For today’s column, I am going to share a list of some poetry writing tips that have worked for me. If something here seems odd or does not appeal, discard it. I suppose that is the biggest tip of all: Find out what works for you! But here they are:
-A poem with “Love” in the title (or “Destiny” or “Hate” or other HUGE themes) already has two strikes against it (and I like love poems).
-The bigger your point, the more important the details are.
-Say what you want to say as best you can, then let the reader decide what it means.
-Don’t explain EVERYTHING.
-Poems that focus on form (regular rhyme-sonnet, villanelle, etc.) are rarely my favorites, but most of my favorite poets learned how to write in forms before they discarded them. Writing in form is a challenge. It makes you use certain poetry muscles. It makes you think.
-People will remember an image long after they’ve forgotten why it was there.
-If you write a bad poem, at least you wrote.
-Develop your voice. Get to know and get comfortable with how YOU write.
-Don’t be afraid to write from a different point of view. Write a poem that says exactly the opposite of what you believe, and do it without irony. Try writing from outside of your comfort zone.
-Untitled poems are lazy. They’re like unnamed children. Obviously their parent doesn’t care enough about them.
-Try writing in different places. Keep a notebook. Write in a park or on a street corner or on a bus. You don’t have to write about the place, but it will influence you whether you do or not.
-Read the newspaper. Listen to talk radio (especially the people who call in). Great characters and stories emerge every day, waiting for us to utilize them with our own imaginations.
-If you don’t like a poem or poet, figure out exactly why. Chances are, it reflects something you don’t like about your own poetry.
-When nothing is coming, start writing very fast—any word, phrase, or sentence that comes to mind. Do that for about a minute, then go back and see if this has jarred your frozen brain.
-Read, read, read. For any poem you write, you should have read one hundred poems.
-If you ask for advice or feedback, remember you asked. Keep an open mind and be receptive to critical comments.
-The most important places in your poem are: the title, the first word, the first line, the first and last words of every subsequent line (especially the very last line and word of the poem)
-Use sensory detail. Help the reader to SEE and FEEL and EXPERIENCE what you mean.
-Be gentle with yourself. Know that nobody hits a home run every time to the plate. Writing many bad or mediocre poems is normal in order to produce the good ones. But also be tough on yourself. Don’t settle on just anything. Don’t be lazy. Revisit your poem over and over again until you get it right.
-Subscribe to poetry journals. Keep in touch with what is going on in the poetry world. And your subscription will also help to support poetry’s cause.
-There are many excuses not to write. Try using writing as an excuse not to do other things.
-When you can’t write, take a walk. Sometimes lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling also helps. In other words, force yourself to see the world a little differently, from a new angle.
OK. That’s about all for now. I hope something here got your wheels turning. And remember, you should find what works for you. Come up with your own list. Good luck!
Address poem submissions and correspondence to: email@example.com or Neil Carpathios, Shawnee State University, Dept. of English & Humanities, 940 Second Street, Portsmouth, OH 45662. (740-351-3478).