So, You Want To Write Poetry, Part Four

Life, Death, Love

When we think of poetry, we often associate them with these three–attaching poetry with emotion, the spontaneous overflow, as Whitman called it.

These things, however, are too big for your poem. They will rip it apart at the seams. The weight is too much.

This is not to say you cannot write a poem with these elements. I dare say poetry and language itself owes quite a bit to these things.

But yours is not a poem about LOVE, rather it is about your love. But even then your love for someone is a huge thing, and will not fit on a page.

Instead your poem is about a moment–breakfast two years after your wedding; the wilted flowers in the vase from your first date; the stolen glance back when you saw them dancing as they walked away from your first kiss.

Don’t put a net around the galaxy and try to hold it in lines of poetry. Instead look at the moment for poetry, find the whole galaxy in the sparrow on the window sill.

Keep your images tight as well. “Love” or “Death” may bring a grocery list of things to mind, but a list of those things is not as strong poem as a poem about each thing is.

So focus your poetry on the moment, the specific.

And in these small moments, you’ll say what you need to about life, love and death.

Poetry Challenges, A Year in Review

At the begining of 2016 I proposed three poetry challenges for 2016. They were:

So how did you do? How did I do? Mixed, but overall good. Let’s take a look.

April Poems

April poems is something I’ve done a few years now, and suspect will continue to do for a while. Write a poem each day in April. It is the poetry nanowrimo, and for me, has had mostly good results.

This year was no different from 2011 and 2015, in that the collection was a bit random, with things from poems that came on strong, to the tired scribbles made before bed.

April Poems: Recommended!

1 in 12

This challenge was one I thought of. The idea was simple: write a poem in January. Then, write the same poem again in February, and March, etc. One poem, twelve times. The thought was that you would be editing, but also bringing in the elements of the year itself into the piece.

This one didn’t work for me. The reason was quite evident very early on: I didn’t like the poem I wrote in January.

And here is the hard part about this challenge: you have to start with a base that is worth coming back to 11 more times.

I think there is still something here in this challenge, and with a new take, or tweak on the bounds, it could very well be interesting. But for now…

1 in 12: Needs work….

Monday Poems

For Monday poems, the plan was simple: each Monday, take 5 minutes and reflect on the past week, then take another 5 minutes and write a simple poem.

This was fairly straight forward, and successful for me. Admittedly there were a few that weren’t written on Monday, but I did write one a week.

This too, I think I will keep going with. It is a good writing habit, and even if the poem made isn’t high art, it is both a good practice and a neat way to keep some memories.

Monday Poems: Recommended!


For 2017, I plan to do both April Poems and Monday Poems. Between now and the New Years, think of a new challenge(s?) to go along with them. I intend 2017 to be a year filled with art, and hope you’ll come along with me.

So, You Want To Write Poetry, Part Three


You cannot escape meter. It is in all writing, all speaking, and whether you do it intentionally or not, it is always there in your work.

Meter is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in your words.
For the Roman poets, for example, meter was everything. Catullus, my favorite poet, wrote hendecasyllabic poetry. Shakespeare wrote most of his work in iambic pentameter. From Twelfth Night:

If music be the food of love, play on;

If you over exaggerate each stressed syllable, you can hear it. da DA, da DA…

If music be the food of love, play on;

You can hear it now, the beat of the words.

Iambs are only one of many patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are also dactyls, spondees and pyrrhic feet.

You will hear meter as you read aloud during editing. Particularly when a misplaced word sticks out. Breaking the meter has an effect on the ear, and can be used intensionally for emphasis or sometimes to the detriment of the line.

When rhyme started to fall out of favor, a form called Blank Verse rose. This is verse that retains a strict meter pattern, but has no rhyme (or at least does not require it). Lines would have a set number of syllables, stresses a certain pattern.

Structure, it seems was an important part of how poetry was defined for a long time.

When you write free verse (or prose, or blog posts, or even tweets), meter is both present, and in the background. You aren’t writing it to a set pattern, but it will still have an effect on the poem as a whole.

And I am not suggesting you need to scan your poetry, marking stressed and unstressed, looking for patterns–but I will suggest you should be able to. And as you read to edit, if you have a word that sticks out, but aren’t sure why, see if it fits the beat.