The word "poet" derives from ancient Greek, where it meant "to make." Before people wrote, they made poems. And still today, people who don't write, make poetry. Even more fundamentally than a writer, then, a poet is a maker, an inventor — in language.

Before we learn words, we try out patterns of sound and meaning, explore new possibilities:

maa maa
goo gah

paa pah
moo ma.

Poetry, or mere babbling? Well, poetry or not, there's surely something poetic in the way infants weave sound into rhythm and meaning.

Making poems must be among the most natural and primitive human activities. For while it's true that composing poetry, like dancing or singing, rewards dedicated study and practice, we are all poets to some extent, especially when we feel our language open new ways of imagining and seeing, or as Shakespeare says, roll our eye "from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven."

And so, as we invent, releasing the words, speaking our own visions in our own voices, we establish a tone and a rhythm. Sometimes, rhymes play a part, but they aren't essential, just one of many ways poets use sound.

Once you string some words together, you have a beginning--a draft of something that may or may not ever become a poem. Some poems begin with dreams or journal entries, others with striking incidents, images, or phrases that demand to be written down.

As you make your poems, then, don't be daunted by fine points of poetic technique. Trust your voice, your imagination and intuition. Stay open to experience, receptive to ideas, and willing to experiment with language. Have fun with words. Tell your own truth in your own way. Or as Emily Dickinson puts it, "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant."

Most writing needs revision, and poems, because they are usually more compact and precise than prose, almost always need rethinking and rewriting. It may help to recall that the final poem we read in a book or magazine is the culmination of a discovery process that begins in uncertainty and proceeds by trial and error toward its published form.

That discovery process can be followed using the interactive features of this site. You can can write rough drafts in your blog and keep them private, then begin to share and discuss them in online workshops, and finally publish them here or elsewhere for the world to enjoy.