In our preparation for National Poetry Writing Months, where we’re encouraging everyone to write poetry (and share it with us, if you’re feeling brave enough!), here’s author, editor, bloggist, artist and team Web Elf, Nimue Brown, with some top tips!
Never written a poem but want to have a go? Here are some pointers that will help you avoid the mistakes new poets often make and jump straight in with something strong and engaging.
- Read some poems. Particularly, read some poems by professional poets. Don’t worry about analysing them, just let them happen to you. Poets who read poetry are greatly advantaged in their own writing. Or, get on youtube and listen.
- Go with that first rush of emotion and inspiration. Then leave what you’ve written alone for a bit and come back. Don’t treat those words as sacred. Take what works, ditch what doesn’t. You need inspiration and crafting to make a good poem.
- Try reading it out loud if you can – that often reveals places where the words don’t flow well.
- You do not have to rhyme. In fact, too much rhyming can sound naive or forced. Don’t sacrifice meaning for the sake of rhyming. If you have to stretch a line to hit the rhyme at the end, ditch it. Those never sound good.
- Think about who you are writing for. There is nothing wrong with writing poetry as catharsis, but ask who is going to want to read it? Do the catharsis first, then come back on your second draft and think about who the poem is for, and what they will get out of it. If you are just wallowing in misery – as too many amateur poets do – it gets dull really fast for the reader. If what you’ve written is so full of personal references that no one else could hope to understand it, then it won’t work for a reader. The aim is not to write a cryptic puzzle for other people to try and figure out. The aim is to communicate something. Don’t baffle your readers, enlighten them.
- A poem is not a collection of metaphors thrown at an idea to see what sticks. If you like metaphors, don’t throw them at each other randomly. Also, watch out for mixed metaphors that make no sense. Go and listen to this song, and then do some other thing. https://youtu.be/8vVuVn1Yb8A (unless, like Mitch Benn, you’re doing it for laughs, that’s always fine.)
- Simple is often best. Use the language you speak in. Don’t shoehorn in Shakespearean thees and thous and cants and hasts – if that’s not how you talk it will, I promise you, sound weird. Don’t use words whose meaning you are unsure of – I’ve seen people do it and you can undermine what you meant to say so very easily. The language you use is good enough. Go listen to some Kate Tempest for a fine example of someone using her own voice. https://youtu.be/z4qGLDkK9TA
- Be you. Be real. Be authentic. Be bold. Be brave. Say what matters. Say something you’ve never heard anyone else say but that needs to be out there. Say what you love. Say what you’re angry about. Say what needs to change. Write poetry to change the world.