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How to write poetry

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Poetry is economical, low calorie and endlessly stimulating. If the only poetry you read in a month is the poetry published in the New Yorker, you would not be doing bad. Poetry in Western Literature hit a high point in the 1500's when all educated people penned it. Many penned it well. We have Shakespeare to thank for most of the poetic lines known by heart, and the King James commissioned bible translation for the rest. As time went on the novel became the preferred literary genre and poetry slipped backwards in the Western psyche, never disappearing completely. Today, via the internet poetry has experienced a resurgence of sorts. Bad poetry abounds in numerous bad poetry sites. Independent publishers encourage bad poets to bind their work into gift books. Unscrupulous people also prey on poets' egos.

A common ploy is the poetry "contest." Entry is usually free or a nominal fee of 1 to 5 dollars. Then you are told you poem is so good it won a prize. It will be published in a beautiful hardbound book you can purchase for a mere $25 to $40 dollars. Most people are so excited they buy a couple copies, one for themselves and some to show family members. The thing is, every person who submitted a poem "wins." Every person who pays for an advance copy of the book is included in the printing. For about a thousand dollars you could do an single press printing of you own work exclusively using a bigger font, and nicer typesetting.

It's not a total scam in that you will receive a hard back book. Your poem will be included, somewhere in that book. Buying a couple books at $25 a piece is still cheaper than printing a hundred copies by yourself. The thing is, you will never run across this "book" in Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com or in any bookstore because guarantee the only copies ever printed were the ones paid for in advance.

Don't let that stop you, though, from finding a voice. Poetry is faster than writing a short story or a novel. Anybody can do it. Studies show that writing helps stave off Alzheimer's disease, and creative writing is good for the soul. It releases anxiety, stimulates the brain and increases expressive ability.

Things You Will Need

You will need a pen or pencil, paper or a typewriter or a computer depending on your preference. I particularly liked to write with my fountain pen. One of the nice things about going computer is the ability to save an edit. However, you are also still vulnerable to losing work if you don't print hard copies and make backups. I like to store my work in cyberspace so that even if I lost everything in a flood I could still access it. You can do this by sending yourself your poetry in emails, or by posting it at a website. If you don't have your own website, you can still post it places like Facebook (in your notes) or MySpace.

Step 1

There is poetry and there is poetry. Some poets like the idea of being published. They work hard at cadence and structure. They submit to magazines and webzines. But not all poetry is like that. Some poets live for the open mike. At places like Beyond Baroque, in Venice California you can take classes in writing and read your poetry in front of a live audience. Poetry is now performance art. Some of the poets bring background musicians, some dress in special costumes. Certainly some, myself included, read straight. I enjoy the enthusiasm the younger poems bring on with their very individualistic styles. Some are almost rapping.

Some live poetry is very sparse. It is a comical and easily accessible to the general public. This style is called verbal poetry. You don't have to worry about "rules" you just have to have a unique voice, something to say, and stage presence.

Step 2

Submitting work for publication is another story. Look in the back of the magazine you want to submit to, or the "submission" link on a poetry website. Read very carefully the manner in which the editor wants your work. If the editor asks for four poems, don't send six. Chances are, none will get read. If the editor asks for a SASE, include one, whether you have the stuff saved on disc or not. The editor sets the tone for the media so be sure you read what the poetry is like before you send a submission.

Beware of submitting beneath yourself. Early on I sent some work to a rather amateur publication because the editor was my brother's friend. Imagine my surprise when the editor wrote me back with all kinds of questions and requests. I.e. "I don't understand what's happened - can you do some more character development?" Yikes. I'm all for following the editor's direction in my non-fiction work, but poetry is personal! I re-submitted the work to a rather prestigious site, and had the pleasure of all 5 poems being accepted with out one word changed!

Step 3

To write good poetry, read good poetry. Bad poetry is tired, cliche and often too rhyme-y. Better poetry evokes feeling, twists new metaphor, encourages the reader to see things differently. Great poetry strikes a chord in the universal experience in a fresh voice. We wouldn't still read Shakespeare if he didn't speak to us about love, hate, jealousy and sadness - stuff we can all relate to, but he says things in an exquisitely unusual manner. Lines such as "methinks the Lady doth protest too much," say it so perfectly what we all think.

Step 4

To write well, write a lot. It's a skill like playing piano or soccer that gets better the more you do. Practice practice practice

The best poetry is real. Write what you know, what ever that is.

Tips & Warnings

Edit help can be useful, but don't change anything that doesn't "sit" right with you. Trust me you'll know. Poetry is not a genre that requires age or education, it requires heart.

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