How To Write (Good) Poetry

Here are some helpful hints to write good poetry. Good poetry requires a balancing of talent, study and skill to craft a poem. Emotions alone are never enough.

When a poem is brought to any public forum it immediately invites reader participation. Yet, so often I hear comments like, "but I write for myself"¦.poetry should come from the heart"¦if it's heartfelt it is poetry"¦" and so on. It is difficult to argue the point that poetry should start at some place of zeal within each writer; however, the operative word here is "start." Writing down raw emotions,simply because they are genuine, does this qualify them as poetry? I believe this is merely a starting place, the seed if you will, of a poem. The verve - the true poem - is yet to come.

Oscar Wilde put it best when he said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Quite naturally, these feelings and/or thoughts are very special to you. However, it is unrealistic to expect that a reader (i.e., a stranger) would be equally as moved by them, and if the intent is to present what we have written to others, one must be acutely aware of that fact.

The first thing we must accept is that no one is likely to think we are prodigal poets (save our parents and, possibly, spouse) simply because we've taken pen in hand and transferred our words to paper. This means we have written something down, not that we have crafted a poem. To compare the two would be very much like playing the rote memorization of "chopsticks" on piano and claiming to be a concert pianist. It may be personally exhilarating to hear your fingers tap out a familiar tune but trust me when I tell you that a stark stranger will not be so enthusiastic. And I believe this sort of thinking does a great injustice to the master poets, both past and present, and to the art and craft of poetry as a whole.

So how do we take these base thoughts and hone them into something with more universal appeal? Robert Frost said "When you are issued a poetic license, you are only allowed to use the word beautiful three times." I believe his point was that no one, no matter who you are, can make the same words and images work effectively over and over again.

Good imagery shows the reader something in such a way as he/she had not considered it before. To say "my heart withered like a dying rose" offers

nothing new to readers of poetry. The poet must place himself among the readers and, thus, allow them a place in the poem with a comfortable, clear view.

So then, why does it work even now to go back and read Elizabeth B. Browning's "How do I love thee, let me count the ways"¦" from Sonnets of the Portuguese, but a poet of today will be raked over the critic's coals for similar lines? Because love was her tool, and in her language it came alive as new and fresh, in a way it had never been spoken before. For us to make the same theme work, the task is to bring something new and fresh into our language and give it a perspective that is uniquely our own. Saying "I love you more than words can express," is neither unique nor is it our own. The images must jump off the page, fresh and original and offer the readers just the detailing needed to participate and truly experience the poem.

This is the needed transition in carrying a poem to your readers and giving them a reason to be glad you did. Readers of poetry aren't looking for reasons not to like what they read; on the contrary, they are looking for that edge, that sensation only a well crafted poem can evoke. If we take our poems to others, it makes no sense to declare that we don't care whether they like it or not. Of course we do. Even our best efforts won't guarantee us rave reviews every time. But, nonetheless, the effort will show and so will a lack of it. Keeping the reader in mind when revising your initial thoughts can only benefit the finished poem.

Lastly, never feel so attached to your own words that you are above revision. All good literature of any genre' must be thoroughly edited. Sometimes we must even part with a favored word or phrase when it is the overall poem's best interest. Sooner or later it must be about the poem and not about our need to verbalize.

Finding the balance between the poet's personal needs and the reader's expectations is a task everyone who has ever written poetry had faced. There is no "formula" for crafting the perfect poem, so we must be diligent in studying to know this art and having the desire to write our best poetry, even when that means taking a step back and allowing it to grow on others.

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