Poetry is one of our oldest traditions. It is an art form, a means for history to be recorded, a way for people to bond together, and so much more. Before you can write poetry, you need to know what poetry is, and that isn’t something I can define for you. Poetry means something different to each and every person. To me, poetry is anything that makes you feel something inside yourself that you wouldn't have felt otherwise. Whether you’re writing poetry for catharsis, for your sweetheart, or for a grade, there’s a few things you should do before you put your pen to paper.
1. Go Read Poetry
There are tons of poetry databases online as well as poetry compilations you can buy from your local bookstore. The first step to any type of writing is to read, and poetry is no different. Read, read, and read some more, and figure out what kind of poetry you like. Read what you like, and read some that you don’t like. Once you figure out what you like, figure out why you like it. Is it the phrasing? The message? The imagery? Does it make you remember your childhood, or does it make you hopeful for the future? They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so take a poem and respond to it by writing one of your own.
2. Understand Literary Devices
Not to sound like your English teacher, but literary devices are key elements to a lot of poetry. Things like symbolism, metaphor, and rhythm are important, even if they are frustrating for your average student. You don’t have to like them, but you do need to know what they are and how they work. Now I’m not saying you need to go study (see previous: not your English teacher), but while you’re doing the reading for the first step, try to recognize some of the more literary aspects of the poems as well. Even if that recognitions is “man I hated that, why did they do that?” and not even close to “this is the most profound thing I’ve ever read” the fact that you saw it is what’s important.
3. Understand You Don’t Need Literary Devices
When I say you don’t need them, I don’t mean you don’t need them at all. It would be a challenge to write poetry without any form of literary device, but you definitely don’t need to worry about not having enough metaphor or if your lines don’t rhyme or aren’t the same length. If you find techniques that you like and work for you, great! Go ahead and use those in your writing. But if you find that trying to implement those techniques is making you dislike writing poetry, stop right there. Good poetry is not on a scale of least to most literary devices, or at least it shouldn’t be. Don’t use literary devices for the sake of having them, only use them if you feel they help get your point across, whatever that may be.
4. Keep a Notebook Handy
In this day and age, a notebook is more likely an app on your phone, but that is not a bad thing. If you have it on your person and you can use it to write a note for later, it works and is valid. At its most basic, poetry is lines made up of words, and those words have to come from somewhere. If you overhear an interesting turn of phrase, write it down. If you see something that makes you feel a specific emotion, write it down. If you see a billboard, hear a song lyric, come up with something while you’re waiting for the bus, write it down and start creating your very own personal poetry prospectus. Next tip: don’t use fancy words for the sake of fancy words. If you don’t really know what it means or wouldn’t necessarily use it in your life, don’t use it in your poetry unless you really feel it is the perfect word. Does “personal poetry prospectus” sound clever? Well, I hope so, but is it any better than “ideas archive”? That’s up to you.
5. Want to Write & Write Lots
This is the most important step: you have to want to write poetry, or have something you need to express. Of course you can write poetry just to have poetry written, but having that drive is something you can’t replace. If you want to write poetry, you can write poetry. Being a poet is not limited to the ivory tower, especially with the availability of the internet. The second half of this step is once you want to write, write lots. Write every day, every week, every time you feel the urge to. It isn’t a contest, but the more you write, the better you’ll be. Write a poem out to the end, and don’t get caught up in editing it as you go. That can come later. Just get it written, every time. Keep it to yourself, post it on your blog, or send it to your local paper, but get it written. Before you know it, you’ll have written poetry that moves you, and if you’re lucky, it’ll move someone else too.
© Skyler Rehm