Starting Poetry

Starting Poetry
January 24, 2018 No Comments » Poetry, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

Poetry is dear to my heart, as I’ve said before, but it can seem daunting and unapproachable. You may be unsure of how to write poetry, of how to even begin. But poetry can be such a great way to express yourself and very therapeutic to write. So let’s look at how we can begin.

If you want to write poetry, the first thing you should do is read poetry. This doesn’t mean you have to read Shakespeare or Byron, though both are wonderful if you do want to check them out. You can read modern poetry if that’s more your style (though you can learn a lot from the classics). But there’s a poem out there for everyone, you just need to find the style that speaks to you. Absorb the words, the think about them critically. What makes this poem work? How does the poet achieve this effect? How would you do things differently?

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The next step is to try and write something creative every day. This may be a line or two or a new idea for a poem. Carve out an hour before everyone wakes up or after the kids have gone to bed. It helps to write at the same time every day, but the point is to sit down and write. Figure out when you’re most creative and productive and set aside time.

Now we come to the subject of what to write about. There are a million different subjects to choose from. It works best to write about something you know, have experience, or can observe closely. This can be about cars, grief, or your favorite vacation spot. But you’ll want to be specific. Don’t just write about a vague concept like love, write about your first love or the moment you realized you were in love and what you were doing. Maybe he was doing something small and mundane, like scribbling notes in the margins of his book and sticking the end of the pen in his mouth. Write about that moment. It’s the details or new ways of looking at an old thing that matter. Be specific and concrete.

Don’t try to be poetical. You don’t have to write about something grand or beautiful. You can write about something mundane and everyday in a beautiful way. Also, don’t use old fashioned language. Use the language you use daily to craft your poem.

Also avoid being sentimental. You don’t want to force an emotion down your reader’s throat or be too over the top. Let your reader decide how they will feel. Think show rather than tell when it comes to emotions. What made you feel happy or sad or in love? Show those images and details and the reader will come to that emotion naturally. And don’t over exaggerate. Don’t overdo it with the emotion you want to convey. It’ll have the opposite effect of what you want.

Be original. Avoid clichés and overused imagery or phrases. Cliches are meaningless and take away from a poem rather than add to it. Pretty as a picture, red as a rose, or sweet as sugar are empty words. Remember how we said to be specific? Well those phrases are vague. Pretty as a picture doesn’t tell us anything about how the subject actually looks. How are they pretty? What makes them pretty? Craft strong imagery and use original metaphors and similes. You can read more on imagery here.

Here are some general guidelines. Use concrete nouns. Instead of saying flowers, say roses and lilies. Use action verbs that are strong. Instead of ran, use sprinted or loped across. Use adjectives sparingly. Use a metaphor to describe instead of just saying she was pretty. Use adverbs sparingly. Don’t say walked quickly, use strode. Use active voice. And vary your word choice and lines.

This will give you a good idea of how to get started writing poetry. Next time we’ll discuss some basics like stanzas, lines, and some basics for different forms of poetry. Happy writing!

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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