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Young Writers Society
How to Write Good Poetry
Wed Sep 15, 2010 12:12 pm
How to Write Good Poetry
People will tell you there isn’t good poetry or bad, it’s all open to interpretation, it isn’t something you can put a boundary to. A more sensible statement is that there will always be someone who dislikes your poetry. It doesn’t always follow that the more people who dislike your poetry, the worse it is, either because sometimes good poetry is that which makes us think and raises the hair on the back of our necks; chests; knuckles in indignation. Good poetry evokes emotion in the reader and leaves them with a slightly different mind-set (however temporary) to the one with which they began to read. My aim here is to provide a simple ‘check list’ if you will of what a writer should consider when crafting good poetry.
An important component of good poetry is the structure or lack thereof. I’ll discuss the latter first. Writing in free verse can give the writer more slack, more space to pent your feelings but you must be careful to consider the length and flow. A poem should only be as long as it needs to be: any words which aren’t absolutely necessary should not make it to the final cut. This isn’t to say you should take out every it, the, and, but rather you should be much more concise than I am being. The flow will make the reading easier or not. The more experienced poet will vary their flow to emphasise themes or particular words in their poetry but a smooth, clean flow can make for easier reading and a memorable piece.
You may find the structured route easier to take: while in free verse you’re reliant on the use of grammar and much reading out loud to keep your flow in check, in structured poetry you also have the aid of rhyme and rhythm. There’s different forms to experiment with and some may be more suited to your topic. For example you shouldn't be trying to write a narrative poem about mechanical beings in Haiku.
A book with excellent description and lively characters is perfectly enjoyable but without the cutting edge plot it isn’t going to be remembered or make that best book list. The same applies to poetry. A good flow and clever similes only go so far to concrete the words in your reader’s mind. A poem should have purpose, it should aim to: convey an opinion; express an emotion; tell a narrative; inform or entertain. Every line of your poem should be infused with some meaning, it should give your reader something to take away with them be it moral guidance, a few cheap laughs or a new way of seeing something. Take Hardy’s poem ‘The Man He Killed’ for instance. The wording is simple and though the structure is well put together, it wouldn't be studied in schools across the nation if not for its critique on war and thought provoking nature.
Every poem intended to be shown to others should be written with an audience in mind because selfish poetry isn't of interest to others. If it's written only for yourself it will generally be enjoyed only by yourself. This doesn't mean that you can't write what you want but keep in mind how much you're limiting yourself - who will read your poetry? If you write intellectually then your audience are intellectuals and you shouldn't therefore limit yourself further by writing an intellectual poem about juggling or beat-boxing. In this sense I'm classifying good poetry as popular poetry as your poem might be excellently crafted and greatly received by a minority but the more people you can reach, the more success you will have.
Another point I'd like to make is that your poem needs to be different. A reader will very quickly lose interest when they feel they're reading something that's been done to death. You need to make your writing stand out and give your reader an experience they haven't had before. Think carefully on your wording and choose combinations that sound unlikely or refreshing, that have extra connotations which fit your own view of the subject. Instead of love burning like fire it might weave nests of deception. Think new and think different. Ask yourself what makes your poem more worthy of being read than the next.
Poetic techniques are optional but a cleverly incorporated extended metaphor or an emotive vernacular voice can be the making of your poem. Learn to use language techniques properly and they will embellish your poetry and help create a strong atmosphere or solid image in your reader's mind.
Most important of all, a poem is never finished after the first draft. Don't ever think so. Improvements can always be made and if you can't see them ask a friend to take a look but read your poem out loud, read every line by itself, every stanza and then your whole poem again until you're satisfied that there isn't a word you would change. If you're unsure about any part at all then take another look. Don't edit it to death until all the raw passion and meaning has been tied down by cropped phrases but do polish it up.
Thank you for reading and remember to
when writing poetry. Yeah I know, way to go with the lame acronym! It might just help a few people remember though.
The light shines brightest in the darkest places.
Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.
— Neil Gaiman
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