photo © William Dyce, Omnia Vanitas 1848
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.
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.
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:
- Create a unique, highly compelling title that grabs the reader’s attention.
- Develop a conceptual foundation for the storyline.
- Determine the form and structural elements that will pull the piece together nicely.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?~