Below are some tips for writing better poetry. Of course, “better” is a subjective idea. Some may agree with the tips below, others may not. They are just “tips” though. Even though things are written in absolute terms (i.e. Poetry should …). It doesn’t mean that is necessarily the case. Poetry can be whatever a poet wants it to be. In fact, many poems on this blog don’t stick to all of these tips. That being said, hopefully these tips can help you improve your poetry. You might not apply them all of the time, but hopefully, if you do apply them sometimes, you may find that your work is better received by readers.
Keep it short
Poetry should be short. If you write anything over a page, it is possible the reader could get lost. They might not remember ideas and they might not have the interest to keep reading. People might be more likely to read a poem that is half a page than they would one that is five pages long.
Having short poetry also encourages the idea of conciseness. It’s the idea of saying what you want to say with as few words as possible. Sometimes, with poetry, wordiness can be a bad thing. It can detract from an idea when you over explain it. Having short poetry can help with this issue.
Keep it clear
Readers should understand your poetry. They should get the broad idea and not get lost in any lines. If your poetry is too obscure, readers could lose interest. They might not want to read something they don’t understand.
Part of poetry is expressing an idea. If the idea is obscured with language though, it might not get through.
Use metaphor and symbolism
Although poetry should be clear, it can still have metaphor and symbolism. Metaphor and symbolism are a significant part of poetry and they make poetry better. The idea though is to have metaphor and symbolism that readers understand. It needs to make a point. It needs to express an idea. If readers don’t understand the meaning, then the effectiveness of the metaphor or symbolism was lost.
Line endings that matter
There was a previous essay on the blog about this. In short, where you end the lines of your poetry should work with the wording and ideas of the poem.
If you have form, have it matter and stick to it
In some sense, all poetry has form. Even free verse is a form. That being said, not all poetry has specific form elements or uses a predetermined form.
If you have specific form elements (e.g. rhyming, syllable count, or meter) or you use a predetermined form, there are two important things you should keep in mind.
First, the form should matter. If you indent a line, there should be a reason for it. If there is a line break, it should have a reason. If you fit your form to a haiku or a sonnet or something else, that form should work with the ideas you are presenting. Form should not be arbitrary and a poem should not be made to arbitrarily fit a form.
Second, if you use a form or form elements, stick to it. In other words, if you decide that each line of a poem should have ten syllables, don’t have some lines have nine or eleven. They could sound “off” to readers and seem like mistakes. Try to work with your poem so that it works with the form you are using.
Poems should hit
Poems should hit. They should have impact. They should make a point. There should be a significance. Readers should feel something. They should walk away with something. The poem should matter.
Not first person
When you use first person in a poem, it can come across as too personal. A reader may have a hard time relating. It can seem to them to be something related to the poet, but not something related to them or to others.
It can be easy to reword first person poems to talk in second or third person. This can make the poem broader in its application and readers may relate to it better.
When writing poems, stick to broad ideas. There is a difference between a poem about a specific event in your life and that type of event. There is a difference between a poem about you losing your job, and a person losing their job. The first poem is specific. The second is broad. The first poem might not be as relatable to readers as the second. Readers might be better able to relate to the situation, rather than your situation.
Where legally and safely and otherwise appropriate, experiencing something can help you improve your poetry. If you have gone through something you will have a better understanding of it, and have more information about details and what the experience is like, than if you hadn’t. Experiencing something can help you to add depth to your work.
No outside references
You should avoid outside references in your poetry. Outside references can be things like books, book characters, historical events, specific locations, brands, terms related to an industry or activity, people, song lyrics, and other things.
Outside references are things that you know about, but that your reader might not. Just because you know a character from a book, a line from a movie, or a specific bar, on a specific street, in a specific town, doesn’t mean your reader will. If your readers don’t understand your reference from context, it can detract from your work. If your readers have to stop and look something up to add meaning to your words, you may lose them.