“How to Write a Poem,” chapter 3

Chapter 3 is called “Stir the Bees: Sound.” Runyan begins the chapter with another line from Billy Collins’ “introduction to poetry”:

or press an ear against its hive

Think about that word, “hive.” I can’t read it it without hearing the buzzing of bees.

This chapter is about sound, about choosing words with sound in mind. That can be rhyme, sure. Runyan also shows a lot of other ways to involve the sense of sound by deconstructing the nursery rhyme “Baa baa black sheep.”

She also encourages us to use word lists to choose the word that evokes sound or that simply sounds good when read aloud. So in my next draft of my poem, I did consult ye olde thesaurus. A couple of those words made it to the final draft.


Roadside Oddity (#3)

There’s nothing odd

about a wee white cross

beside a Texas highway.


“Careful there could be snakes,”

she says, but there’s no water

just a cross


entwined grapevines rising

from prairie grass

just past mile marker 95.


The earth curves away from the crash

tire tracks lead nowhere. Yellow tape

insists, DO NOT CROSS


We cross pasture bleached by drought

stare at ivory sky

Zephyr wind lifts our skirts


Note: This chapter opens with a poem I loved the first time I saw it at Every Day Poems—“Tiny Blast” by Peter Gizzi. It includes the wonderful line, “Turtle into it / with your little force.”



  1. THANK YOU for these posts stemming from “How to Write a Poem.” Loving them! I just got the book and look forward to working through it, but first need to complete Claire Burge’s “Spin,” which is filling the space left by this summer’s TSPoetry workshop on mindfulness with Chris Tokel. ( I am awash in inspiration and opportunities to grow in creativity!)

    Anyway, I am loving reading your thoughts and how you’re sharing the development of the poem.

  2. Cross, repeated. Did you have a set of specific intents in choosing the repetition? Good talk at the Writers Conference.

    • I just found it terribly ironic that we were there to plant a cross and there was yellow tape everywhere saying, “Do not cross.” It felt like that actual juxtaposition was screaming out for poetic juxtaposition.

      P.S. Thanks for your kind words about the talk.

  3. I am liking the repetition of cross in this case. Not all words bear repeating. And not all poems can bear repeating words. But this one feels like it’s working.

    I’m enjoying watching the evolution of this poem. There was something about the tone in the last version I liked better, but I’m going to wait until the final, final before settling into a viewpoint 🙂

  4. Okay, my revision for chapter 3. I cut out several lines from the beginning, and (following your example) I used a thesaurus!


    My mother favored the fireplace.
    She threw sprinkles that changed the flames
    into colors, like fluid movements of dancers
    in jewel-toned tulle.

    Mom bought a newspaper log roller,
    cast-iron black. We tucked in sheet
    after sheet, putting old news to rest;
    cranked the handle round and round; saved
    a tree and a trip to the recycles.

    But the flames didn’t take on sheets altogether
    too miserly, rolled all tight. Flames choked out
    before the next layer of news. The happenings
    of weeks and months of yesterdays
    don’t easily burn away in ashes.