Poetry essay: Polishing a poem

Sometimes when you a write a poem, you may think it is all right, but you also think that it could be improved.  Below are ten ideas to help you polish a poem you’ve written.

1. Shorten it.

With poetry, less is often more.  Look for places where you can remove words without changing the tone or meaning.  If you can take something out without changing things, look at taking it out.

2. End lines at natural sounding places.

This idea was written about before in an essay on this blog.  Altering a poem so that the lines end in natural places can be a good way to improve it.

3. Conform to form.

If your poem has a form, either a traditional one, a modern one, an experimental one, or one you invented just for the poem, and you deviate from the form, try to alter things so that you conform to it.

For example, if you have a poem where odd numbered lines rhyme, but you couldn’t find a rhyme for one of the lines so you left it without one, correcting that can be a way to make your poem better.  It will sound better to readers as it will fit the sound they are expecting.  A similar idea holds for other form elements.

4. Take time away from it.

One way to improve a poem, is to take some time away from it.  This might be ten minutes, a few hours, or a few days.  The idea is that when you come back to the poem and read it again, you may see things differently and know what to do to make the poem sound better.

5. Use a thesaurus.

Sometimes changing a word can help a poem.  For example, changing “happy” to “joyful” or “sad” to “despondent” can cause a change in style and can improve how a poem sounds.

6. Use new rhymes.

Rhyming can be a common poetry form element.  Using it can add predictable sound to a poem.

When using rhymes, sometime the words chosen can change how a poem sounds.  Because the rest of the words in a line and surrounding lines have to fit with the rhyme, changing just one rhyme can have an impact on a poem.

If you are rhyming a word, you can try to find rhymes that you don’t normally use.  For example, if the word you are rhyming is “gold” and you normally use “bold” “cold” and “sold” as rhymes, you can change things by using words like “fold” “hold” or “told”.  By picking new rhymes you can find ways to improve your poem.

7. Use literary elements.

Literary elements include things like similes, metaphors, irony, satire, plays on words, and mirroring.  By using literary elements you can add more sophistication to your poem.

8. Change the person.

Sometimes a poem can be improved if you change it from first person to third person.  By writing in a slightly detached way, you can speak about larger ideas and that can improve your poem.

9. Be more overt.

Sometimes poems can contain too much symbolism and metaphor.  The meaning can be lost.  You can improve a poem by being clearer and more overt in places so the reader knows the idea you are trying to get across.

10. Remove outside references.

Sometimes poems contain outside references.  These might be things like specific geographic locations, product names, celebrity names, song titles, book titles, book characters, and so forth.

These things can be good if the reader is familiar with them, but they can be a distraction if the reader is not.  If a reader has to look something up to understand the poem, it isn’t a good thing.

Additionally, outside references often don’t add anything to a poem.  Stating a specific brand of soda for example, might not change the meaning and intent of a line in a poem.  If something doesn’t add something, as mentioned above, you might consider taking it out.

Poetry essay: Improving your poetry

As you write poetry, at some point you might look to improve your work.  Maybe you feel your poems could have more impact.  Maybe your poetry isn’t getting the response you want.  Maybe you feel like you’re not getting your message across.

As you look to improve the poetry you write, there are some things you can do.  Here are a few:

Read more poetry

One way to get better at writing poetry is to read more poetry.  The more poetry you read, the more ideas, forms, techniques, and so forth you will encounter.  As you read, you can pick up on things and improve your own work.

Analyze poems

As you read poetry, you might take some time to analyze what you are reading.  Think about why you like a poem or don’t.  Think about what makes a poem effective or not.  If you take notes, and read enough poems from different poets, you might start to see trends.  You could find that you think certain attributes make poems good and others don’t.  At some point you could even make a list of the qualities of a good poem.

Analyze your own poetry

As you spend time analyzing the poems of others, you should also spend time analyzing your own work.  Look back over poems you wrote and think about them.  Think about their effectiveness and impact.  As you do, you could discover trends in your own work.  You could find things that you think work and others that you think don’t.

Write more poems

Although your goal is quality, one way to move toward it is with quantity.  The more poems you write, the more chances you have to use ideas, forms, metaphors, symbols, literary devices, and so forth.  The more you practice, the better you will get.


As you write more poems you might try to experiment.  Write about ideas you haven’t before.  Use forms you don’t normally use.  Try different techniques.  As you do, you can pick up on things that work for you and things that don’t.  You can use what you learn to improve your work.

Study poetry

In addition to reading, writing, and thinking about poetry, you might also try studying poetry.  There are books on poetics that you can read.  You can learn about poetry techniques, poetry over time, poetry in relation to other things, and other ideas.  By studying poetry you can learn things that can help with your writing of it.


One way to improve the poetry you write is through research.  The more you understand about the something, all else being equal, the better you can write about it.  Depending on what you are writing about, go places, find people who are experiencing the thing, experience the thing yourself, or read books about the thing.  You might find that by doing so, you pick up on ideas and details that you never thought of.

Get feedback

Find people to critique your poetry.  This might be through comments on a blog, at writing groups, with friends, and in other situations.  See how others perceive what you write.  Find out what made sense to them and what didn’t.  Find out what ideas they picked up on and which they missed.  You can use what you find out to improve your work.