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.