by Esther Jones
Anyone can write a poem. But it’s not so easy to write a GOOD poem. I’ve been writing poetry for over thirty years, and I’ve picked up a few tips and best practices along the way.
Even if you’ve never written a poem in your life, these should help you get started. And, if you’re already a poet, who knows? You might still find something here to help you improve your work.
1. Read poetry, especially the good stuff. The masters are a good place to start: Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Blake, etc.
Figure out what kind/style you like, and read a lot of it. Seriously, the best way to learn how to write is to read.
2. It doesn’t have to rhyme. You already know this if you read poetry (and if you don’t read poetry, go back to step 1).
Free verse can be very powerful, but I would recommend learning some forms to get a strong foundation in the “rules” before you start breaking them.
3. It does have to have some kind of rhythm. Yes, even free verse.
It doesn’t have to be iambic or trochaic or whatever, but it does need a kind of musicality. Otherwise, it’s just a prose passage broken up into weird lines. Read it out loud if you’re having trouble “hearing” it.
4. Rhyme should not prevail over meaning. Nothing makes a poem sound more awkward and amateur than a word that was obviously used solely for how it rhymes.
If you’re writing a rhyming poem, and you can’t find a rhyme that works, go for a near rhyme, or rewrite the line you’re trying to rhyme to.
Meaning always ALWAYS trumps rhyme.
5. Try different forms. Don’t get stuck in a rut of always writing the same form.
Challenge yourself to stretch and grow. Resources like ShadowPoetry.com can help you find new forms to try.
6. Keep writing. The more you write, the better your poems will be. As in everything, practice makes you better.
And don’t get discouraged if your earlier attempts are not as good as you hope; keep writing — you will get better.