Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Let's Talk Writing: Poetry

Allright. What exactly do I know about poetry? Well, I've been writing it for about two years now. I started when I was fourteen, and thought that I was on the level of Ray Bradbury when it came to haunting and beautiful imagery. Then at 15 I went through the 'everything I write sucks' stage, and now I've rounded out a little bit, and while I recognize errors in my writing, I can also tell when I've written something decent. Going through my old writing is a little jarring. I did write a few good free verses, you know, good for a 14 year old. I wrote a verse about Autumn, and I still think that's pretty decent. Not great, and certainly not skiming on the melodrama, but okay still.

But I'm getting off topic. While going through my old poems, I saw a lot of cheesy, cliche sounding writing. Let me explain. By cheesy and cliche, I mean this.

When your heart is broken you can no longer feel. Love and hate can no longer be felt. You sit all alone in your icy shell of loneliness, hollow eyes windows of bottomless pain.
Make you laugh much? That's okay, I dont' mind. How about this?

Rotting butterfly, what did your life mean?
Those are actual lines that I took seriously in my writing and thought were so deep and profound. They're good ideas, I guess. Butterflies can be used as a symbol of the fleeting nature of life, and every poet writes about broken heartedness at some point or another.

But what's wrong with those passages is the execution. I used lots of flowery words and melodramatic phrases. Words and phrases like


Icy shell of loneliness

Bottomless pain

Hollow Eyes
Not to say that these phrases have no place in good poetry, but when you're using very dramatic language like that, you have to be careful. Words are tools, and as any handy-man knows, using tools the wrong way can be disastrous for your project. Words are beautiful, and words are influential. Really think about the words you're putting on the page. Read the passage aloud to yourself and see how it makes you feel. If you're not comfortable reading it aloud to yourself chances are you're not going to be comfortable letting other people read it.

A mistake that I used to make a lot was that I expected the words to just flow out. It's true. In moments of inspiration, the words will come easier. But you also have to really think about your words and how you want to use them.

Let's use a Sunset for an example. What do you think of when I say 'Sunset'? The colors? The cool wind? The way the light ripples across the landscape? Or maybe you don't think of anything visual. Maybe sunsets make you think of is something more metaphysical. Like how the fleeting- yet brilliant- light is remeniscent of a life that lasted too short, yet was full of joy. Or maybe you just think of Hot Dogs, which is weird, but I suppose that's good too.

Next, take what you think of when you hear the word sunset. Write down some phrases, then organize them.

Poetry writing can't and shouldn't be restricted to a formula. But this way is a good method for starting out- especially when you can't quite tabulate your thoughts. Pick out a random subject and try it out.

Speaking of subjects, let's think about some popular topics and how to avoid sounding cheesy while you write them.

Before we get into this, let me just say one thing. Not everyone will like your poetry. This does not mean your poetry is no good. Some people don't like Emily Dickonson. Some people don't like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And I personally can't stand Maya Angelou. There's hardly anyone in the world who likes all kinds of poetry. Most people have a handful of poems they like, or a few writers they like. But just because your poetry doesn't suit somebody's taste does't mean it's bad or poorly written. Chances are there's somebody out there who'll like it.

'Kay. Back on topic. By far, the most popular forms of poetry are love poetry and death poetry. I've even heard it said that if Love and Death didn't exist, that poets would invent them.

Love Poetry
Love poetry is most often about being on the wrong side of unrequited love. This is fine, so long as you don't wander into self-pity or melodramatic territory. Love is a big subject to tackle, and breaking it down into the unrequited category doesn't make it that much smaller. Break it down further. What's the nature of the two relationships? Are they friends already? Is the subject even aware of the hypoteneuse's existance? Once you've narrowed down the terms, you'll be able to write something that sounds less generic. And by 'generic sounding', I mean this.

I sit all alone in the rain watching him
He doesn't know or care about me
My heart is a bottomless pit of sadness
I die when I see him, loved and carefree
Narrow it down. Write your feelings. Not the feelings that you saw in another poem. Don't ty to sound like some other poem. Imitation is a good way of learning, but a mistake I commonly made was that I tried to basically replicate what I read. Basically rephrasing another poet's words and then being crushed when it didn't turn out to be the masterpiece I thought it would be.

Death Poetry
Okay, I've read Death Poetry written by brilliant poets, and though they were good, they were very melodramatic. So you know how I said not to be melodramatic? When you find yourself writing a death-themed poem, don't worry about sounding too dark or dramatic. Don't over do it, but you know, it's okay to be dramatic here.

Allright, we're almost done here. I'm just going to say a bit about composition, because that's very important.

When people think about poetry, the second thing that comes to their mind is rhymes. However, poetry and rhyming aren't nessesarily joined at the hip. Lots of poems don't rhyme, and others use an unconventional rhyme scheme. The most important thing about poetry is the image it places in your mind's eye, and the feelings it stirs up in your heart.

Rhyming is a style of poetry writing. Not poetry writing itself. So if it doens't rhyme, don't worry about it. However, if one stanza of your poem or one set of lines doesn't rhyme, don't make the others rhyme. An inconsistent rhyme scheme is worse than no rhyme scheme.

Allright! That's pretty much all I got to offer on the rich topic that is poetry writing. Hopefully this helped in some way (even if it's being written by somebody who doesn't have a degree in anything. Yet.)! Farewell.


  1. Hey! I nominated this post for I'd Like To Share (http://miss-dashwood.blogspot.com/p/id-like-to-share.html). It was very interesting and informative! =)

  2. Oh, thank you! That's very kind. :)


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