To be a great poet you can spend years practicing. What follows will jumpstart your poetry, giving it a dose of electroshock, catapulting it from average (or even terrible) to good. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it to have your name compared to other great poets.
I have five tips to lay the groundwork for writing poetry readers will enjoy more than hate (or worse, be bored with). Tip #1: Use concrete language; Tip #2: Incorporate poetry devices; Tip #3: Understand poetry’s different forms; Tip #4: Read the masters; and Tip #5: Edit to perfection.
Tip # 1: Use concrete language
The key to writing great poetry is to write focused, concrete poetry. But many beginning poets write poetry based around wide themes such as love, life, and anger, generalizing their writing. By using strong language, active verbs instead of passive verbs and concrete language instead of abstract, you can capture a reader’s interest and captivate a reader’s imagination. Poetry, as something others read, should be at its best interactive, and at its worse, straight forward and clear.
The reader has a difficult time relating to poetry that is generalized, vague, or otherwise abstract. Having the reader relate to the work is an important aspect of poetry, and to help the reader you must paint your meaning in clear images and words
When you begin a poem, ask yourself what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you want to write about life, what about life do you want to write about? Are you angry at something and want to vent? What are you angry at? Don’t say the whole world. Pick a person or situation that you dislike and focus on that. By personalizing your poetry, you remove the vague generalities included in many abstract themes.
Name that name. Don’t just say birds, but tell the reader what kind of birds. Are they cardinals, swallows, or canaries?
Don’t use too many words when you write. Don’t overdo prepositions, adjectives, or adverbs. Use strong verbs and less nouns (and “to be” verbs).
In a nutshell:
1. Use concrete language.
2. Don’t overdo prepositions, adjectives, and adverbs.
3. Use action verbs, not “to be” verbs.
4. Help the reader interact with the poem.
5. Help the reader relate by focusing on particular objects, not generalizing a type of object (whether the object is physical, mental, or spiritual).
Tip # 2: Incorporate poetry devices
What else can make your poetry shine like the summer sun? Imagery, metaphors, and symbolism-to name just a few poetry devices-are subtle ways to improve your poetry. By adding rhyme, irony, or tone to your work, you create a phoenix from a dead piece of paper.
Readers enjoy poetry with meaning, that has a beat or an easy flow, and can be secretive but not beyond their understanding. Great poets know exactly how to incorporate the many elements of poetry into their work. It takes practice and hard work, but the payoff is a poem that can win a contest or find publication in a magazine.
Research the many poetry devices (others include simile, figurative language, synecdoche, allegories, and musical devices) and begin practicing with them in your own poetry. Write a poem with a theme you enjoy but base it around irony or a metaphor. Continue to practice each device and work them all into different poems to experience each one’s effect.
You can find many examples and ways to use poetry devices by reading books on the subject or doing a simple search online. Study and learn each device, because you never know when one might work perfectly for what you are trying to write. And by diversifying you abilities, you make yourself a much better writer.
In a nutshell:
1. Use poetry devices to give your work substance.
2. Readers enjoy reading poetry with inner meaning or special attributes.
3. It takes practice, hard work, and dedication to master devices like Symbolism, Imagery, or Rhyme.
4. Finding out about each poetry device is easy; just search online or at your local bookstore or library.
Tip # 3: Understanding poetry’s different forms
Poetical forms such as sonnets and haikus can do more than just make you look like a genius with words. They provide (like concreteness) more focus and gives the poem borders. A poem with no rhyme or reason can be like a child without discipline. You can win major kudos with readers if you are able to construct your thoughts inside the pattern or structure of a popular or exotic form.
There are many different poetical forms and knowing them can help you further diversify your work, giving you the ability to stay fresh and match themes to appropriate forms. Gifted poets use a wide variety of structures to place their words on paper; they never get caught with many poems of the same type.
Finding the different forms and learning them is not hard. Memorization of their definitions is helpful, as is studying how other writers use the forms. If you want to know how to write an ode, read an ode. Like using devices and powerful language, using form in your poetry is a matter of practice and patient training.
Form keeps your poems from looking the same. It also adds a flare of professionalism to your work. People will marvel at your ability to understand and use each form.
In a nutshell:
1. Using the different forms of poetry gives structure to an otherwise unstructured work.
2. Knowing many different forms can help you diversify your abilities, making you an even better poet.
3. Matching a certain theme to a certain form can do as much as the words themselves.
4. You can impress readers with exotic or popular forms.
Tip # 4: Read the masters
The best way writers (or anyone else for that matter) learn is through imitation. If you’re a young poet and haven’t experienced many of the greatest poets, then it’s time to start reading Frost and Dickinson and Poe.
By consistently reading other poets’ works, you can get an understanding of how they put their work together, see examples of all the poetry devices, how they use concrete language, and the other different mechanisms they’ve tried.
As a young artist can learn the brush strokes of the masters, a young poet learn the different methods to construct poetry.
Once you learn the different ways to improve your poetry, you can look for examples in others’ work. By doing this, you can gain an eye for finding where you go wrong in your own work, and what you do right, by getting used to seeing the different ingredients.
Don’t worry, as you grow in your craft, you will replace much of what you imitated with your own personal style. Your writing will become unique. The bigger risk is to the poet who refuses to read others’ work and does not know what has and has not been done, how it’s been done, and what works and does not work.
In a nutshell:
1. You can study other poets by reading their work
2. Study how they use form, concrete language, and other poetic devices.
3. By reading others’ poetry, you can get a grasp on how many different ways poetry can be done.
Tip # 5: Edit to perfection
Few beginning poets revise. They sit down, write a page of verse, and reread it, finding it to be perfection. But many famous poets have revised their poems ten, fifteen, twenty times before they called them complete-finished. There is an art to revising and editing, an art that is more art than poetry itself. Some would say the revising of poetry is more important than the poetry itself! How can this be? How can poetry, such a personal and individual writing form, not be finished on the first take?
Do you really think you said all that you meant to say? Reread your latest poem, the one you just wrote, and ask yourself if that’s what you meant. Then ask yourself, if it is what you meant, is it how you wanted to say it? The more you write and revise your work, the better you can spot your mistakes and places you can make better..
Poets use drafts so they can plot out their work. They use the rough draft to put down all the words related to the topic of the poem, allowing the words to just flow. They’re not worried about how terrible it is. First drafts should be terrible. They use each of their next several drafts to tweak the poem until it’s finished; cutting excess words, tightening the meaning, shaping the stanzas into form, putting extra emphasis on the imagery and other devices.
Rarely can any writer get everything right on the rough draft. It takes numerous drafts to get each line concrete, each simile correct, or fit the work inside a perfect stanza. No great poet ever just throws work “out there.” They painstakingly and meticulously edit until it is absolutely perfect. There are no shortcuts; only a finished product that looks like it was easily done.
In a nutshell:
1. You’ll never finish a poem in one draft, so if you’re serious about poetry, you better get serious about editing.
2. Good poets use editing to their advantage, taking as many drafts as they need to edit because they know once it leaves their notepad or desktop, it can’t be changed again.
There are many more writing tips, but they would never fit into such a short article. The good news is that it’s not hard to find the information to make you an even better poet. Keep writing and you will find what you’re looking for, whether that is to share your poetry with friends, make money, or have your name recited in English classes.