Poetry Writing Tips

I posted this on FB and figured I’d toss it here too.

1. Call up a feeling, an image, and an idea you’d like to communicate.

2. Pick a poetic style or meter to work with, or go with free verse (My favorite).

3. Pick words that seem to flow together, introducing a turning word or phrase as needed to shift gears or moods.

4. Make liberal use of metaphors, similes and imagery, but keep it subtle at the same time. “She shined like the sun,” is a heavy handed simile. It makes the reader painfully aware that they’re reading a poem. The goal is for the reader to immerse themselves in the words, not sit outside of them.

An alternative to that simile would be something like, “She lit the mountains and fields, burned through last night’s terrors, revealing shades of life that I’d never glimpsed, and haven’t once glimpsed since.” See? It’s the same freaking thing as, “She shines like the sun,” but unpacked and laid bare across the page.

Whenever possible, let the reader fill in the blanks. That allows them to not only read your poem, but participate in it, co-create it with you, and that’s what we’re going for.

4. Treat each poem like it’s the last thing you’ll ever write, that you’re gonna fall over dead right after putting it to paper.

5. Writing a poem is all about tension and relief, wax and wane. This applies to the whole poem, as well as each verse, line, and combination of words. “Dry,” is a tense, warming word, it seems to just linger there without closure. “Shadows,” is a mysterious, cooling word. “Dry shadows,” has tension and relief in it, warm and cool. We can finish it with:

“Dry shadows draped against the pavement.” That makes me think of a hot summer drought. The shadows aren’t dry, everything’s dry, so that seems to carry over to the shadows as well. So we could stick with that theme and follow it up with:

“Even the birds sit silently
As the day cries out for rain.
A dark ripple waves across the heat
As black castles rise up in the West.
The wind rushes in, whispering through
The world its delicate promises
Of the life that’s yet to come.”

That’s just a fancy way of saying, “There’s finally a thunderstorm coming.” But with poetry, we’re not trying to send a message, that’s what prose is for. We’re trying to send an experience.

Poetry is the avenue for escape, connection, and profundity. To serve that purpose, a poem has to be like a door to another world or another take on this one.

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