How to Write Better Poetry
Poetry is the most open and expressive type of writing.
Unless you’re writing in a specific form, such as a sonnet or haiku, anything goes. You can play with language, take liberties with grammar, and explore abstract ideas. From fun and silly rhymes to emotional expressions and tributes to loved ones, poems are wonderful because anyone can write them, even little kids. All you need is a pen and some paper.
I believe that all poetry is good in the sense that anything that comes from the heart or anything that speaks truth is good. The poem itself may not win any awards, but the act of writing it can be mood-altering, healing, and maybe even life-changing.
Most poets start out either writing from the heart or writing from a sense of playfulness. Those that go on to become published in literary journals or who are lucky enough to get a collection of poetry published have chosen to move beyond personal expression. That’s not to say they don’t use poetry to express themselves, but they work at the craft, forming their poems into art. They labor over their poems and they are writing for an audience.
Writing for Yourself
There’s nothing wrong with writing poetry for yourself. Poetry writing has tremendous therapeutic and creative value. However, many young poets think they can get published and earn recognition without ever truly applying themselves. They don’t read poetry, they don’t study the craft, they are not knowledgeable about poetic forms or literary devices. They make a lot of arguments:
- I don’t read poetry because I don’t want other poems to influence mine. I want my poetry to be raw.
- I write from my heart. It’s a form of self-expression.
- Poetry is an art form, so there are no rules.
- It’s my style (I’ve heard this about poems written in all-caps, for example).
- My mom/friend/teacher said I have talent, and that’s all I need.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these arguments. But if you want to get published — if you want your work taken seriously by the literary world — you’re going to have to step up your game. You’ll have to stop making excuses and learn how to write better poetry.
How to Write Better Poetry
I’m hesitant to say that one type of poetry is better than another. Like I said, if it comes from the heart, it’s all good. But there is something to be said for a poem that you’ve labored over: you go beyond getting the words out of your head and heart and onto the page, and then focus on the words themselves — choosing the perfect turns of phrase, arranging them in an interesting order, replacing emotional expressions and clichés with rich images.
So, how do take your poetry to that level?
- Read poetry. Way too many young and new poets don’t read poetry. I get it. A lot of the poems you come across just don’t capture your attention. The stuff you read in school was unwieldy. If you look hard enough, you will find good poetry that you will fall in love with. Go on a personal quest to find it.
- Learn to speak in poetics. Poets have their own language. When they mention couplets and iambic pentameter, you should know what they’re talking about. Study literary devices and learn how to use them in your own poetry. That alone will kick your work up a few notches.
- Explore subjects outside of yourself. Personal expression is great, but there’s a whole world out there and you have a unique perspective. If you can capture that perspective in a poem, and do it well, you’ll be writing on a whole new level.
- Embrace best practices and techniques. It’s true that there are no rules in poetry, but there are a few best practices, like eliminate any unnecessary words, don’t arrange words awkwardly to fit a rhyme scheme, and use imagery. When it comes to poetry, you really want to follow the old adage: show, don’t tell.
- Seek feedback from objective, well-read people who are familiar with poetry. When something in your poem isn’t working for one of them, don’t say “Oh, that’s my style.” And if it is your style, then consider that your “style” isn’t working.
Most importantly, you have to be willing to learn how to write better poetry. That is the first step. Once you make that commitment and become hungry for reaching new heights in your writing, you’ll have overcome the first and biggest hurdle.
Did you go through a transition from writing personal poetry to writing broader poems, more for an audience or for publication? What made you want to work a little harder at the craft? Share your own tips for how to write better poetry by leaving a comment, and keep writing.