March 23, 2016

9 Ways to Improve Your Poetry

My mother was planning to teach a poetry class this week, so she asked me to come up with a list of suggestions for editing poetry that she could pass along. I considered how I rewrite and revise my own work, and the advice I'd give to anyone wanting to make their poetry (and prose) more effective and interesting.

1. Reread your poem word by word, line by line, and check for proper spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization. Either use the same rules as prose, or consistently break them all like e e cummings. Don't allow accidental errors. Fix typos.

2. Don't mix metaphors in a small poem or a section of a long poem. Use a conceit, which is an overarching thematic metaphor for the whole poem, which all smaller metaphors and similes refer back to. (Like the sea as the big metaphor, and then all smaller metaphors using imagery about the sea.)  For instance, don't describe the way someone walks as puppet-like, and then like a leaf in a windstorm. It just gets confusing when metaphors mix. Look over your poem, check your metaphors, and change them to bring them all under the same thematic umbrella.

3. Use real, concrete details whenever possible. Don't talk about abstract concepts -- use specific nouns and verbs for real things and actions. So don't write "My ideas spun in the universe." Write, "Violent blue Venus flickered with warnings to not judge John."

4. Get specific. Don't write "It smelled bad." Write "it reeked of clumpy milk." Look over your writing and change your words to be more precise and exact.

5. Use details from your own life. Make it personal. Be honest and observant. Write down what you actually experience or remember experiencing through your own senses. Use your own thoughts. Think about real people and places and things. Reread your poem and make the details more personal and honest.

6. Connect your real emotions about real things and occurrences and people and places to the poem. Always feel as strongly and truthfully as you can. The stronger you can hold the feeling and vision in your head, the more powerful the writing will be.  Look over your poem line by line and see if you can imagine it more clearly and feel it more strongly. Then change your poem to fit a better description of the moment inside you.

7. Be strange and silly and wild. Let your imagination run riot. There are exciting thrills and chills there. Do not be boring and predictable and normal! Write about the edgy, fun, funny, dizzy, scary side of you. Read over your poem and change the parts that seem too safe.

8. Avoid clich├ęs. If you've heard or read someone use a phrase before, don't use it yourself. Make up a new way to say the same thing. Use real, specific details from your own life to make the phrase your own. Comb through your poem and rewrite anything you've heard or read before.

9. Don't be stubborn about changing your words! They're not etched in gold the first time you write them down. Think about all the possibilities. It's okay to revise and edit and experiment. Restart at the top of this list and edit your poem again.


-b9 said...

'Freedom lies in being bold' -Robert Frost; so does pushing-the-envelope to reach the Elysian Fields HintHint

If I'm the sower, we plant the Seed; if I'm an artist, we RITE the symphonies heard Upstairs ☆IF☆ you accept His lead withe orchestra...

Wanna find-out the fax, Jak, in a wurld fulla the 'power of cowards'? Wanna wiseabove to help a 'Plethora Of Wurdz' [POW!] which are look'n for a new home in thy novelty??

Q: But [gulp] can anyone tell me the difference between K2 plus IQ? A: Nthn. In Heaven, we gitt'm both for eternity HeeHee Need a few more thots, ideers, wild wurdz (whoa, Nelly! easy, girl!) or ironclad iconoclasms?

VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI (Latin: words to [the] wise): As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go thro in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the ping-pong-politics, the whorizontal more!ass! we're in...

"This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty told me in my coma. "Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find tangible, corpulent eloquence". Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET!! any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, low-hanging-fruit of the Celestial Paradise, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs (aww! baby kitties, too!!) when my o-so-beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girly passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires...

"Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3, NJB

Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Go gitt'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty #@!! Abyss where Isis prowls
PS Need summore unique, uncivilized, useless names? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptooh, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Phoenix Martini, Ivy Squire, Sauer Wolfe, Yankee Cooky, -blessed b9... (mixNmatch)

God blessa youse
-Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

John Schertzer said...

And break those rules at every opportunity.

A note - when WC Williams wrote his line "No ideas but in Things" he was talking about ideas.

Citysqwirl said...

I think a writer should know the rules and have facility working within them before electing to break them.

Yes, WCW was talking about ideas when he wrote "No ideas but in things," although I believe he was against imposed abstract meaning for objects when they can signify for themselves. After all the next lines in "A Sort of Song" are, "Invent! Saxifrage is my flower that splits the rocks."