The Artform of Writing Poetry; Making That Critical Connection

beautiful woman and skull by William Dyce, Omnia Vanitas 1848

photo © William Dyce, Omnia Vanitas 1848

Early Beginnings

Most of us were exposed to the artful poetic writings of famed poets during our elementary and secondary school years, poets through the ages and periods who scribed scores of poetic verse with a broad range of styles and forms. But a few notables in history include William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Whitman, Cummings, Wordsworth, Elizabeth Bennett Browning, Margaret Atwood, Robert Burns, T.S. Eliot to name but a few.

Much of my scholastic learnings about poetry and the brilliant minds that created historic writings to be studied, embraced and emulated through the ages, occurred during my highschool years when the study of various elements of English literature were requisite teachings as a foundation of our language in its various forms and certainly critical exposure for any young student aspiring to take advanced studies in the languages and creative writing.

I used to find the likes of Shakespeare hugely abstract; fascinating yet confounding to understand and as a young teenager the language seemed horribly archaic in contemporary day. What purpose could there possibly be in the current day study of such foreign verbiage?

Years would pass though something lingered that would gradually burgeon as more than passive interest in creative writing. I began to reflect on the human experience, often in relation to my own personal life acquaintance of relationships, loss of loved ones, happiness, sadness and so on. Call it fate or purpose or whatever rationality that would otherwise explain my growing inclinations but I would in mid-life begin to indulge in experimental poetic writings.

Lo and behold my written verse quickly became a fascination to family and friends who eagerly prompted me to share my newfound romance with the world at large and ultimately publish my poetry and prose on the internet through forums, poetry websites, my own literary blogs and ultimately publication in print and electronic formats.

Study, Emulate, Be Distinctive

For anyone aspiring to write poetry, first of all good on you! We have a modest yet growing audience and the burgeoning enthusiasm I see with increasing numbers of aspiring poets around the globe is truly encouraging. We have engaged in an artform.

Best practice for any aspiring writer of poetry is to study thoroughly the traditional and more contemporary forms. Embrace the historic significance, the powerful dynamics of the greats of yesterday and today. Understand the dynamics of the various styles and conveyance, their depth, resonance and all the subtle nuances that have made them stand out for centuries.

Perhaps the most important advice I could extend today for aspiring poets or authors/writers of any genre is to understand what an elevated standard of writing poetry is and develop your own unique, distinctive style and voice…don’t copy the works of others in any sense of the word and by no means crank out drivel that has your readers yawning on the opening line.

As with any form of communication in this day, poetry must fully engage our readers right from those opening lines and stanzas, clearly take the reader away to another place, another time or anywhere so highly and deeply personal in emotional response that leaves them breathless, enchanted, bewildered, moved to joy or tears….poetry is powerfully unique in that sense and thoroughly self-fulfilling as much for its author as for his or her reading audience.

There are literally countless (millions?) aspiring poets among us around the globe in this day, multiplied exponentially with the advent of the internet and especially the affordability of ‘self-publishing’ or ‘indie’ publishing. We have to stand out with distinctive, responsive, resonating and identifiable style that our readers connect with in a highly personal, relatable way…it’s that simple. After all, if one wishes to leave an enduring legacy through creative literary word craft it most certainly has to be extraordinary and stand out / stand alone.

~ Write first for the love of writing and the allow the rest to unfold as it may~

The preceding highlighted ideology MUST be your sole guidance for the duration. Never allow yourself to create a literary engagement or experience without forethought and intentional composition. In simple terms make sure you give each writing all you’ve got…give it the attention it, and your readers, the critical attention deserved.

I have seen so many aspiring poets through the years pumping out what would critically be acclaimed as pure drivel…thrusting out the same basic dialogue in a fully populist, disinterested and unstudied, undisciplined manner so as to attract attention by the numbers. Obviously individual objectives vary yet in the instances I reference here, they were intent on notoriety and acclaim in their own right.

Reader Engagement

Readers are drawn to a good read in terms of not only the content but its presentation. Always proofread your work for typos, spelling and grammatical mistakes, wavering out of form and convention. Choose the form and style you prefer to write in on any given day and stick to it carefully and skillfully. Effective poetry captures the reader’s attention through emotional response. Choose a subject matter close to your heart but also be fully aware of what readers respond to. If your readers largely respond most to romantic verse and you want to develop a growing audience while retaining your current following, respond by engaging in the romantic theme knowing that your audience loves a good romance.

Remember that statistically, simplified language draws the largest numbers of readers and subscribers. If you prefer to articulate to a university level audience your reader engagement will be limited accordingly. Readers react with negative response and are turned off by complicated wording that forces them to refer to a dictionary in order to understand what is being said in a piece. If they stall on wording they will close the door and never return. Keep it simple, compelling with emotional appeal, inspirational, motivational value. If the popular vote is what you are after remember that romantic, spiritual and nature poetry are hugely popular in the day.

Historical Perspective

Poetry is a form of literature having various protocols of style with aesthetic and rhythmic elements of language conveyance. Poetry tells a story through a deeply personal expression, often with powerful visual elements to accompany the piece for greater associative and emotional response.

Poetry is historically steeped in culture and expressed through various genres and varied form including rhyme, metered, biblical and more. Modern day poetry is often a reflection or adaptation of more traditional verse as well as compositions of current day contemporary, freestyle or free verse.

Compositional elements include prose, rhythm, meter, syllabic or metrical pattern, alliteration, assonance (vowel rhyme, prosody), rhyming patterns/schemes, lines and stanzas. Traditional verse are varied including Sonnets, Shi, Tanka, Haiku to name but a few. Genres include narrative, epic, satirical, lyrical, prose, verse, fable and more. Form adaptations include abstract, sound, acrostic, cascade, cinquain, elegy, pantoum, Rondeau, Rondel, triolet composition to name just a few.

The Poetry Writing Process

Poets have their own individual methods for composing their poems, some with loosely adapted approaches insomuch as letting the verse flow as it may. As a highly visual person my writing begins with deciding on the subject matter and the selection of a suitable, highly relevant and compelling image to accompany my work that will fully engage the reader and enhance their reading experience.

Effective, compelling poetry will embrace the following focus:

  1. Create a unique, highly compelling title that grabs the reader’s attention.
  2. Develop a conceptual foundation for the storyline.
  3. Determine the form and structural elements that will pull the piece together nicely.
  4. Create dynamic, responsive opening and closing lines and ensure that the body of each piece is highly engaging, compelling and fully cohesive and supportive of the overall thematic expression.
  5. Have a dictionary and thesaurus at the ready for quick reference at all times during the writing process. Draft the piece and then take a look at alternative ways to say the same thing to enhance the reading experience. Choose certain words that are commonplace or perhaps complicated in meaning and refer to the thesaurus for powerful synonyms to use instead, taking care to ensure continuity of rhythm, flow and consistent meter of each line.
  6. Where the objective is maximum audience reach, make sure complicated, university level language is not used. Simplify words that might compel the reader to refer to a dictionary to clarify…an annoyance that will leave many disenchanted, frustrated and quickly leaving your work never to return.
  7. Emotional Triggers:  Design the language that is highly relatable to your reading audience. When readers can fully identify with the subject matter as in sadness, joy, inspiration, curiosity, controversy, humor, nostalgia, dark or moody, parody, sardonic, romantic, period, tragedy, fantasy, fairy tale and more they will feel a powerful sense of connection.
  8. Proofread:  Always proofread and clean up any discrepancies in the piece before publication. Make sure the sound and feel of it when read back is achieving what you had intended. Be objective…does my work sound compelling? Will it draw an audience and engage them to follow/subscribe to future writings/buy my published works now and in future? Do you respond emotionally to your own words? If your response is hesitation, don’t rush to hit the ‘publish’ button just yet. Rework, reword, rephrase. Make each piece the very best it can possibly be.

My method of proofing and rereading constitutes deep line analysis, as I do when I am editing for a client. I read each word and line in succession…repeatedly until the piece is concluded. Is it flowing logically, sequentially, in natural progression and towards my ultimate message? Does the piece have a strong overall feel to it? Would I engage in the piece start to finish? Would I buy this written verse? Is it indeed distinct in its presentation and style. Will readers see the piece as readily identifiable in terms of its author…or is it lost to a litany of thousands of others who have written the same thing in the same way.

~Will my readers pause good long moments after they read my work to reflect wholly on its meaning, its significance…and its connection to them personally?~

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8 thoughts on “The Artform of Writing Poetry; Making That Critical Connection

    1. Thank you kindly! Great to see you here and I appreciate your commenting as well! I haven’t written a post of this nature in quite some time and thought I’d share a few thoughts on the subject. So many aspire to create wonderful poetry (or other authored writings) but aren’t familiar with the fundamentals of writing, especially poetry, that will engage their readers thoroughly.

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  1. This should serve as a great road map to new writers… My introduction to poetry came via Myspace blogs. Hence, my classic writers all came from that platform. Sonnets are my favorite, but any old standard framework of a,b,a,b works… I almost always rhyme out my lines… Almost every piece I write is aimed at a single person or entity, so, if they get it, and approve, things have gone well.

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    1. Yes indeed, so many of us go back to MySpace and beyond. That platform was indeed a wonderful experience in so many ways and I miss the many friends there that I have not see make the move to Facebook. My issue over there was technical issues that went unresolved for months on end. It’s interesting how we gravitate to favored structure in our poetic verse. The popular free verse seems to proliferate in the day. I enjoy a contemporary format while blending more traditional structure and rhythm. I have never been very fond of writing rhyme…just isn’t within my zone. When written well I enjoy reading rhyme, just seems I am more comfortable (and can do more) without rhyme schemes. That we have embraces the passion of writing for so long and with so many wonderful people makes the journey something really quite special. Blessings dear friend.

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  2. This is great information for all writers, Don! Thanks for compiling this post, which I’m sure took awhile. I must confess that I don’t follow too many rules. Instead, my writing is derived from the heart and life events. Most of my poetry is free style although I’ve written some haiku and have tried a few other forms. At any rate, I’m grateful for my followers who have enjoyed my amateur writing. 🙂 And I thank you for stopping by when you have time, too. Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. And thank you Lauren. In contemporary times we are much more expandable in terms of our approach to engaging in creative writing. I love to challenge myself to emulate the great poets and writers of long ago yet most of my writing is much closer to contemporary. I have always liked to shape my writing with metered structure and a closely held syllabic modulation to create a nice flow to each piece. Regardless of which genre we elect for our own writing the wonderful thing is that we are engaging in an age old art form with passion. Written expression of a poetic nature is so deeply personal and really must be developed in a way that we are most comfortable with and find highly relatable. We find the form that we are best suited to and best engages our reading audience and make it the best it can be. The creative spirit has seemingly touched us both in a unique and very special way. Warmest regards and have a great weekend too.

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  3. Poetry has long fascinated me, in part because of the world created with words ~ and meanings that took thought to understand. I still am such a novice at poetry (reading) but find that when I make this ‘critical connection’ to the author, there is this great magic that pours out. Great post, the writing itself is poetry and loved getting lost in thought. Cheers!

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    1. Thank you so much for your presence here and comment…greatly appreciated. The one thing I truly love about poetry is that you do not need any expertise with this artform. In its reading what is truly important is the experience you have in its reading and what you take away with you. Poetry is deeply personal and that connection you speak of can be anything you draw from the words. It is and always will be deeply personal for me and when we write from personal experience the better the reading experience will be.

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