In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.
Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.
In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.
That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.
Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, completing poetry exercises, and writing poetry are fun and creative methods for improving your writing in any other form or genre.
Improving Your Writing
What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?
While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something — a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.
In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: “show, don’t tell.” When you master the art of showing readers an idea through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.
Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary
A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).
Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.
The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.
Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.
A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.
Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.
Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.
The Practice and Study of Poetry Results in Better Writing
Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.
If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:
- Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again.
- IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes, and although the podcast is no longer active, there’s an immense archive to explore.
- Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry-related resources.
Improving your writing through the practice and study of poetry forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.
If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.
Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Have you tried improving your writing through poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
I can clearly see how i can apply those advices – “show, don’t tell”, “emotional language”, “mental images” in blogging and even in consulting 😉
I might be taking it too far ;). Who cares? It just gave me few good ideas – could you ask for more? 😉
No, you’re definitely not taking it too far. When I’m working with poetry (either reading or writing it), even my copywriting gets a little extra flair, and that’s definitely a good thing.
Well said Melissa.
I don’t read much poetry, I never write it but I’ve always been fascinated by it. I think I had a bad introduction to poetry. I remember trying to interpret poetry and was constantly told, “No that’s wrong Marc; what the poet is getting at is…”
Today I am engaged to a beautiful poet who has long since taught me that I wasn’t wrong, it just painted a different picture for me tha’s all.
Speaking of my beautiful poet. I’m trying to get her to publish her work online but she’s afraid about copyright issues and content theft (as well as the non-sense that she’s not good enough). Any tips or advice?
Oh and to anyone who wants to see poetry and how it improves your writing, just go read Lord of the Rings. Tolkien not only liberally spread poetry throughout his masterpiece, he created an entire race of beings centred around it and music.
I was always taught that interpretation is completely subjective. Even if the poet had a particular meaning in mind, it’s open for readers to find any meaning in a work of poetry. Poetry is not code with right and wrong answers; art just doesn’t work that way. I’m glad your fiancee is reintroducing you to the possibilities of poetry.
Whether to publish one’s work online is a personal decision. Anyone can type and republish (steal) a poet’s work out of a print manuscript or magazine. It’s incredibly unlikely for a writer to ever make a living from poetry, so that theft won’t have any impact on a poet’s income. My personal belief is that if you want to share your poetry with the world, publishing it online is a good way to go. If you are truly serious about being a poet, then submitting poems to literary journals is essential. Creative works are automatically copyrighted upon creation, and you can include copyright information on a website (or even with each poem). I often hear writers don’t want to publish online because of such fears, but the truth is that if someone does republish your work, then more people will see it. I’d be more concerned about republication that doesn’t attribute the author or link to the author’s site. This is a great topic for a full post and discussion.
hey Marc iam a writer too still at school,ilive in SA .my advice tell your fiancé to be instinctive. let her follow her instincts
I never saw myself as a poet and honestly never dug too much on poetry. However, it was poetry that got me started writing. When I first picked up a pen, this is about a year and a half ago now, I did it because I was writing children’s stories for a group of students. I tried writing regular stories but they were boring, so I composed them in rhyme and they got way more awesome. The writing bug bit me hard, venom in blood, here I am.
Poetry got me started in writing as well, and now I just wish I had more time to write poetry on a regular (daily) basis, but it seems I’m always too busy blogging and writing copy. I have found that many people who aren’t into poetry simply haven’t found the right poets. It’s a lot like music, with genres and styles, so the biggest challenge in appreciating poetry is finding work that resonates with you. I got lucky and was introduced to tons of poets when I was studying poetry in college. Later, I discovered performance and slam poetry on the internet. There’s a lot out there and if you look, you’ll find some poetry that you connect with.
I think it’s fun to see how writing poetry has influenced my prose, especially as far as things like flow and rhythm goes. You learn a lot about sentence structure, I think.
Yes, rhythm is a big one. Actually, of imagery, language, and rhythm, poetry may instill rhythm the most. Also, I think rhythm is what’s most often missing in prose.
I’ve never thought of poetry like that, but wow is it ever a true definition! I used to write poems all the time when I was in High School and after, I haven’t written one in years! Oddly enough, when I quit writing poetry, I slowed to a halt with my writing. Looks like it may be time to start rhyming away again!!
Jenny, it seems like the more creative we are, the more creative we become, and since poetry is probably the single most creative form of writing, it makes sense that it has the potential to increase your creative output. Yes, I say start rhyming again!
This is a fantastic article. I mentioned it on Twitter and will talk about it on the blog, too. Hope you don’t mind.
Thank you so much, Devon! I really appreciate it, and I’m so glad you found this article helpful. Makes my day 🙂
While poetry isn’t “bound” by the rules, I feel strongly one must know the rules before they can break them. I think poetry can be pretty bad when one doesn’t follow any rule just out of being “creative.” In that sense, I disagree that “you can throw all the rules out the window” ans still “create a piece of art.” Ok, maybe you can, but it might not be a good piece of art. OR may it just won’t speak to me. I do, personally, think “good” poetry has some limitations. Not being a poet (I’m a reader of poetry), I really can’t tell you what those limitations are. But I can tell the difference between a bad poem and a good poem when I read it.
All that said, I do think this post is excellent overall in pondering the writing of poetry. I am excited to try my hand at some poems this month, bad as I’m sure they will be. I love the idea of playing with imagery and capturing emotion. Thanks for the inspiration!
ee cummings did a wonderful job throwing all the rules out and producing wonderful works of poetry. I think he must have had a firm understanding of grammar to be able to do that successfully. I do believe that a writer can set the rules aside and create a worthwhile piece of art, but I also believe that very few writers possess that level of skill and talent. I do hope you give poetry writing a try!
Good golly! allow me first to apologize for my missingness. When I open your blog at work, the page looks all funky… plus I blame you for not getting much work done anyway while I’m at work due to engaging posts, so I need to change my habits. (It’s all good though.)
Imagery is one of my favorite things about poetry, and writing in general. To help me stay on track when using imagery is imagining “painting a picture for their mind.” I know rhyming isn’t essential, but sometimes I can’t help it and it happens naturally while I’m painting. Once it starts, I need to keep the same pattern throughout.
I’ll admit, I haven’t written anything since what you last commented on a few months ago on my blog. But I really want/need to. I kinda went back to my roots (and coincidentally, The Roots) and I’m digging for some deep things to write about as well as gathering words. Specifically a single moment, but making it sound like it lasts for an hour by describing it in great detail so someone can see something exactly like I do. Or possibly feel exactly like the emotion(s) I’m painting. I’d also love to write an epic someday. Maybe not Illiad length. Who would want to read it? (Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to.)
On a completely different note, I’d just like to dare people who claim rap/hip hop isn’t music to read the lyrics to a few songs and NOT find a beat. Apparently some people are throwing a fit since Run DMC is now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t want to get into a rant so I’ll stop now.
t.sterlings last blog post..fripodding and (boom)boxing: “do you feel me” – anthony hamilton
Howdy stranger. My apologies too; I haven’t been able to make my usual blog rounds for the last month or so, but I’m still reading. I’ll stop by soon and officially congratulate you on your new site.
Aww, thanks. I have missed reading you blog, and funny as soon as I mentioned I was having viewing issues at work yesterday, it started working today. But I had a bit too much to do so I should be all caught up by Thursday. This is a warning in case you get attacked with comments.
t.sterlings last blog post..tuesday–the other monday
You know that such an attack is always welcome 😉
I agree with you. Writing poetry is really liberating. It allows for your written thoughts to be somewhat incomplete, but the reader still gets it. It’s very abstract in that way.
Ah, poetry writing is SO liberating, and you’ve explained it precisely: “It allows for your written thoughts to be somewhat incomplete, but the reader still gets it.” I’m always looking for definitions of art and creative writing because in many cases, they are not so easy to define.
I completely agree with your post! As a college composition instructor, I often turn to poetry as examples of well written work to illustrate whatever it is I’m trying to address in the day’s lesson. The compact nature of poetry retains all the quality of well crafted writing without the quantity of words in, say, a short story.
I often recommend poetry to my clients. After all, it only takes a few minutes to read a poem each day and it can dramatically improve your writing. I also enjoy listening to poetry being read aloud.
I have always found poetry to be my most natural writing style. But I’ve also noticed that regularly writing poetry helps my other writings. If nothing else, it got some creative juices flowing to help me finish that term paper. 🙂
I couldn’t agree more, Jess. When writers work with poetry (either reading it, writing it, or both), they take their language skills to a whole new level. Through (studious) poetry writing, we develop many techniques that other forms of writing don’t require. If you’ve ever read a novel with beautiful language or an article laden with mesmerizing images and metaphors, you are probably seeing the writer’s background in poetry shining through.
I think that the best way poetry can help with writing is by forcing a writer to look more deeply into their word choice. Poetry helps us become aware of sounds and connotations, not just what a word means.
I agree, although I think musicality is a huge benefit to writers as well. Connotation is enormously powerful!
Terrific post, Melissa. I’m a fiction writer but I’m fascinated by how poetry makes us connect by capturing an experience, and often by throwing it to us unexpectedly. There are too many people who think poetry is just soul-peeling sentences with carriage returns, but that’s just an arrangement of words. Real poetry works at a profounder level, like a dream. I’m off to tweet.
I’m deeply saddened by the lack of appreciation for poetry in today’s culture. There are some serious misconceptions about poetry, mostly the notion that it is for academics, fine artists, or the elite. That’s just not true. Poetry is like music and it should be accessible to everyone. I worry that the gatekeepers (academics, fine artists, and elites) have distilled poetry to an art form that is simply not fit for public consumption. The good news is that there are lots of poets out there making poetry that is exciting and accessible (see: slam poetry). There’s hope for poetry yet.
I just gave a presentation on this same subject to our writing group. You said it better – wish I had had notes from this to pass on! Saving it — maybe we’ll re-visit the subject! Thanks.
Thanks for your kind words, and good luck with your next presentation!
Anyone that says “poetry is unconstrained by rules” has never tried to write a sestina. (Not that I have; I read the rules once and blanched.)
Form poetry is definitely constrained by rules. Thanks, Pat.
Love that about the sestina, Pat. Don’t blanch though. It’s a form that can grow on you. (I wrote my first one because I figured I couldn’t avoid it if my 12-y-o had tried it 🙂
I have written poetry since I was a kid. I love poetry. My favorite poet is Emily Dickinson. I felt like I was sitting at her window with her looking out at her garden. I’m now a children’s author and though I never thought how poetry could improve my fiction writing, I will pay more attention now. Thank you for sharing this and the helpful resources.
I’m a huge fan of Emily Dickinson too!