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A Poetry Primer: How to Write a Poem

by PoetrySoup

As the great Edgar Allen Poe said “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of beauty”. While you may never attain the same greatness as Poe, with some tips and tricks, you can create poetry that people will want to read. 

Know the Basics

Would you attempt to write a book without knowing what a preposition is or how to use a colon? Most likely not, so while it may be tempting to dive right in, take some time to read up on the basics. Rhyme, verse, stanza, rhythm, meter, feet- these are just some of the building blocks of poetry that can turn your words from a jumbled mess into a beautiful, coherent poem. Learning how to structure a really great poem takes time so don’t rush through this process.

Where to Begin?

So now that you have the foundation of what a poem is, how do you get started? Many the writer has sat in front of an empty page, unsure of where to begin. Poetry can be about anything, from the mundane, such as the breeze in your hair, to the extraordinary, like the birth or death of a loved one; inspiration can come from anywhere. In order to help it on its way, try the following tips. 

  • Rethink the common. An item that you encounter in your everyday life can offer inspiration when thought of differently. A lone shirt dropped on the ground. Did a 30 year-old man moving from his home after a recent divorce throw it from his car window in despair? Was it sewn together by a woman in Bangladesh who spends 16 hours a day at a sewing machine? Will birds pluck it apart to make a nest?
  • Immerse yourself in your topic. Are you writing about nature? Then head to the park to experience it firsthand. Writing about love? Spend some time with someone who stirs your heart. Fully experience what you aim to write about.
  • Explore your message. Are you hoping your poetry will convey a message? Whether it is about the power of friendship, or the state of the world, just take time to consider the message you are trying to send, the perfect words may come to you.
  • Tap into your feelings. Putting your feelings and innermost thoughts down on paper can be scary. Try writing down your disjointed feelings or thoughts, with no consideration to structure, to get over the initial hesitations.
  • Play copycat. No, don’t actually copy other’s poetry, but instead, read and listen to your favorite poets to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Keep a journal. Inspiration can strike at any time, but life can’t always pause to allow you to answer your muse. Keep a journal where you can jot down your thoughts so you can develop them into full poems later.
  • Listen to others. This doesn’t refer to taking advice from your family about your poetry, but rather getting out into the world and listening to what other people are saying and thinking. Listen to conversations at the coffee shop, train station or wherever you find yourself surrounded by other people. You never know what might spark an idea.

Making it Perfect

So you have managed to eke out a poem of sorts. Great! Now comes the hard part of editing and fine tuning your poem into something you will be proud to share. Follow these tips to get started. 

  • Listen to it. Reading something in your head and hearing it out loud can help to reveal what doesn’t make sense or doesn’t flow properly so before you do anything else (and as you make adjustments) read the poem out loud.
  • Cloak the obvious. Poetry sometimes gets a bad reputation as “needing interpretation” for its use of metaphors and connotations, but they can add subtlety and beauty to your poem. Look through your poem and see if there are areas you can use figurative or metaphorical language. However, don’t over use it; if you find yourself needlessly wading through words to reach the meaning, you may have gone too far.
  • Add vividness. Poetry should be an immersive experience for the reader, but only if you add the imagery needed. While you don’t want to overload your poem with needless adjectives and adverbs, you also don’t want to leave the reader wondering if the beach was sunny or cloudy. Poetry is often described as “the best words in the best order” so make certain you have done so.
  • Avoid, avoid, avoid. When reading through your poem, is it full of clichés and overly sentimental phrases? If so, find alternatives, assuming you want to write something above the elementary school level.
  • Suit the style. Are you writing a funny little ditty of a poem? Or something to rival “The Iliad”? The tone or mood of your poem should be matched by the style of poem you are using. Forcing a great epic poem into a haiku is not only difficult but counterproductive. Think back to what you learned about the basics of poetry and make certain your chosen structure is appropriate to the tone of your poem.
  • Last but not least. Proofread, then proofread again, and again until you are certain it is as perfect as you can make. Asking someone else to proofread it is also a good idea as well since a fresh set of eyes will often catch mistakes you may have missed.

Writing poetry should be enjoyable so recognize that not everything you write will be great, or even okay, and accept that as your literary dues. Remember that it takes time to develop your craft but with patience and perseverance, it will get easier and you will get better.