Five Helpful Tips for the Poet
Much of what we post in our blog is geared towards writing fiction, whether that be short stories or novels. But what of poetry?
Poetry is just as much of a literary art as any short story or novel. In fact, we receive many more poetry submissions than the other forms of literature combined! So, I figured we should devote at least one of our blogs to poetry.
I’ve tried my hand at poetry, and to be honest, it’s difficult! For me at least. I tend to regurgitate random thoughts onto my page in a steaming pile of crap. That’s my poetry. So, I figured I’d learn a little bit more about writing it CORRECTLY, for those of you reading, but mostly for myself (because I’m selfish like that).
Through my research, I’ve come across some great advice from various sources. So I’ve boiled it down to some of of the more interesting and helpful bits into the following five tips:
1- What is the end goal: When you’re writing poetry, you want to know where you’re going with it, otherwise you may just wander around in circles and never get anywhere. Even if your writing style is interesting, your poem will lose the attention of its audience if it has no real direction. I suggest you write something meaningful, something that is your own personal contribution to the human experience. Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history". This is a great way to think of poetry, and may help you find direction in your writing.
2-Terms to know: It’s good if you’re interested in poetry, but be sure you know what you’re doing. Sure, the style of “winging it” is pretty popular right now, but if you’re going for correct use of syntax, watching the length of your lines and use of rhymes, then I suggest you do your research. I’ll go through a few common tools that are used in poetry below with their definitions.
Meter: The rhythmic measure of a line.
Simile: a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., as brave as a lion, crazy like a fox ).
Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
Imagery: visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work.
Couplet. Stanza of 2 lines; often, a pair of rhymed lines.
Stanza. Group of lines making up a single unit; like a paragraph in prose.
Blank verse. Un-rhymed iambic pentameter.
Alliteration. Close repetition of consonant sounds, especially initial consonant sounds.
3-Avoid cliche statements: This might be a no-brainer, but I’ve noticed that with my own lame attempts at poetry, I get tied up in trying to convey something easily enough for people to grasp what I mean, and oftentimes that means using cliches. One way to get rid of these pesky things is to make sure that you are VERY good about revising. Sure, get everything out on the page that you want to say, cliches included, but once you’re done and going back through, pay special attention to those cliches and get rid of them. For example, if you say “my heart beat like a hammer in my chest”, get to the root of what you’re trying to say here and just switch the wording around. You want to have the same meaning so that your readers understand, but you don’t want them to be put off by your cheesy statements.
4-Learn the type: You need to keep in mind the different types of poems out there and find one that works best for your idea. I will list some popular types below to help you determine what would work best for you!
Free Verse: A Free Verse Poem does not follow any rules. Their creation is completely in the hands of the author. Rhyming, syllable count, punctuation, number of lines, number of stanzas, and line formation can be done however the author wants in order to convey the idea. There is no right or wrong way to create a Free Verse poem.
Narrative - A narrative poem tells the story of an event in the form of a poem. There is a strong sense of narration, characters, and plot.
Limerick - a five-line witty poem with a distinctive rhythm. The first, second and fifth lines, the longer lines, rhyme. The third and fourth shorter lines rhyme.
Haiku - This ancient form of poem writing is renowned for its small size as well as the precise punctuation and syllables needed on its three lines. It is of ancient Asian origin.Haiku's are composed of 3 lines, each a phrase. The first line typically has 5 syllables, second line has 7 and the 3rd and last line repeats another 5. In addition there is a seasonal reference included.
5-Write what you know: This advice can go for any type of writing, but it’s good advice when it comes to poetry as well. When you write from experience it will ring true with your readers. Just as Robert Frost wrote about his experiences with nature, you should find inspiration from your own life experiences. On the other hand, I will go against this advice and suggest that you write about things that you don’t know much about. What do I mean by this? I personally enjoy writing about things that I don’t know much about, or about things that I think/wonder about but don’t necessarily know. For instance, there are plenty of great stories/poems out there about death or mythical topics, where you know that the writer wouldn’t necessarily have experience with these types of topics. These poems still turn out great and offer an intriguing read for those interested in the topic at hand. In the end, I suggest you write what you want to write, whether it be what you know or things that you don’t necessarily know, but are really interested in.
These are just a few highlights about poetry that I came across in my research. I’ll add a bit of my own advice here, just for the heck of it. From my own experience with writing, whether it’s short stories, longer novels or poetry, I’ve discovered that great writing attempts to engage all five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste. I’m sure this has made it on some lists out there, but I’ll feign naivety and say I didn’t search long enough. Have you found any great advice about poetry that have helped you in the past?
Challenge: I challenge you to pick a type of poem that you haven’t tried (or are not very familiar with) and write a poem! It doesn’t need to be very long, just long enough for you to get a feel for the style and see if you like it or not. Also, have fun with it! Happy writing!