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Poetry-Editing Checklist

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Sun Mar 22, 2009 10:17 pm
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Jasmine Hart says...

I couldn't write the other day, because I felt really daunted, so I made lists to show myself that I have some vague idea of what I'm doing! This is my poetry checklist. I hope it's of some use.

Poetry Checklist

1) Have you heard this somewhere before?

E.g; "I can't live without you".
"Black as coal".
"No one understands me."

Poetry is difficult because you only have a certain amount of space to make your point, and so many people write it. I read somewhere that more people write poetry than read it! So if you're writing a poem which you don't intend to keep all to yourself, you need to say something new, or at least say something old in a new way. Poetry critics say that one bad line can ruin a poem, so it's a good idea to cross out any cliches or stale lines.

2) Is your pattern consistent?

If you are using rhyme, or a syllabyl pattern, are you sticking to it? If you are breaking it, do you have a very clear reason for doing so? If you're following a pattern and break it in the middle of the poem for no apparent reason, the flow is disturbed.

3) If you are writing on a common theme like love or death, have you brought something new to it?

I find this one the most difficult. Love and death overwhelm us, so we feel the need to express them in poetry; but so does everyone else. It means that poets writing on these themes have to really justify doing it if it's not purely for themselves. In writing on these themes, you need to try and look at them with a fresh eye, break away from traditional forms. I haven't figured out a special method for doing this...

4) Could you say this more clearly/simply/quickly?

In trying to be poetic, poets often overdo it. For example, I have used the phrases
"putrid molding of some unrecognizable essentiality"


"crimson networks of blood".

Too much! When we do this, we lose the reader. We need to get to the point, and get to it quickly, without being overly florid; it almost always ends up ringing of falseness anyway.

5) Do you actually believe what you're writing?

Someone I had only had one conversation with at the time was critiquing my work. For certain lines, he'd look at me and say "You don't believe this!" I actually didn't. So apparently, if you're heart's not in it, the reader can tell! Be careful what you say!

6) Are you being too general?

Poetry tends to be on isolated moments, so do go into detail on them. Show the reader what you're talking about, and be specific.
"Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise."
-Maya Angelou

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
— Eric Hoffer