Poem Shmoem: How to Write Poetry

I have writers asking me all the time to write about writing poetry, and the question always makes me want to run. I don’t know how to write poetry, but I do write and publish a lot of it. My fans seem to really like it, and say things like, ‘wow, you really are a brilliant poet, some of your lines are genius.’ What? Well, thank you. Really, thank you thank you thank you. But to me it’s just the way my brain works and it doesn’t seem like genius and I don’t feel like I’m brilliant.

Imposter syndrome, you say? No … I believe in my writing and I publish it confidently, but sometimes I feel like my poetry is just telling it how it is, but with a touch of flair. Which proves that it’s all about perspective, as it is with a lot of writing (and a lot of life living.) So today I’m not going to tell you how to write poetry, I’m going to tell you how I write poetry, and hopefully you will walk away with a little inspiration and the confidence to stop comparing yourself to others. Go with the flow and believe in what you do.

My writing devices make all the difference

Since I love to write by hand, I bought myself a Supernote, which is like a ReMarkable but with some extra features. Having this device gets me excited about writing, since I can write by hand and convert it to text in Word to edit later. All on the same device. The stylus glides over the Supernote screen with just enough give to make it feel like I’m writing on paper with an everlasting fineliner. And I can take it anywhere …

Location location location

I’m about to go to bed when I get a feeling. It’s that strange inspiration bell that doesn’t ring, but sends an aura through your entire body.

I love my balcony on a sunny day in any season. I live on a top floor apartment in Athens, Greece, and my balcony is a 50 sqm L shape surrounded by yucca trees and Mexican palms, with a wooden beach-bar-type floor. It’s not as luxurious as it sounds, since we don’t have  storage for our gardening/cleaning equipment, tools, or compost bins, so all that stuff is shoved to the very dirty and dusty side of the L, while the other side of the L is my clean little haven away from the constant noise in my home: my son narrating every move he and his toys and his imaginary creatures make; my partner on back-to-back business calls as he paces round and round the sofa expressing his marketing know-how in passionate Greek; the stove fan roaring as it sucks remnants of peace into the hustle of Athens traffic; the ‘silent’ washing machine pounding on the uneven laminate as it acquires my son’s monster status more and more with each cycle; the tame hum of the dishwasher that whispers all the things I don’t want to hear; and the voice in my own head that plays on repeat: ME TIME ME TIME ME TIME.

I make it to the ME TIME

Now I breathe. I close my eyes and listen to the world hum around me. I smell the smells, the good, the bad (and the ugly); I meditate, get myself in the zone, pretend the breeze on my face and my hands isn’t cold (it’s winter, I’m rugged up, but it’s sunny and fresh.) I realize the table is full of red dust from the polluted rain the previous night, and I run inside to grab a cloth to clean it so that I don’t soil my Supernote. I’m distracted by the sight of the kettle and decide to make myself a cup of tea. I spend minutes selecting a flavour. Then change my mind. I want espresso. I go through the motions of making a coffee, hold my hand on the edge of the coffee machine as it loudly vibrates its delicious brown hot liquid into my (shit, it’s not washed) cup (pfft, doesn’t matter). I take a sip and swallow the heaven I don’t believe in. But how else can you describe that first sip of coffee for the day? I stand in the kitchen longer than I should, staring at the floor before I realize that I belong on the balcony.

Back into the cold

I take my coffee outside and realize I still haven’t washed the table. I run back in and grab some paper towel, wet it, and jog back out. As I re-enter the house to put the dirty paper towel in the bin, I notice there are drops of water all over the floor. I wipe them up with the dirty paper towel and smear red dust all over the floor. Dammit. “Can you clean that up?” I say to my partner, Alex. He stares at me in disbelief. I ignore it, trash the paper and jog back out to the balcony. I’m never going to write anything before my son gets home from the park at this rate. I sit. I open my Supernote. I stare at my Supernote. I write, “My trembling hands reach for the coffee pot.”

So what? And oh f­—

Is that meant to be a poem? Who knows. It could belong in one, but it doesn’t exist yet. I hear the nanny’s knock on the front door. They’re back from the park. I collect my things and come inside. I make my kid lunch, play a bit, put him down for a nap. Now it’s time for me to get some ‘real’ work done. (Don’t fall for that, I’m being facetious.) Two hours later he wakes up. I stop work, go through all the motions of getting my son out of the house again. I chase him around the house with a pair of his pants on my head for almost an hour, until I finally say, “Come on, we need to do the thing, and in order to do that thing, we need to do the other thing, and put on your thing, so we can go down the thing and outside to the thing to do the other thing.” My son says, “you mean grandma’s.” He’s only three. Can’t fool him. His dad says, “Get dressed or I’ll give you a sloppy kiss all over your face.” The kid gets dressed. Why?!

Out of the house and back again

By the time I return to my desk, most of the day has gone and I contemplate giving up on work and just trying to get that ME TIME, but the guilt overpowers me. I have clients waiting on book covers (and laundry, dishes, that other thing, and I should also probably shower? Probably?) 

Fast-forward through all the domestic stuff

The day is done. I’m about to go to bed when I get a feeling. It’s that strange inspiration bell that doesn’t ring, but sends an aura through your entire body. I pick up my Supernote and illegibly scribble the following in less than a minute: 


has become e-scape—

and endless digital horizon.

No gravity, no destination,

but lots of clouds

to float in.


We glitch through light—

a time warp of connection

forgetting our own tangible bodies

can actually escape on land

and thrive.


And I go to bed with a smile on my face.

Um, so how do I write poetry?

I’m so sorry, I told you before, I don’t know how to write poetry. I just say things that need saying, when I want to say them, and somehow, they sound like they’ve come from the mind of a poet. But that’s just me. I’m a non-poet poet. How about you?

PS: The coffee pot line did end up in a poem. You’ll find it in my latest collection.

PPS: Do I need to tell you the moral of the story?

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Jessica Bell

Column by Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is a multi-award-winning author/poet and singer-songwriter who was born in Melbourne, Australia.

In addition to having published a memoir, five novels, three poetry collections, and her bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has been featured in a variety of publications and radio shows such as Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, Life Matters, and Poetica.

She is also the publisher of Vine Leaves Press, and a highly sought-after book cover designer. She currently resides in Athens, Greece, with her partner and son, and a pile of dishes that still don’t know how to wash themselves.

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