Tips for writing poetry

Because poetry can be a powerful tool in a prose writer’s kit, I’ll be sharing some tips for writing poetry. As I mentioned in an earlier post about why I write poetry, it forces you to think about your word choice and evaluate every single word you use on its merits. It teaches you to write sparse, elegant prose.

Writing Tip: Write Poetry

Now, before we go any further, I have to add a disclaimer: I am a prose writer first, and a poet only second. I can tell you what I know and what works for me, but if you want to get really serious about poetry, you may need to find a better teacher. Someone like Billy Collins, perhaps.

My tips for writing better poetry

  • Focus on the reader. Too often, fledgling poets focus all their efforts on their own emotions, thinking this is enough to write a poem that will enchant their reader. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Your raw emotions are a good starting point, but if you want to engage your reader, you have to move past them. Turn those emotions into a narrative that will hold the reader’s attention.
  • Abstractions are the death of your poetry. The fastest way to make your poem feel bland and lifeless, is by using too many abstractions. Love, beauty, tenderness, grief… Words like these don’t evoke emotion. To make your poetry interesting, you have to show them what love (or hate, or grief) looks like. Show more than you tell applies to poetry even more than to prose.
  • Few things are worse than forced rhyme. You don’t want to mangle your sentences into grammatical train wrecks to make your poetry rhyme. And it isn’t necessary either. For one thing, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. But even if you want to write rhyming poetry, you should at least put in the effort to use correct grammar. No excuses!
  • Strained word choice is evil. It’s the poetic equivalent of purple prose. And for the love of all that’s holy, we’re not living in Shakespearean times! No thees and thous, or other antiquated words. Plain English will do just fine.
  • Play with forms – or try your hand at free verse. I personally love playing with form poetry and the challenges this provides. But free verse has its advantages – especially for new poets – and it’s probably one of the easiest ways to develop your poetic skills.

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