How to write a poem about place

by poet Rachel Rooney

Poems rarely arrive fully formed on the page. I often have to go looking for them and coax them out of hiding. Usually, I start my search by scribbling down any random word or phrases that pop into my head around my chosen theme. Much of what I write at this early stage isn’t ever used, but usually there are one or two ideas that lead me to a poem.

Memory and Place

You could start by thinking of one particular moment when you experienced a very strong feeling – whether it be a good or a bad one. It could be recent memory, or something you recall from a few years ago. Place yourself at the scene. Where are you? What has happened - or is about to happen? It doesn’t need to be an unusual or exotic location. It could be in a rain-soaked tent on a class camping trip, at the first rung on the steps to the top diving board or simply in your kitchen or a classroom. What were you feeling and thinking when you were there?

Identity and Place

Or maybe you can start off by thinking of a place you’d like to return to. It might be somewhere that made you feel safe, welcomed or at home. It might be somewhere that excited or challenged you and that you want to explore further. You may even end up writing a poem about part of the journey that takes you there or back, or the mementos you’ve kept to remind you of that place.

 

Once you have chosen your place, visualise your surroundings and zoom in on the small details. Imagine the sounds you might hear, the smell of the place, some close up objects or features or any physical sensations you might have experienced. You may not remember them clearly so make them up if you need to - but always make it believable. Now take a mental snapshot and start scribbling down your thoughts.

Expressions about Place

You might start by thinking of sayings or expressions that people often use when talking about place e.g. a place in my heart, the right time and place, feeling out of place, knowing your place, safe hiding place. See if you can think of any others to add to this list. Don’t forget there are lots of resources to be had on the internet – I often google words and phrases when I’m starting out. Does anything you hear strike a chord with you? Sometimes a single phrase or expression can kick start a poem into being.

Looking back on past entries, you'll be struck by the variety of approaches taken to the theme of Place. There are poems written about imaginary places or imagined places. There are poems written in the voice of an alien, a statue in a museum and a local town. There is even a poem about the places where poems have been written. Some are written in free verse, some have repeated patterns running through them, and some keep a strict rhythm and rhyme. There are no rules except to base your poem around the theme of Place. Enjoy yourself!

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