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7 Must Knows for Poetry Writing, & Everything Else

Poetry is ideal for anyone with a frustrated creative urge. Many accept that they cannot paint, or play a musical instrument, and most haven’t the imagination (or time) to write a novel. But poetry is different. Everyone can write, and everyone has the time to write a four line stanza on some experience or event that moved them. Poetry is basic, primitive, and instinctive, with its roots in the drum beat and the tribal dance. Nothing is more human, and nothing is a more natural written paper.

1.) Humbly apprentice yourself to the craft.

Poetry is a craft like any other. If you wanted to make a sculpture, you would accept that study, patience, and effort were necessary. yet most aspiring poets seem to think only sincerity and emotion matter. But these are merely the icing on the cake. You must first study the craft, learning all you can about rhythm, meter, rhyme, assonance, line-breaks and so on. The idea that great poet comes from emotion alone is a legacy of Romanticism. Before then, poets thought of themselves as wordsmiths: the goldsmith uses gold, the blacksmith uses metal, and the wordsmith uses words.

2.) Read a poem

If you merely pick up a copy of Tennyson, Shelley, or Keats, and idly flick through them, picking out a line here and a line there, you are wasting your time. You most immerse yourself in poetry. Try reading it last thing at night. Ideally, wait until everyone has gone to bed, and then take out the photocopies of a dozen or so poems. Making use of the knowledge you have acquired about structure, rhythm, and technique, go through them slowly with a a red pen, marking out the meter, pauses, and so on. Then re-read them slowly, then again, and again, absorbing the rhythm into your very bones. Never forget, most poets begin as poor imitators. But choose carefully. The best writers to imitate are those who wrote simple, but finely crafted, poems: Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, and Walter de la Mare would be good poets to start with.

2.) Do not be pretentious.

Editors of poetry magazines creative writing teachers, and judges of poetry competitions will all tell you that pretentiousness is a huge problem among new poets. This may be because most feel obliged to say something profound, yet some of the most beautiful poems in the English language are about very simple events. Robert Bridges for example, wrote a gorgeous poem called “London Snow” about nothing more than watching the snowfall on the city.

4.) Poetry should not be a form of therapy.

Far too many poets are whiney, miserable, and self-pitying. If you have problems, see a therapist, or read a self-help book. Poetry should not be a form of therapy. If that is how you see it, then at least keep your poems to yourself. To write something good, whether you intend to show it to others or not, you must imagine an audience. What do they want? They want to be entertained, moved, uplifted, inspired, or amused. Above all, they want beautiful language. They do not want a trickle of self-pitying misery.

5.) Avoid cliches To be a good poet you must develop a built-in cliche detector.

Cliches are everywhere. Language can be cliched, subjects can be cliched, even rhythm and rhyme can be cliched. The more poetry you read, the more sensitive you will become to these cliches. So, once again, read, read, read.

6.) Celebrate the garbage.

Think of writing a poetry paper as like forging gold. It is hard. You must dig through piles and piles of earth and stone, break nails, cut fingers, then melt it down, sweating, burning your skin as you go, until, eventually, you have a beautiful ring or necklace. You can never write too much. Even the greatest poets wrote garbage from time to time. It is through writing garbage, and then more garbage, that you learn, self-correct, and ultimately discover your voice.

7.) Subvert the ordinary.

Poetry should help the reader see the world in a new way. It should make the old seem new, the humble and mundane seem glorious and beautiful. Once you have mastered rhythm and language, you can turn anything into poetry. In that respect, poetry is like painting. Have you ever been to an art gallery and seen a 17th-Century Dutch painting:, A jug of milk, a broom, and a dirty yard are all transformed into something beautiful by the painter’s skill. You must do the same with words.

Above all, be patient. When the Romans arrived in England they found Bardic schools in which apprentice poets (or Bards) had to study for 20 years– so you have plenty of time!