Judith Kerrigan Ribbens


“WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! All I get from you are words!” accused Eliza Doolittle in the musical, My Fair Lady. “Words-- first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” Well, for most of us, yes. At least the spoken word. But poetry? I don’t think so. It’s certainly not my experience of the American milieu. ​All this is my way of saying that poetry was the farthest thing from my mind as a soothing or self-satisfying medium. Not even in the ballpark.

There were “those times” when I awoke from a dream with words floating through my mind which I just had to write down and lo and behold—a poem. Or there were those times when, emotionally, I was so moved I just had to write about it and there it was—a poem. Because I couldn’t seem to make “those times” happen, I thought poems only came once in a blue moon, or even less often.


I know better. There are ways to trigger those times. There are people who find those times within themselves often, who know how to do that for themselves instinctively. I had to be teach myself to undo the carefully taught idea that “You aren’t talented enough to be a poet.”


often serve as a defense against really experiencing the emotions and the senses. Poetry therapy allows a person to discover his/her own personal language. When internal permission is granted to play with words, poetry becomes a dialogue with the self and encourages more personal introspection. While writing poetry is often a solitary exercise, group poems can be created. Here’s a way. Children (or adults) sit in a circle and, going around taking turns, each child contributes a word to the “poem”. It can be on a chosen subject or freely adding any word that comes to mind. Of course, someone records it and then it can be shared by reading it back to the group.


words arise from a deep internal space and often have multiple meanings, poems reveal the essence of a person, answering the question, “Who am I?” Each person’s unique perspective is easily identifiable in the word choices made. The final product lasts over time and permits ongoing dialogue with the self and, if shared, with others.

The following exercise is from the poet, Elizabeth McKim.

Materials needed: pencil or pen, paper This is the “diamante” or “kite” form of poem, named because of its shape.

Line 1: one noun

Line 2: two adjectives describing that noun

Line 3: three verbs telling what it does

Line 4: four nouns which are images associated with that first noun

Line 5: three verbs telling what the last noun does

Line 6: two adjectives describing the last noun
Line 7: the opposite of the first noun



jagged, bluish

pointing, dripping, pricking

claws, teeth, dragon, breath

burning, searing,killing


Elizabeth McKim.

Try one on the opposites “happy” and “sad”. Or any opposites.

Taken from the book Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by E. McKim and Judith W. Steinburgh. Wampeter Press, Green Harbor, MA 1983.

Elizabeth McKim was one of my teachers at Lesley College for a summer intensive. This is one of poetic forms she taught us. Sometimes it takes a bit of inspiration. This is a poem I wrote in response to seeing a beautiful white sculpture of sleeping children in the Boston Museum.

On Not Remembering Dreams

What sleeps within? Child? Wolf? Fairy? Skin
covers eternities of possibilities .In sleep do shapes
arise, surprise us. Awakening, truth fades and dies, allowing
lies.Wisdom fades with morning’s light. Truth’s encased
within the night.

J. M. Ribbens, 1989

Still not convinced you can do it? Here’s a quick method. Make a list of ten words that name something (nouns). Make a list of ten action words ending in “-ing”

Pillow scraping

Picture beating

Apron screaming

Book skating

Statue walking

Frame hopping

Tree awakening

Farm singing

Spoon sleeping

Coffee dripping

Now make a two line poem using words from the second column first—two words per line.

Screaming book

Walking statue

Beating pillow.

Now fill it out adding only 2-3 more words.

Screaming book

Thrown at walking statue.

Beating my pillow.


Well, that’s certainly moody. Let’s see if I can do a happier one. Notice that the nouns can come first too. There is no hard and fast rule to this.

Coffee dripping.

Scraping spoon..

Awakening farm.

Expanded version--

Coffee dripping brown.

Silver spoon scraping cup.

Awakening golden farm.

Light of morning.

It’s all just play. Have fun.