shall toss this dear
and true devotion to you.
And let me make it very clear;
I'll still do what I'm allowed."

And I left and muttered aloud,
"These songs that I form
are only for me, it's clear.
I'll keep them hidden safe in here."
I pulled out the song I wrote for you
and held it to me, close and dear.

For as close as I hold it, and as dear,
and for all that I am able and allowed,
even though I wrote the song for you,
I own it, and it's mine in any form.
I'll keep the words close, a song when sung you'll hear
my love for anyone, for whom it will be un-clear.

And when my heart's opaque and no longer clear,
I'll sing the song for myself, my dear,
and you'll be prohibited to hear
the words that I speak aloud,
those words in their purest form,
that which you denied me of you.

I'll sing it true, clear, and aloud.
My dear, I'll show everyone my form,
perfect for all to hear, but you.

© 2012 Jennifer Kessner


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    • Meisjunk profile image

      Jennifer Kessner 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Aw thanks so much! =) Enthusiasm and proper teaching are exactly what I'm aiming for, so I'm happy to hear I'm doing it well. Thanks for reading, and I hope you keep writing and reading forever and ever!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      ...I really love your enthusiasm here and you are such a great teacher.

      I myself try to avoid all traditional forms of poe-tree (lol) and just make my own way down a different path and I will say to any novice or experienced writer the same thing - just be yourself, find your own style , follow your heart at all times and the mind will always follow.

      Thank you for teaching me a thing or two as well with your well written hub presentation here.

      Sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 3:25pm

    • Meisjunk profile image

      Jennifer Kessner 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Zofia: Thanks so much! =) And you are of course welcome. I contemplated trying to come up with an image of some sort to include, but unless/until I attempt the sestina on my own, I won't have any. Hopefully when I finish it, it'll also contribute the layout. Because of the complexity of the form, I'll probably write the pattern down next to the poem as well when I finish. Let me know if there are any other ideas/tips you would like for me to include!

      Eiddwen: Thank you! =) I hope you have a wonderful day as well.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and have a wonderful day.


    • ZofiaLotus profile image

      ZofiaLotus 5 years ago from Oregon

      awesome layout too btw. This was a very useful hub, especially with the complexity of the Sestina form. Thank you so much. :)