Reading to Write: what to look for in a poem when you want to write your own.

If you want to write poetry, you need to read it. The good and the bad!

When reading poetry your mind instinctively judges the poems. This doesn’t mean that it is or isn’t worth reading for everyone, but for you it’s important to listen to your instincts. By reading a variety of poetry you will be able to see what works for you, but the key is to figure out why you think it’s a good poem.

You don’t need to do a line by line analysis to work out why you like a poem. Here are some of the aspects of a poem to look at when reading, and some questions to ask yourself:


A theme is underlying idea in the poem, it is the main message that the poet is trying to get across. Ask yourself what the meaning of the poem is as a whole, and then look at each stanza and see if they say similar things or something else entirely. Why does or doesn’t this theme appeal to you?


What emotions do you feel when reading this poem? Does it make you smile, or make you sad or are you left feeling indifferent? It doesn’t matter what you feel, only that it makes you feel something at all. A poem that leaves you feeling not much of anything hasn’t appealed to you, and you should ask yourself why this is.


Who is the speaker in the poem? Who is talking? Is it the poet or is it a character they have created? Is there more than one person speaking? As in a narrative, the author chooses a point of view to tell the story from. Ask yourself if the message in the poem would be different if told from another point of view, and if the poem would be better or worse for you if another character narrated it.

Rhythm and flow:

How does the poem sound if you read it aloud? Do the words flow together like a gentle tide lapping at the shore, or are they forceful and jagged like waves crashing against a cliff? Rhyme, punctuation and spacing can add to flow of a poem, but the individual word choice is the biggest factor. Why did the poet choose those specific words? Would you have chosen other words with the same meaning but a different sound?


What images are created by the poet? Are they linked to the feel and theme of the poem, or do they seem to contradict them? Poets choose their imagery as they do their words: with a specific intention. Do you add imagery into your poem because it ‘looks’ nice, or do use it to enhance to change the meaning of the words?

How could you improve the poem?

Take a few moments to pinpoint the ‘flaws’ in the poem. How would you improve on them and why? Are they flaws for the poem itself, or just for you?

By looking at these aspects of a poem you will discover what you like in poetry. If it works for you when reading the poem, it should work for you when writing it. Pay attention to the finer details of the work, and see if you can achieve the same effect in your own work. If you start reading a poem and it turns out that you don’t like it, then finish reading and ask yourself why. Knowing why the good is good should include knowing why the bad is bad.

Understanding what makes a good poem will help you to write one, but don’t only rely on what others tell you, let yourself discover it on your own.