3 Tips for Writing Poetry That Sings
Don’t consider yourself a poet? Have no fear! Here are three tips for writing poetry that sings, drawn from the personal experience of a former non-poet — that’s me!
Until these past few months, when I began sharing my poetry, I didn’t consider myself a poet.
Now, as you may have noticed, I post a poem almost daily. And, humble as I like to be, it’s not slipped my notice that people seem to be enjoying my poetry. So they tell me, in the comments sections of my poems and on Twitter. In some ways, my poetic success has been an ego-boost. In other ways, it’s been disorienting.
Why disorienting? Because, like I said, I’ve never considered myself a poet. I’m still not sure I consider myself a poet. By definition — poets write poetry — I am a poet. But I still don’t feel like a poet. I feel a bit like a hack. Still, I think I’ve figured out some things that made writing poetry click for me, and I want to share them with you.
Let me step back and clarify. I’ve written poetry for a long time, almost as long as I’ve written stories. I wrote quite a bit of poetry during my teenage years, and poetry in many ways was what saw me through the darkest years of my life. It was my witness. I plan to write an article about poetry as witness and therapy, but that’s not the focus of this one. Suffice to say that was my use for poetry during that period of my life. And most of the poetry I wrote, by virtue of its purpose, was dark, angsty, love-soaked stuff. Teenage stuff.
Poetry is a reflection of its creator. And if that creator is in a dark, angsty place in their life, their poetry is bound to be dark, angsty, and not all that pleasurable to read.
The best poetry I wrote was more like song. I actually set a couple of my poems to tunes. But since I didn’t have the best view of my singing voice at the time (it’s improved since), I didn’t take the plunge to become a songwriter. (I was also hampered by the fact that I had to muddle my way around the piano, the viola being my instrument of choice.)
Unlike with my novel writing, in which I mainly copied the plots of works until I worked up the skills to create my own, I never created copy-cat works of poetry. This was probably because I didn’t read enough poetry. I still don’t think that I read enough poetry. I have my favorites that I read from time to time, but I don’t remember the last time I actually picked up a volume of poetry.
This is probably part of the reason why I feel like a hack when it comes to writing the stuff, because I’ve always been told writers read. And they read in their genre. So if I’m writing poetry, I should be reading it, too. That’s why there are several volumes of poetry on my TBR list.
If anything, I feel as if the impostor-syndrome of poetry is much stronger than the impostor-syndrome of writing in general. Why? A poem is such a small, fleeting thing. When you get the words right, you really get them right, and it might not take long to do that. You’re left with this inexplicably beautiful little thing. Sometimes you don’t know where it came from. It feels like it came out of thin air. It feels like it could disappear.
Anyway, enough about me and my poetic struggles. Let’s discuss poetry in general. Here are three tips for writing poetry that sings.
Understand that poetry is personal. It comes from the heart.
I’m a person who does a lot of thinking, not a ton of feeling. But when it comes to poetry, poetry is like spontaneous feeling put into words. The greatest poetry doesn’t come from the mind, but the heart. In order to write poetry that sings, you need to feel something deeply: behind every great poem is a deeply felt emotion or moment.
When coming up with an idea for a poem, try to think of moments that moved you, people who inspired you, dark times… Use your memory to set the emotional backdrop for your poem, and write away.
Poetry requires a delicate touch — most of the time. It’s a dance between directness and indirectness.
When it comes to writing poetry, I want my poetry to have a meaning. And I want the reader to be able to figure out the meaning, or at least get a hint of it. But I don’t want to make the meaning too obvious.
This was a major mistake I made in the poetry of my younger years. Most of it comes across as cheesy and sappy because I stated the meaning of the poem directly, in the poem itself. There was no nuance. It was too heavy-handed.
When I began writing poetry a couple months ago, I realized that I could use images to evoke certain feelings in my reader — and that was how I could get my theme across without being obvious. Poetry is all about well-worded imagery. Those types of figurative language you learned in high school English? Put them to use as you need them. A well-written simile or metaphor can speak thousands of words and feelings and images, all in a single punchy line. The best poems transcend words on paper. They move into the reader’s mind, expanding their meanings and changing shape to fit the individual reader’s memories and experiences.
Be indirect. Instead of saying, “I love you so much,” say, “I woke up and looked at you and my heart grew wings.”
Word choice is king (and queen).
I alluded to this in my last tip, but word choice is everything in poetry, especially in short poetry. Since you have a very limited number of words in a poem, you need to pick each one very carefully. Try to use words that have deep meanings. When it comes to verbs, use active, interesting verbs that evoke images. Always avoid adverbs. Also avoid using adjectives to excess, although well-chosen adjectives will help your poetry sing.
When choosing words, pay attention to how each word affects the flow of the poem. If you can’t “hear” the poem in your head, read it out loud. Pay attention to the rhythm of the words. Choose the words that sound best and add to your meaning, and you’ll be golden.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these three tips for writing poetry that sings, and that they’ve been helpful in one way or another. Even if you’ve never written poetry before, or if you’ve written lots and you think it sucks, I believe in you! You have poems in you, even if they’re destined to be forever for your eyes only. That’s okay, too! Writing poetry is extremely calming and therapeutic, and it gives you witness in a way that few forms of writing truly do.
Tell me in the comments about how and why you write poetry and whether you found these tips useful!
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