This post was written with all of you aspiring (and seasoned) poets in mind. The goal here is to offer some advice for writing poetry, and to hopefully inspire you to write something new!
First, I’d love to drop a few names of poets who you should definitely check out if you haven’t already: Andrea Gibson, Ocean Vuong, Sarah Kay, Kelly Norman Ellis, Elizabeth Acevedo, Kate J. Baer, and some classics like Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson and of course Shakespeare.
What I love about all these poets is their ability to push boundaries when it comes to poetry. Whether that be in subject-matter, form, or scansion, each has contributed something of value to the wide-world of poetry.
Now, since this post is meant for beginners as well as professionals, I’m going to stay away from most technical terms like “enjambment” or “lineation” and instead focus on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of writing poetry, and offer some ideas for new exercises to try.
Let’s start off with the “do’s,” shall we?
- Think about the themes/topics you like to write on (ex. anger, humour, gender, feminism, mental health, relationships, family, isolation, identity, ancestry, queerness, etc.) This is for those days when you’re stuck, or you don’t know where to start. Having a list of themes/topics you are interested in exploring will help to give you a jumping off point in your writing.
- Read/watch/listen to lots of poetry! Sometimes the best teachers are our peers, and exposing yourself to many different styles and subjects is a great way to figure out what you yourself want to write like/on.
- Experiment with different forms (ex. Erasure, black-out, white-out, sonnet, ars poetica, free verse, prose poems, haiku, limerick, etc.)
- Try out free writing! Just putting a pen to the page and writing whatever comes to mind can be liberating, whether you come up with anything “good” or not. Plus, it’s a great way to get all those extra “head-fillers” out of the way.
- Experiment with different tools, whether that’s metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, etc. Trying new things in your writing can lead you down exciting avenues that you might never have explored otherwise.
- Mimic others – obviously don’t copy outright, but mimicking the style of someone else can be a wonderful way to get your feet wet.
- Share your writing with other people. And I mean that in terms of both “show and tell” and collaboration! I know it’s scary, but getting feedback, or even just encouragement from others can be a wonderful way to improve your writing. Don’t be afraid to ask for the kind of feedback you want. Whether that’s constructive criticism, just the positives, or a mix is entirely up to you.
Ok, on to the “don’ts” – to be honest there aren’t many of these, because poetry is such a personal and often experimental form of writing, there are very few “rules,” beyond adherence to form guidelines, that you can break. That said, here are a couple of “don’ts” that I think are valuable to writers at any level.
- Pigeonhole yourself – if you limit yourself to only one style, or topic, you run the risk of your poetry becoming stale and repetitive. Branch out!
- Forget to research the form you’re writing. If you’re writing a classic sonnet, or limerick, or haiku, be sure that you know what that involves. Remember, in this case, you have to know the rules before you can break them!
- Be a perfectionist. I hate to break it to you, but nothing you create will ever be “perfect” in the eyes of everyone, and often not even to you. Try to give yourself grace instead of driving yourself up the wall trying to perfect your poem.
- Ignore your gut. Your point of view is unique, but sometimes we ignore our gut in favour of fulfilling an imaginary “brief” of what we think our poetry ought to look like/say. No matter what the trends are, your true feelings/perspective will always be more interesting than something you cobbled together because you felt like you “should.”
Hopefully all this advice sparks something in you and makes you want to write – poetry is such a weird and wonderful art form, and I truly think that everyone should give it a try at some point. I believe in the power of words to affect people, and to me nothing is more inspiring than seeing someone else succeed, so go forth and write some poetry! And if this post inspired you in any way, please feel free to comment, share, or like. And as always, please remember to take any writing advice (mine included) with a grain of salt. You know yourself best, and if something doesn’t resonate, then maybe it’s either not the right time, or not the right advice for you. But regardless, I wish you the best in your writing endeavours.
Written for The Plottery
Jules (she/they) is a queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent writer and aspirant book dragon who has been in love with writing since they were six years old. They are just as likely to wax poetic about philosophy or comedy specials, and they dream of someday escaping to a cabin where they can entertain their imagination, surround themselves with books, and hopefully gaze dramatically into the rain from a cosy window seat. They have their own blog chaoticallyinclined namely @jules.m.sherwood on Instagram.