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A good poet is able to find the natural rhythms of everyday life and express them eloquently in words. But where do the ideas come from? There are thousands of poems out there about tired subjects like love and war; as a poet, your job is to find either a new and original take on these overused subjects or bring an original idea to life. Sometimes, however, the poetry muse takes a hike…and doesn’t return.
Here are just a few of the many ways to either discover or reclaim your wayward muse:
Look around you. Anything, anything at all can be the subject of a poem if dealt with in an original and creative matter.
Keep a notebook with you at all times and keep an eye on the people and places around you. The grocery store, the park, the bus—all can inspire new and creative ideas for poems. You might not necessarily write about what you see, but ideas may come to you in different settings.
Keep a notebook beside the bed for ideas that stem from dreams. Or write a poem about a dream you wish you’d had.
Keep a file of ideas—clippings, sketches, quotes—anything that may inspire a poem later on.
Writing prompts can often generate original thought. Try a “what if” scenario: What if children ruled the world? What if you woke up three feet taller?
Write about something “ugly” and make it beautiful through imagery.
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Write a poem that consists solely of dialogue. Or create a poem from a list (i.e. the ten best pieces of advice I ever received).
Write a poem about someone from a distant place and time as if you were that person.
Write about an inanimate object—or from the object’s point of view. “Ode to a Paperclip” may not get you published, but it may spark creativity and original ideas.
Write from someone else’s point of view. Instead of yet another poem about Christmas, try writing about Christmas from the point of view of the homeless woman on the corner. Avoid using the word “Christmas” and rely on imagery instead.
Write about something you did NOT experience but wish you had (i.e. Woodstock) or an era in which you’d like to have lived.
Try writing passionately about something you passionately do NOT believe in—and make it convincing. Write about the joy of being a skinflint or how lovely it is to kill baby seals. Try this with or without the use of irony.
Go back to your childhood and write an apology in the form of a poem. Write a poem to someone you wish you had known or confront someone who did you wrong.
Scan newspaper or magazine headlines—write a poem about the woman who gave birth to six alien babies or the man who built a shrine to cockroaches. Take risks and experiment with the bizarre.
Take your personal demons and put them down on paper. If the subject is painful yet rings true, it will strike a chord with your readers. Don’t be afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects.
Take on the cliches directly: try writing a good love poem without once using the word “love.” Take it a step further and eliminate the words “joy,” “desire,” and “heart.”
Read contemporary poets’ work. Read all you can. Identify what makes a poem call to you and analyze what makes you dislike other poems. Gain inspiration from others’ work.
Remember: all subject matter is worthy. A good poet need not have traveled the world or lived a life of tragedy. Look in your own metaphorical backyard for material.
Above all, keep writing, keep submitting, and write some more. The poems that result may not be worthy, but keep it up. It’s better to write a bad poem than to not write one at all. Eventually, even when your muse has flown the coop, the right poem will emerge.