Writing a poem about ‘place’

by poet John Lyons

When you react with strong feelings to life around you, and you feel a desire to express yourself in words, you have, I believe, the spirit of a poet.

To be able to express yourself in poetry is admirably creative. There are many methods successful poets use to write poetry. Here, I shall consider a few of those methods. Think of the following tips as guidelines only, which apply not only to writing poems about  ‘place’, but to poems on any subject.

Think of writing a poem - apart from the fun of it - as a craft which allows room for personal expression. It’s like any other craft; only instead of using materials like wood, clay, paint or metal, words are your material. The right words are to be used in the right order.

What makes the following guidelines important, is how they help poets to give readers of their work an opportunity to use their own imaginations, to have feelings themselves and to see the world around them in new and surprising ways.

Let us now consider some of these guidelines, as discovered in poems written by promising poets of your generation.  I trust that my poetry tips will help you to craft your poems as ‘objects’ you create out of your own feelings and thoughts, as you engage with the world around you.

Guideline: Show don’t tell


Wild and Free

by Jacob Luckett (11years)    

You can travel there by bus or car

It could be near

It could be far

You could scoot or bike or even fly

It could be low

It could be high

As long as it’s a destination

Who cares about its population?

It could be on land

It could be in the sea

What a holiday that would be!

You might’ve never been there

You might’ve been there loads

Whatever the situation

Keep following the roads

You don’t even have to do that

Go run wild and free

If you keep following your dreams

You’ll be where you want to be

In this poem even the title, ‘Wild and Free’, does not tell you exactly what the poem is about. It simply implies a place somewhere you’ll be where you want to be. That place, discovered in the words of the poem, is the imagination. But there is more to this poem: Reading ‘between the lines’, so to speak, we discover that the author of this poem is a person with an open mind, expressed in the lines,  As long as it’s a destination / Who cares about its population?


Guideline: When you create your poems introduce the five senses where appropriate


We experience the world around us through our five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Without them where would we be? Just think about it!


The Moors

by Ide Crawford (12 years)

These hills that rise and roll and ripple

Like a dream or a tune or a turning-tide

These hundreds and thousands of burring bees

These thousands and millions and billions of bells

These honey clouds of pollen and scent

All rolled by the land to an imperial robe

Of purple, slow and sweet and sweeping

Purple like sundown summer skies

Purple like peacock butterfly’s eye

Purple like dye from a murex shell

A robe for the high-throned sun-crowned summer hills

Whose bee-filled bell-rung empire cannot fall

These purple bells that peal together

From sky to moor and moor to sky

They ring and echo and tremble and sing

Not for one or two or twelve ‘o clock

But they ring for all time

For never and forever

They ring for the rise and roll and the ripple

Of tens and hundreds and thousands of years

They ring for the heather-heavy hills


Apart from the excellent and not obvious use of the senses in this poem, there are also other poetic qualities that young poets should pay attention to and think about adopting in their own writing: the poetic quality known as alliteration as in the lines 6 and 7...slow and sweet and sweeping followed by, like sundown summer skies. This is a poem which demands to be read aloud. As you read it look out for other examples of this poetic quality, alliteration. Notice also the strong repeated use of Purple, adding to the rhythmic, musical language of the poem in general.


Guideline: Compare and contrast

When you describe, it is often more interesting to use a simile with your describing word, the ‘adjective’, comparing or contrasting it with something else, using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is especially always interesting if the comparison is made with something based on your own personal experience or observation. The following poem by Sadie Roberts (age 11) is an example. At the end of this poem you would have a pretty good idea about the character of the author. The word ‘like’ describes her personal experiences which certainly makes the poem a very interesting one.


I Am I Am

I am like a wolf, forever intent on fulfilling my purpose

I am like a dog, playful and eager


I am like Greece, sunny, bouncy

but in a millisecond I can change to tidal waves and storms

I am like London, busy and bustling,

always something going on


I am like netball, fun and determined

I am like tennis, always bouncing back for more


I am like the living room, full of love and laughter

I am like the garden, happy and summery


I am like a lamp, glowing and will never let anyone damp-

en my sparkle

I am like a hula- hoop, forever spinning


I am like a satellite, but remembering

my roots

I am like Saturn, mysterious and unknown.


Guideline: Be careful with your use of adjectives


While the use of adjectives add detail and interest to your writing, an overuse of them is not recommended. An adjective can become a thief of a reader’s imagination; or it can entice his/her imagination to see things in a different and unusual ways. To suggest and imply in the way you use words in a poem is the better course to follow. On the whole it is advisable to make careful and inventive use of adjectives when creating a poem. The saying, ‘less is more’ certainly applies here. The following poem is from one of my publications, ‘A Carib Being in Cymru.’

On Strumble Head

by John Lyons

Awesome this bulk of salt water,

Its surface stretching towards

a sky hung like fine gauze;

food for the Impressionists’ eye.

But tinting colours with titanium white

is not enough to catch

the brightness of this light;

nor would dreams,

or the imagination’s dizzy flight

assist the painter’s skill.

Desire is the thing.

Mixing emotions with paint

to become what the eyes see:

a bay, an off-shore island of seals,

tide-driven water and sunlight scouring

its crumpled surface to a dazzle.


This poem begins with the adjective, awesome, in the first line; it does what first lines of poems should do, drawing the reader in, wanting to know more; ...sky hung like fine gauze, is a simile and adjectival phrase. It entices the reader to see the sky in a new way. Further added interest is given to this poem with the last two lines, ...tide-driven water and sunlight scouring / its crumpled surface to a dazzle. These lines suggest a sensual experience of something visually touchable. This poem, taken as a whole, suggest a oneness, of the viewer with a visual experience as expressed in the lines 12 and 13: Mixing emotions with paint / to become what the eyes see.


Guideline: Choose always the first lines of your poem to encourage the reader with a desire to carry on reading


The first few lines of a poem must always raise expectations. In them lies an opportunity to express the quality of your imagination, the very personal way you look at the world around you. It is also being in charge, capturing the attention of the reader. When you begin editing, look out for more effective first lines; they may be further down in the body of draft. Here is an example of a couple of first lines:


Moon, you are a beautiful hammock of silver silk, in a garden of delicate flowers, cradling the immense darkness.’

From the poem, Eight Ways to Look at the Moon by Rebecca Eaton (10  years)                                 

These first two lines express a wonderfully beautiful image that compels you to read on. It captures the imagination with its strong visual image. Here is a powerful use of the sense of sight; take note. Now whenever I see a crescent moon, this image will come to mind. Here is another example:

‘The world is finding something

That you didn’t know was there.’

From the poem, The World by Donte Cook (11 years)

These two opening lines to Donte’s poem express a mystery. I want to know more. They arouse my curiosity.


I trust that the above guidelines with their examples will inspire you, young poet, who is keen on writing poetry. It’s a good place to start. With your enthusiasm I am sure there will be lots more for you to discover in reading the works of other poets. Reading is a very, very important habit a poet must have. Now let us consider some helpful approaches to writing poems about Place, some of which you may already know. If you do, consider what follows as reassuring.

A Practical Approach in Three Stages:

Here are some hints that may be useful to you in writing a poem about Place; note also that generally they can also be applied to writing poems on any subject. Let us begin with possible interpretations of Place:


  • It could be your home or the neighbourhood where you live. The obvious advantage is familiarity. I am sure you’ll have quite a lot to say.

  • Somewhere you are visiting and have always wanted to visit.

  • Somewhere you have visited and have been impressed or not impressed by.

  • Where a major incident occurred and left its physical mark on the place and the people of its community.

  • A place of your imagination. In this instance you have the advantage of complete freedom to invent.


Stage 1. Observations about the place chosen

At this stage let your five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch come alive. Make notes, pouring out on to paper your ideas: single words, and phrases about what you feel or think about the place, descriptive sentences, the colours you see and they way the add to the general mood of the place. Take photographs and recordings on your phone; discuss how you feel, what you think with colleagues if you visit as a group. Think of this stage as information-gathering. Later on when examining your notes, you may wish to know more about certain observations you made notes about; turn to the internet. It is possible that new information there may give you ideas to make your poem even more interesting.


Stage 2. Sorting your information gathering notes. Use these notes to write a first draft

I trust at this stage you have heaps written down: ideas, descriptions about how you feel and think, photos, recordings of sounds and conversations. Now is the time to have fun sorting it all out.

  • Look for all your feeling words. Highlight them.

  • Look for descriptions of the place, your thoughts about it. Underline the interesting ones.

  • Examine your photographs; you may see something unusual and useful in them which you missed and did not note down

  • Listen to your recordings of the place.

  • Look again at information you discovered on the internet; examine how useful it is for your poem.


You are now ready to use your sorted information to write your first draft in sentences expressing how you feel and think. Do not stop to examine or edit while you write. Let it all pour out. Keep the energy going on what you feel and think. You are being creative here, using the right side of your brain.  Let ideas flow out of you. Don’t worry if you suspect you are writing things down that do not relate. You will be doing more of the sorting later when at the next stage of editing, at which point in the process you will be asking questions, based on the above guidelines, about what you have written. Here some of your thinking are on the left side of your brain, dealing with language and order. It is good practice to put it away for a couple hours or a day and return to it with fresh eyes. It is often quite surprising to discover changes you wish to make.


Stage 3. The editing. Here is where the crafting becomes a fun, though important, process in writing poetry

It is advisable now to return to the above guidelines, which will help you to use language in a way that expresses with the greatest effect how you feel and what you think about your chosen subject, place. You have the freedom to choose the shape and rhythm of your poem, which depend on the words you choose and where you end your lines (‘line endings’.) Basically, this is what is known as ‘free verse’.


Return to above hints and guidelines, use them as a way of examining what you have written. Ask yourself questions, for instance: Am I telling and not showing? Am I using too many adjectives and not giving the reader the opportunity to use her/his imagination? Have I used similes to add interest to the adjectives I have used? Are my words in the right order to make sense to the reader? These are just some of the questions to ask. Be prepared always to make alterations to your poem. In making the necessary changes, think about where you end the lines of your poem. Here you have also the freedom to be creative.


A line can be a short sentence, as in the first line in the third stanza of The Silence of the Sunrise by Jessica Wilby (13 years): ‘The golden sun beamed’;


or, a natural pause on the breath in reading, as in the first line of the first stanza in the poem, Devon by Becky Lorden (12 years): When the first light of dawn comes to Devon  breath pause  followed by the second line, And the tide comes in from its out;


or, a statement or ‘thought unit’ as in he first line of The Bench by Lola Edwards (10 years)

The bench sits there, which of course, is also a sentence:


or, it can simply be a phrase as in the last line of the second stanza of the poem, Place, by Scarlett Timlett-Sheehan (13 years)

Twisting at the fabric


I advise reading aloud helps in your creative freedom adjusting ‘line endings’, the rhythm and shape of your poem. It also helps in knowing where to put your punctuation so that what you express is clear.


I hope that these few pointers to writing a poem about place would be useful in contributing to your creative efforts as a poet. For me, it has been a reaffirming exercise. Remember always: the first thing is the wanting to write; then the awareness of what’s happening around you; the love of words and the enjoyment of the process, which does involve rewriting untill it reaches a point when on reading, it sounds right and looks right on the page. Never lose your sense of awe and surprise. Being a poet is really a way of being and a lifetime of learning. Best wishes with writing your poems

Copyright © 2019 Betjeman Poetry Prize   |  All Rights Reserved

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