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Young Writers Society
Sat Mar 28, 2009 7:29 pm
Any aspiring poet has, at one point, been scolded for a piece that is too 'unoriginal' - I know, because I've critiqued those pieces and been critiqued for that. The general advice is to use poetic devices, such as metaphor and imagery, to convey an old meaning in a new way.
So, how do you do that? How do you write about something that's so popular it has become 'overused,' and still keep your poem new?
First, you need to know what to write about. Poetry can be about absolutely anything. Everyone writes about the big topics, such as love, hate, death, and religion at some point, but poetry does not have to be about the great things. It can also be about the small, tiny, seemingly irrelevant ups and downs that we experience every day.
The biggest tip I can give you here is this: write what's important to
Write about something that gets you excited or inspired. A good poem should be about you: your feelings, thoughts, worries, trials, happinesses, what you want to say, etc. (This is not to eschew narrative or third-person poetry, I'm just saying that it's impossible to write good poetry if it's not about something that sparks your creativity!)
Tackling Abstract Concepts
Okay, so maybe what gets you inspired is love (or something else equally abstract). One of the biggest traps you can fall into is repetition. How many love poems have heard? Say, like, a million? It's such a popular concept, it's hard to present it in a fresh way.
Take a moment and think about it. What does love mean to you? Maybe there's a specific person, place, or thing that makes you think of love. For me, it will always be jazz music and Market Street, but to anyone else it would be something completely different. Present your concept in a new, extraordinary way.
Using Metaphor and Personification to Get Your Point Across
One of the best ways to do this is to create imagery through metaphor. A metaphor is a statement that pretends one thing is actually something else, like 'the girl was a walking encyclopedia.' The girl isn't
an encyclopedia, it's just a new way of saying that she knows a lot. Another device is personification, which is when the writer takes a non-living thing and gives it human traits. For an example of personification, take one of my favorite poems: Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room, by Nancy Willard.
"Ah, William, we're weary of weather,"
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
"Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?"
They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
That's very blatant personification, no? Sunflowers, which don't normally talk, are...talking! A human trait. Mind you, it doesn't have to be so obvious, eg talking and moving, but the point is that Willard has taken a fairly ordinary event and turned it upside down, using devices. (For another, take a look at
Under the Harvest Moon
, by Carl Sandburg.
To practice using these techniques, try writing in concrete words instead of abstractions. And by
, I mean words that describe things that people experience through their senses. Consider this sentence:
He was sad.
Very bland, right? Very boring. Would you want to read a poem that was full of this kind of description?
He walked with his shoulders hunched over, weighted with a thousand invisible burdens.
That not only conveys the sadness, but it gives the reader a picture that they can see in their mind. Don't say someone is 'happy'; show how their smile spread out against their face. Don't call something 'beautiful'; show exactly what makes it so beautiful.
(Do not be limited to visual images, either! Use taste, touch, smell, and sound as well.)
A Word of Warning
While metaphors are a good way to show instead of tell, they should be used
Avoid the very cliched metaphors such as
busy as a bee
. That's used a gazillion times everyday, and will probably cause some
s or eye-rolling from the reader. Instead, invent your own metaphors. You want to describe something that's busy, right? Ask yourself, what are the things associated with busy? Make a list. Pick something unusual, and make a metaphor out of it.
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
To sum up:
When trying to write new and interesting poetry,
1. Know your subject.
2. Keep it personal.
3. Use imagery to present it in your own way.
Hopefully, after reading this, you'll have a better idea of how to create fresh, original poetry.
'life tastes sweeter when it's wrapped in poetry'
Sun Jul 17, 2011 12:47 pm
You're right. And to add here. Honesty is an essential part of poetry. There should be no plagiarism or stealing of ideas whether they have been morphed into something really different or not. Poetry has to be 'from the poet'. Of course every poet is inspired by some event or person or some other poet but inspiration should remain inspiration and not cross the lines.
Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:47 am
The major problem I have with this article is that Two Sunflowers was NOT written by William Blake! He died in 1857 - Two sunflowers was written by Nancy Willard in 1981
Thu Jun 20, 2013 5:47 pm
Thanks for the correction! The article has been edited. Apparently it's
pretty often misattributed
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo
Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.
I want to shake off the dust of this one-horse town. I want to explore the world. I want to watch TV in a different time zone. I want to visit strange, exotic malls...I want to live, Marge! Won't you let me live?
— Homer Simpson
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