A Crash Course In Writing Poetry

Welcome, everyone! All of the examples/non-examples I give are things I've written either recently or in the past. Some of them I am extremely ashamed of. I've put all the information into one chapter in a list for easy reading!

Hopefully people either agree with me or learn something from this...comment your thoughts even if you don't, because I want to know what you have to say!

xxSara

Chapter 1

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1) Avoid rhyming couplets, especially split into four line stanzas and/with exact rhymes, as much as possible unless you're an extreme beginner or a freaking professional. It's very easy to make it cheesy and awkward. I've done it, we've all done it.

Example:

First sight she knew
That he was the one.
First love lit her eyes
Brighter than the setting sun.

She kept him secret.
He was hers alone.
She locked it away in her heart.
Her friends would laugh, had they known.

He was admired from afar,
Although they were friends.
If he did not feel the same way:
There was no making amends.

And then he told her
‘I am deeply in love with
Your best friend,
Savannah Smith.’

No explanations really needed. It's cheesy, awkward to read, and just bad. Next.

2) Count your syllables! Each line should be close unless you're doing a long/long/short pattern or something of that nature. Taylor Swift actually does this and that's why a lot of her lyrics (aside from We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together) are pretty good. It helps you fall into a rhythm, drawing you along.

Example:

Someday is the tantalizing, mesmerizing
Possibility
That all the slighting self-despising
Steals away, leaving no fragility

See how the number of syllables in each line differs? It's broken, choppy.

Non-example:

Darling, I will wait for you
So I can watch you shine
I draw a line, you mark the time
A lovely bruise, I'll call it mine

The first two lines and the last two lines have matching numbers of syllables. The flow is much better in general (and notice how, unlike in the example, the rhyming pattern is not ABCB).

3) Speaking of syllables: syllable stressing. In languages, there are stressed and unstressed syllables. They're shown in the pronunciation guide in dictionaries, expressed by the ticks and slashes. The best poems have a definite pattern of syllable stressing. An easy one is hard-soft-hard-soft. Good poets do this naturally but some may have to put thought into choosing words with the correct stressing of syllables.

Example:

Cataclysmic clumsiness

Say it out loud and over-exaggerate it. I guarantee you'll hear it: CAT-uh-CLYS-mic CLUMS-i-NESS

4) It doesn't have to rhyme. I repeat, it doesn't have to rhyme. If you want it to, sure, but be careful. If it doesn't, great. A lot of good poetry doesn't rhyme. Take E.E.Cummings, for example. He takes great liberties in NOT rhyming. Or having much structure at all, really.

Example:

Nothing is permanent
There is no constant
No rock
No inviolate
No safe
Nothing is permanent
Not even him
Everything is mortal
Material
Everything that lives can die
And when touched by a spark
Everything will always
Burn

I wrote that a little while ago after I watched the Catching Fire movie, actually, in case anybody was wondering. Probably not.

5) Don't use just exact rhyme. What? There are different kinds of rhyme?

Yes. Yes, there are.

Exact rhyme: the words rhyme exactly, even in appearance--my/sky, blue/true, dog/log
Self rhyme: you rhyme the word with itself--Emily Dickinson's poems include this frequently
Eye rhyme: when the words look the same but sound different--again/vain
Homophones: they're spelled differently but they sound the same--two/to/too, blue/blew
Near rhyme: the words ALMOST rhyme, but not quite--salt/balk, now/sound, down/loud
Internal rhyme: words inside a line rhyme--For inference and decadence can end up/getting in your head

Mix it up! It gets a little monotonous if you only use one type of rhyme. It's more pleasing to the eye and to the tongue to have variety.

Example:

Anger bleeds
Sends you to your knees
A tear, poison black, streaks
Cuts a track
Right down your cheek

Here we have bleeds/knees, which is near rhyme, black/track, which is exact rhyme and internal rhyme (technically), and streaks/cheek, which could be classified as either near rhyme or exact rhyme.

6) Don't try too hard. Poetry isn't something you can force really. It either comes or it doesn't. And trying too hard to be poetic can turn out some cheesy, terrible stuff. Trust me. I know because I've been there. I've written the poem below, one about washing my iPod, one about writer's block, one about Toto from The Wizard of Oz...

Example:

Someday is the keening song
In each and every ear;
And if ever you feel you don’t belong
Listen to it ringing free and clear.
The promise that tomorrow
Will be a better day;
That the misery and sorrow
Will both have gone away.

Note the use of ABCB form here. I remember when I wrote this that I was TRYING to write it. I didn't feel it, it didn't come to me, I was just trying to push it out of my brain and that is what I ended up with. Brain mush.

7) Got writer's block in the middle of a poem? Use my trick. Flip open the dictionary to a random page for a fantastic word to either inspire you or start with. In English class I'll literally be writing down words left and right.

Examples:

Perpetual
Deplorable
Temporal
Extenuate
Palpable
Exquisite
Incapacitate
Irrevocable
Effervescence

8) Think of a word or phrase you want to use and then build your poem around it. I do a lot of mine that way and it really works. Take the bottom of the paper and just write scraps--rhyming bits, words you'd like to use, emotions or messages you want to convey. Once you have the backbone, all you have to do is find out how to connect them.

9) Notebooks. Use endless notebooks. I've got at least twenty, and I'm not exaggerating. All of them save two or three are completely full of notes, poetry scraps, finished poems, bits of stories, and ideas. Get one of your own--and don't use it for ANYTHING else, or at least try not to--and fill it with words you like, phrases, rhyming words, edited versions of poems, drafts, anything. You can even reuse notebooks that are partially filled with school stuff, like, say, an old history notebook a quarter full of notes about World War One and the Prohibition.

On top of you being organized and having all your thoughts in one place (unless you're like me and have a million different notebooks going at once) they're fun to go back and look at. So never, ever throw them away.

10) Write about what's important to you. Poetry is all about emotion and if you don't care, that emotion simply won't exist and you'll be able to tell. I write my best poetry when I'm at my extremes: euphoric, devastated, heartbroken, infatuated, enraged. If you write what you feel, the person reading it will feel that too, and that's what you want out of a poem. Nobody wants to read a cut-and-dry, robotic poem.

That's actually an oxymoron.

11) Show someone your finished work, someone you can trust to be truthful. It's no good if the person doesn't give feedback on it. Wow or That's good or Nice job is pointless. Ask them to tell you what they like, what they don't like, and what could be changed. You'd be surprised at what a little advice from an objective source can do for you.

12) Keep all your finished poems in one place. If you put them in a folder/notebook (I use a pretty little journal) in chronological order, you can reread them and watch yourself get better. And keep writing. Poetry does take some natural talent for it but it's something that can be improved on with practice, just like everything else.

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