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Finding the spark: How do you prepare yourself to write a poem? – CityLife Arts

By CityLife Arts Writer

It is usually not so difficult to write a poem once you have actually begun. But how can you reach that point where you can hear your own voice and feel inspired?

Melissa Sussens ( is a poet dedicated to opening up and maintaining inclusive spaces for poets everywhere. Her debut poetry collection, Slaughterhouse, published by Karavan Press ( in 2022, is an astonishing achievement. When not writing or working as a veterinarian, she is an assistant on Megan Falley’s international online course, Poems That Don’t Suck.

Melissa has shared three exercises that help her to find her own creative spark (and kindle it in others).

Free writing. Sit down with a blank page and a timer and get writing. Sometimes it helps to have a line from another person’s poem to jump off from – you could flip open a book and choose whichever line your eye lands on first or keep a list of favourite lines to use for this purpose. Set a timer for two minutes and write. I like to follow Natalie Goldberg’s rules for free writing: don’t stop, don’t cross out, don’t edit, don’t think, go for the jugular. When your timer goes off you have the option to either keep going if you’re in the flow or, if you are running out of things to say, flip to another line and restart your timer for the next session. This can be a fun exercise to do with friends or to get your writing muscle warmed up at the start of a writing session. Don’t expect a perfect poem to appear through this. Often, these free writes are starting points for ideas to be explored in future poem drafts. Trust your subconscious to take you where you need to go. I also recommend Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (

Metaphor dice. American Poet, Taylor Mali, came up with the metaphor dice as a fun “writing tool that plays like a game”. If you can invest in a set of these dice, they are wonderful. But you can also create the same concept for yourself at home. The idea is to explore a metaphor (e.g. love is a broken mirror) within a poem by following a random grouping of words made up of a concept (e.g. love), an adjective (e.g. broken) and an object (e.g. mirror). Visit the Metaphor dice website for a free download to make your own dice as well as more on how to use these in your writing. Button Poetry ( even published an anthology made up entirely of poems sparked by these metaphors.

Read to write. The best thing to inspire your own writing is to read the work of others. Sometimes one can feel stuck, so I have found that reading with the idea of finding a prompt or idea within a poem that I could write from is very useful. Prompts can be excellent ways of forcing your pen to move and your brain to engage with ideas or connections that may have been hidden below your conscious. Read a poem and use it as a spark for one of your own, for example, read alternate names for black boys by Dante Smith. Now think about what things in your own life you could get creative with giving alternate names to. Go write that poem.

In the next few days, follow Melissa’s advice and identify a person, a place or a thing you think you know well. Find alternate names for it that surprise even you.

The AVBOB Poetry Competition reopens on 1 August 2024. Visit our extensive archive at and find inspiration for your writing by reading the work of other poets in all 11 of South Africa’s official written languages. Follow us on social media for news, announcements and opportunities.

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