Tips for Writing Poetry

When some people think of poetry, a very specific image comes to mind. Maybe it's because of the popularity of Nickelodeon's "Doug," that a vision similar to Judith, Doug's dark clothes-wearing, quiet-talking, lonesome, beatnik sister is the first vision to pop up. She wore glasses and pretty much kept to herself, immersed in her craft as if writing in abstractions was easier than communicating openly with those around her. This myth of the enigmatic, anti-social poet directly contradicts the longevity and influence of the art form. Not only has poetry been discovered that dates back almost 5 millennia, but it has also culturally encompassed the entire planet, functioning as photographs for the various languages, histories, religions and politics of the world's societies. Even if you're not interested in channeling your inner Homer or Virgil, writing poetry on a personal level can be a very gratifying and enriching experience. If you're thinking about giving it a chance sometime, whatever your aspirations may be, here are some general suggestions.

Be open.
The absolute most important step in writing poetry is to be expressive. The whole point is to get something on paper that you're not chatting about on a daily basis; poetry is courageous by nature. On a daily basis, materialistic and petty thoughts go through our minds often as we explore the world around us. Part of the difficulty in poetry comes from moving past this way of thinking, and writing from as pure of a perspective as you can conjure. Remember that even though you may be trying to purge your conscience or convey universal truths or something of that magnitude with your poetry, there is no failure, and no right and wrong. But there is honest and dishonest, and as long as you're honest when writing, there will be incredible value to it. Since the value doesn't necessarily come from other people's interpretations or impressions, you can be as scathing, politically incorrect, or vulnerable as you'd like.  

Be prolific.
Write. Just let it out. If you try and are dissatisfied, move on. Save it, look at it again later, and extract specific things if you think they were on point. It's not uncommon to wind up with a poem that features moments of quasi-brilliance surrounded by crap. Even if it doesn't wind up being your ideal method of writing, an easy way to start making progress is with a stream-of-consciousness style, because staring at an empty page is a worst-case scenario for someone with writer's block. As with most activities, the best way to improve is to practice, and this is especially true with poetry because you can chart your development easily. Don't fear inadequacy; challenge it. As Sean Connery said in the writing-based movie "Finding Forrester," "punch the keys, for god's sake!" After double-checking that quote, I found another from the movie that puts it nicely. "No thinking; that comes later. You must write the first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to to write, not to think." There you have it, poetry tips from James Bond himself.

Be creative/experimental.
You may need to retrain yourself, despite understandings fostered in elementary school that poetry is like pop music and is characterized by rhyming schemes (ABAB, etc.), that poetry is much like modern art as far as structure is concerned. The format is entirely up to the poet. You want to leave a line blank to give the previous one more emphasis? Do it. You want to go to the next line while in the middle of a sentence, to create a natural pause for the reader? Go ahead. Indentations, boldface, spelling, using single spacing to make everything look condensed and create tension - it's all about how you want the poem to be perceived in text or read aloud. Don't manipulate the style without intention or purpose, though.

You know how with busywork writing, you can knock it out quickly, in a crowded environment, while having conversations with people? That doesn't work with poetry. The iconic 19th century poet Samuel Coleridge was allegedly interrupted by a visitor while composing "Kubla Khan," and his work was left unfinished. Try writing outdoors. Write in the middle of the night, at sunrise, or to instrumental music. Use pen and paper instead of a computer. Try writing while intoxicated; by life, caffeine, drugs, alcohol...I'm not saying all poets do, or that dependency is okay; just suggesting that if you're going to be in an altered state anyway, try using it to your creative advantage. Maybe you'll help loosen your words or thinking. See what works best for you. Another idea is to utilize the creativity that comes from the natural hypnagogic state, and draw inspiration from ideas right before you fell asleep. If you keep writing tools near your bed, you can translate these abnormally subconscious thoughts to paper before losing them.

Be passionate.
Make writing poetry worth your time and effort, and write about what you care about most. If you're in a relationship that you find emotionally draining, try exorcising those demons by drawing from deep inside, and find out what really matters. If you just visited home and felt an overwhelming sense of security there, project the comfort within that environment. Even if you don't have a specific subject in mind, you can write down images that resonate with you. Poetry can be a great learning experience. Whether you're writing literally and concretely, or going a more abstract, impressionistic, non-linear route, consider what's normally frustratingly inexpressible for you, and work through mental resistance to convey it. It may be draining, or it may be fun; good luck either way.

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