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Poem-Making as Play

I learned how to write poems by reading the book of John Fox. I devoured Finding What You Didn’t Lose, Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making.

I highlighted, performed the exercises and read the poems featured in the book. I had so much fun! Poetry set me free in so many ways.

I loved the book so much I wrote John Fox and told him how I enjoyed learning poetry through his book. Those were the days of snail mail and to my surprise, Fox snail mailed back, with  a short note of encouragement.

Here are some wonderful quotes from the book, lifted from Chapter Four entitled “Language as Play.”

“Writing poetry will come naturally if you allow yourslf to become as direct and free as a young child, if you can access a child’s sense of curiosity and joy, a child’s contact with feelings unfettered by analysis, as well as a child’s ability to create metaphor by uninhibitedly making connections between everything seen and experienced. ”

“Playfulness in using language occurs on many levels. There is the aspect of playfulness found in being original and inventive. But there is also a level of playfulness that goes to the core of being a writer – playfulness is a way to allow your writing to flow without  judgment.”

“When as adults we experiment with making sounds, we take a major step toward connecting with the poet within. It means enjoying words for the way they pop, ring, reverberate in our ears. It means delighting in the nonmeaning aspect of words – as a child does when he chants,  ‘Hickory dickory dock…” or Fi Fie Fo Fum…’ ”

Two Suggestions from Fox

According to Fox, the word “poet” means “maker.” In poem making, Fox suggests that we “treat words as if they were objects you might find in nature:  a shell, a stone, a palm frond, flower petals, some sage.”  Just as we can group these objects together and form a beautiful arrangement, we can choose attractive, fun-sounding words and write “natural poems.”

Another way we can approach poem-making is by treating the words as though they were paint, clay or wood. Says Fox: “Words thus become artistic material to be molded or chiseled or blended. You already have your materials, all you need now is to follow your imagination and your sense of what interests you.”

Photo credit: Grafixar via Morguefile


  1. Great post, Rosanna. I love the idea of words as an arrangement of beautiful/natural items. When I write (though not poetry) I’m more a chiseler, shaper and blender. I love the sounds and cadence, and the art of bringing them together into meaning.


    • Diana, I see you as a word artist – and judging by the number of books you’ve written, you seem to be a very busy word artist!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Windy Mama says

    Having a child’s sense of wonder is easy in theory, but not so much in practice I find. We have it beaten out of us as we grow. When I’m writing, I find I have to remind myself to “just go there” whenever I hesitate to put an idea down. So in other words, when I’m writing, I’m flogging the adult to get at the child!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch Sue, That sounds like flagellation. It’s hard for me to believe that, given the humor you inject in your writing. But I do hope you regain the capacity for child-like wonder. I could never do without it…not just in writing. I’ve always loved to play — that’s probably why I’m small. Never want to be a serious adult 🙂


  3. I love it that Fox responded to your letter–that’s classy. I remember reading an essay about Betty Smith, who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She so enjoyed responding to readers’ letters–engaging in a dialogue about her book–that she stopped writing fiction and started writing letters. I really enjoyed working with this book, too–I thoroughly appreciate reading your posts and it gives me a ‘ping’ of connection when you talk about a book I’ve also deeply enjoyed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Guess what Pam…I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! I still remember the opening scene of that book, and the story as well. Now I’m going to google Betty Smith – I want to read about her career as a letter- writer. I was glad Fox wrote back. But Stephen Covey did more than just write back – he sent me a tape (it was tapes back then) of his book Principle-Centered Leadership after I sent a letter explaining how much reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People changed my life. He was super classy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rosanna, There’s a book on writing–I think I have it on my shelf somewhere–that recommends writing to favorite authors and telling them you love their work. Sounds like you do that already! Love that connection. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was (and is) in my top three favorite books ever! And my son and I are working with the 7 Habits Books; the narrative voice there is so personable, I can believe he responded in such a warm way!


        • I know there’s a book about almost everything but I never thought anyone would write a book about writing to authors – it seems so natural to me. I’ll always have a special place in my writing heart for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’m sure you and your son will learn much from 7 Habits. It’s a great book!

          Liked by 1 person

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