How to write a poem inspired by one word

To write a poem starting with a single word is an entertaining challenge that exercises our imagination. Here’s how to help young poets (or adult poets) get started.

Let’s say the word is time.
Think it over for a few minutes but don’t waste a lot of “time” doing it. Do the quick stuff first. What does time make you think of?

Here are 6 steps you can take.

1 Make a list of the first things that come to mind

Telling time
Losing time
Time out
Lunch time
A good time
A sad time
A funny time
Once upon a time
Hard times
Prehistoric times
Time zones
Daylight Savings Time
The time of your life
In no time
(You’ll think of a lot more in the next few minutes)

2 Look up some things about time and make notes

The earliest efforts to keep track of time
Tracking sun and moon
Following constellations across the sky
Modern time pieces
Making a watch
Measuring distance in light years

3 Pick a subject that interests you and think about what you might write about it. Begin with random thoughts, whatever comes to mind.

I’ll choose LUNCH TIME from the first list.

What would I have to say about lunch time? I might write about eating lunch in our school cafeteria. Some kids are noisy and talk to their friends while others sit quietly and eat their food. Some days we get so noisy that teachers and even our principal have to stand up and give us the quiet sign until we settle down. Some days the food is good but I don’t always eat everything on my tray.

I could write my poem about the day the lights went out during lunch period and some of the little kids didn’t like it but some of the bigger ones threw stuff and no one could hear anything over all the yelling.

Or maybe I can write about how we have to line up to go to the cafeteria and walk down the hall behind our teacher. One time someone stepped on my heel and my shoe came off. Sometimes we get giggly and can’t seem to stop even when our teacher gives us “The look.” One time we got so out of control that our teacher made us go back to our room and start all over, and then we had to wolf our food down.

4 Pick an idea from the random description and list some points you might want to include in your poem.

I’ll choose getting “The look” in the lunchroom.


Making too much noise
Shoving in line
Dropping a tray
Poking someone
Not being polite
Not listening

5 Try a first draft.


Beware “The Look,”
It will turn your hair white
Teacher’s always watching
You mustn’t poke or run
Or shout
Or drop a tray
Or forget to listen
Or else you might get “The Look”
And go home white-headed.

6 Revise


Better behave at lunch time,
Kid, I’m warning you,
Teacher keeps her eagle eyes
On everything we do.

Lunch time is the wrong time
To run or drop a tray,
You mustn’t poke
Or yell or tease,
You must remember manners, please,
You must say thank you to the cook
Or else you’ll get “The Look.”

It fries your hair and turns it white
So you go home an awful sight
And give you little sis a fright!

“The Look!”

Click here to print.

I realize that everyone has his or her own way to develop a poem for the monthly challenge. I offer the suggestions below merely as another possibility. I’m posting this same thing on the Teacher page as the tool for January so you can always find it there if you forget the date of this posting. Although I wrote these suggestions with young poets in mind, I think the process would be much the same for poets of any age.

Let me know how this exercise works for you.



BULLETIN: Linda’s winning poem is up on Kathy’s writing and illustrating blog today, January 2nd and Priya’s poem is up on Linda and Priya, be sure to find them there.

BULLETIN: Jan Gallagher has a question for the group. Here it is.

David and Adult Poets posted here.
I appreciate your work.
May I have permission to share these poems with THE QUILL AND INK CLUB in Marshfield, MO on Wednesday
6 January 2010 ?
Please let me know. If you do not e-mail permission I will not print and share.
Janet Kay Gallagher

My response is that our poems and comments are generally meant for public view. We might copyright our invididual poems, especially if they should appear in books or magazines, but in the case of one poet wanting to share our body of work with other writers, hopefully to entice them to join the “gang,” I personally don’t have a problem.

WHAT SAY YOU? We need to respond to Jan right away. Thanks. DH


January schedule for Word of the Month poems

Hello Everyone,
I hope you rang in the new year with style. Do we call this two thousand ten or twenty ten? I’m not sure.

Here is your schedule for January.

January 23 — Cutoff for posting “time” poems at midnight CST.
January 25 — Voting begins for January Hall of Fame Poets.
January 30 — Voting ends at midnight CST.
January 31 — January winners declared and February word announced.

Tomorrow I’m going to post something that might help poets get started on creating a poem that springs from one word. If you have comments and/or suggestions of your own, please don’t hesitate to share them!

Happy New Year!


Marilyn Singer

I’m happy to announce that the many-talented Marilyn Singer will appear on December 18 as my blog guest. She will bring with her some excellent tips for writing poetry so mark the 18th on your calendar.

I’ll post Marilyn’s bio on the 17th but here are a few hints to get you started on your own search. Marilyn Singer was born in the Bronx and lived most of her early life in N. Massapequa (Long Island), NY. She attended Queens College, City University of New York, and for her junior year, Reading University, England. She taught English in New York City high schools for several years before turning to writing.

Don’t forget to let me know if you have topics or guests you would like to see on my blog.


How The Book of Giant Stories began

I learned from the poll that many of you have a strong interest in picture books. Since we’re talking about limericks that appeared in The Book of Giant Stories, I thought the book might be a good place to begin.

My first picture book, The Boy With A Drum, was accepted by Western Publishing in 1967 and came out in 1969. During that time, one of my editors at Western (Kathleen Daley) left to go to American Heritage Press in New York City. When Kathleen expressed interest in doing something with me there, I flew to New York to visit with her.

She said she wanted a collection of stories and asked what I would like to write about. We brainstormed and I mentioned giants. We agreed on my doing three stories on that subject. On my flight home to Kansas City I began drafting ideas for giant stories.

For weeks I dreamed up possible giant stories. I kept a list of those I liked best. By the time the list reached 38 I figured I had enough. One by one I reviewed the candidates and scratched off the weakest ones. I repeated the process several times until I eventually identified the three ideas that I simply had to write.

By the time I finally began writing, the first story was clear in my mind. I had my character (a little boy) and I knew the problem he was going to have to solve (escaping from three giants). I knew how he was going to pull it off and could hardly wait to get to the end of the first draft. Nevertheless I remember spending days on the opening paragraph. I wanted it to grab the reader, give him enough but not too much information, and make him eager to turn to the next page.

When the manuscript was completed some months later, Kathleen loved the stories and said it might be fun to add some limericks. I wrote four of them to be scattered throughout the book.

The Book of Giant Stories sold more than 750,000 copies in hardback in ten translations and more than a dozen countries. When Giants won a Christopher Medal in 1972, Kathleen called from New York to say I should fly up for the award ceremony. The Little House on the Prairie TV series won the medal, either the year before or after. I don’t remember now, but I do remember how disappointed Kathleen was when I decided not to make the trip. I was just leaving my job as Editorial Manager for Hallmark Cards to return home to Springfield and manage the family manufacturing business so my father could retire.

The Book of Giant Stories eventually went out of print but in 2001 Boyds Mills Press brought it back out for a new generation of readers.

I continue to approach a new picture book by making lists of potential characters, plots, and resolutions until I find a combination that feels right.

If you have a story about how you got into a picture book, I hope you won’t mind sharing it. Thanks in advance for joining a dialogue that may be helpful to many others.


How to get started

Since we are seeing a growing number of poems inspired by dirt, I thought this would be a good time to demonstrate one of my favorite methods to get started on those days when my muse seems to be out for coffee. I call this Association. Here’s how it works.

Write a word at the top of the page on the left, leaving room for two more columns to the right. Below that word, write at least three things the word makes you think of. Choose one of those three to head the second column. Again, think of three things that word or phrase makes you think of. Choose one of those three to head the third column and repeat the exercise.

You now have nine thought starters. Of course you can make your lists longer and keep adding columns if you wish. I’ve made columns as long as a dozen associations. You can see how quickly this engages your imagination. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for ideas for poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. As an example I’ve chosen (what else?) dirt.

(1st column)


dishing the dirt
dirty trick
dirty joke

(2nd column)


not fair

(3rd column)


breaking a leg
two tests in one day
missing the bus

Notice how far the list has evolved by the third column and how dissimilar the ideas have become. Even if you don’t develop an idea further, this is a good warm-up exercise to kick start the day.


The other day I suggested that you look at Kathy Temean’s announcement about YOUNG AUTHORS AND ARTISTS GROUP ( Since then I’ve accepted Kathy’s invitation to serve on a panel of authors who will be involved in offering advice to young writers. I look forward to working with Kathy and other members of the panel for this new organization. I copied the information below from Kathy’s blog. Please refer to Kathy to learn more.

Do you know a young adult or child who is interested in writing or art? I would like to introduce you to a new organization – Young Authors and Artisit Group, fondly known as YAAGroup –

If you are a teacher and want to use their materials in you classroom, they have a special for you, too.

If you are a published author and want to be considered for placement on their Author/Illustrator Panel, click here for the form and please e-mail it to the link below.  There are lots of advantages for authors & illustrators, so check it out.  One is having your picture, bio, website and books listed.  Plus, children and teachers will be regularly reminded about you and what you do when they visit.