KidPoWriMo Day 18 ~ Template Poem

I knew my birthday week would be a challenge as I tried to balance KidPoWriMo with the additional things added to my week.

Still, I am moving forward.

One way of getting started with writing a new poem is to use another poem as a template. It can be any poem. If you pick a poem you like, you will probably enjoy taking it apart and putting a new poem together as you look at each piece. If you pick a poem you don’t like, you are likely to improve it when you use it to create a new poem.

Poetic word of the day: “template” (click here to read the definition on Word Central)

I learned about template poems from a poet who was a guest at my poetry event. She explained it like this: “Take each word of the poem and substitute it for another word by its part of speech.” Where you read a noun, replace it with another noun. Do the same thing for adjectives, verbs, prepositions, adverbs, pronouns, etc.

Once you have finished substituting words, you will have a completely new and original poem. But, it may need more work. Poetic devices that worked in the first poem might be lost as you create the second poem. Sometimes, a poet may be so inspired by one line of template writing, an idea will take the poem in a different direction away from the template poem. If so, go with it. The template exercise works if you only re-write a line or two or if you revise the whole poem.

My  cousin once asked me for a birthday poem. I chose “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou as my template. I did not go word for word throughout the poem, but I used the same pattern of phrases. When I needed to write more, I just repeated a pattern. When a part of the poem did not fit what I was doing, I didn’t use it. The finished poem was about my cousin (a man) and it was funny (especially since he is known to be rather serious most of the time)!

PROMPT: Write a template poem using part or all of a poem found on-line. Build a word list as you write.

Let us start one together:

Read Emily Dickinson’s poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers” on

The first line is the title of the poem. The first word is a noun and it can be substituted with many other words: “fear, love, hate, anger, cheer, kindness, vision, etc.” The next word is a verb. I could use the phrase “is a thing” again, but I really want to choose other words: “has, gives, takes, moves, claims, burns, builds, adds, etc.” The article “the” can be replaced with “a” or “an” if I must replace it, and I believe I must. The next word is another noun, “sickness, burden, place, duty, song, pebble, etc. The next word is a preposition which I will replace “with”: “for, to, above, etc.” Finally the line ends with another noun: “medicine, cowards, fish, houseplants, horses, daylight, water, ground.”

Using the words I listed so far, I can create dozens of lines from the template. Not all combinations will make sense. Here are a few:

1. Fear burns a place for cowards.

2. Hate takes a sickness to medicine.

3. Love moves a burden above ground.

All have poetic potential. And I am inspired to create a complete poem from them. I could go on and write templates of more of the poem or write on my own from one of the lines I just pieced together.

Now that you have started, go ahead and finish your poem in a way you prefer.

FOR PARENTS OF YOUNGER CHILDREN: Try substituting a couple of words from your child’s favorite nursery rhyme. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” might become “Sprinkle, sprinkle, happy cake” or “Sparkle, sparkle dancing ______” (you fill in the blank). As you go to each word, ask your child(ren) to come up with a replacement in context. When you are substituting a verb, ask a question like this: “What else would the little star do?”  When substituting an adjective, ask “What kind of…” or “What color ____ is it?”. If your child(ren) get inspired and imagination takes you away from the template, let it happen.



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