So, you want to write a poem, but don’t know where to begin. Should it rhyme? Does it even have to rhyme? What about the different rules and poetry forms? Shrouded in more mystery than a school cafeteria lunch, it’s no wonder that writers can be somewhat hesitant to explore poetry.
Perhaps ‘hesitant’ isn’t the word for it. Maybe, the correct term should be running away like a terrified character in a slasher movie. Worry not, poetry is quite the opposite of what most writers believe it to be. Writing a poem should be an emotionally empowering experience that allows a writer to explore his or her inner-self through the means of metaphor—an investigation of the human condition at its most vulnerable.
Many find poetry intimidating because a myriad of different types of poetry exist, but it’s the variances of the art that makes writing a poem accessible. A poem can rhyme or not. It can follow a form, such as sestina or sonnet, or not. A quick search on types of poetry will reveal the gamut—everything from a traditional, rhyming piece with perfect iambic pentameter to a black-out poem. If you’d like to follow a specific poetic form to challenge yourself, go for it. If they appear intimidating, write in free-verse.
Which rises the question, what is free-verse? Free-verse poetry is a type of poetry that does not utilize a specific or consistent meter or rhyme. In fact, free-verse could be said to be speech-based, or based on how a person would naturally talk.
An aspiring poet may wonder, “Will the reader enjoy or like my poem?” Or “What if my poem receives a lot of criticism?”
But first and foremost, a poem is an internal exploration. A conduit or direct negotiation of the writer’s inner-struggle that acts as a segue for him or her to become a better version of themselves. And because poetry is a personal expression, the piece might not resonate with every reader, but there will likely be readers who find the artwork relatable because no one struggle is unique. For that reason, it’s crucial that poetry is comprised of varying voices and perspectives. One of the most difficult forms of writing to critique is a poem. Sure, a reader could correct spelling or recommend a stronger word choice, but because of its very nature, heavy criticism has little or no place in poetry.
The most helpful question to consider before beginning a new piece—in particular if that piece is going to reach the eyes of the public-is, “What will this poem say about the human experience?” Don’t be intimidated by this question. The human experience and condition is nuanced and multi-faceted beyond the imagination, and the goal is to speak to a macro-fragment of the spectrum.
The breathtaking aspect of poetry is metaphor or layered meanings. Most of the time a poem holds an intimacy with its author that cannot be matched by the reader. An obvious example is the classic love poem. The external meaning is glaring—the speaker is in love. A more layered meaning might be that the love is not a person, but an object the writer has personified. Or perhaps the author has a private lover—or a life not meant for the public eye. Gasp. Intriguing, right? It’s not always the case, but…
Don’t be afraid of playing with or altering the form of the work once you’ve completed it. Explore a variety of ways to isolate words, and strengthen phrases. But first and foremost, rely on good old-fashioned instinct. Avoid the mistake of “selling-out” and conforming to the stylistic choices of other poets you might come across. Create what feels right in the moment—no second guesses. Have confidence and resolve to write out deep-seated feelings and raw emotion.
The ironic aspect of poetry is that many view the art as intimidating while, in reality, it should be the least feared of all writing types. Perhaps the coinciding vulnerability one experiences after finishing a piece and putting it out for public consumption is the base of the fear. Or, has having readers of poetry over-critique these personal works of art scared some artists from creating? Hopefully not.
Whatever the case, do not let these concerns, or the words of others, stop the creation of an idea. Take the agency away from everyone else and invest in yourself, your instinct, and your personal emotions.
You got this. Now, believe it.
About the Author
Erin Crocker is the award-winning author of the “Synchronicity” series and an assistant editor for FunDead Publications. In 2015 she started When She Walked Away–a domestic violence organization that promotes healing through artistic expressing with direct focus on healing through creative writing. Visit Erin’s author page here.