There are no officially sanctioned rules of poetry. However, as with all creative writing, a certain amount of structure can help you reign in your ideas and be productive. Here are some guidelines for those who want to take their poetry writing to the next level. Or if you literally haven’t written a single poem since high school, you can think of this as a beginner’s guide that will teach you the basics and have you writing poetry in no time.
Read lots of poetry. If you want to write poetry, read poetry first. You can do this in a casual way, letting the words of your favorite poems wash over you without necessarily digging for deeper meaning. Or you can dive into analysis. Dissect an allegory in a Robert Frost verse. Think about the underlying meaning of an Edward Hirsch poem. Retrieve symbolism in Emily Dickinson’s work. Perform a line-by-line analysis of a William Shakespeare sonnet. Simply let the individual words of a Walt Whitman elegy flow with emotion.
Listen to live poetry recitations. The experience of consuming poetry doesn’t have to be an academic exercise in cataloging poetic devices like alliteration and metonymy. It can be musical-for example, the first time you attend a poetry slam and hear the biting consonants of a poem out loud. Many bookstores and coffee houses have poetry readings, and these can be both fun and educational for aspiring poets. As you listen to the sounds of good poetry, you discover the beauty of its construction-the mix of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables, alliteration and assonance, a well-placed internal rhyme, clever line breaks, and much more. You’ll never think of the art form in the same way when you hear good poetry read aloud. (And if you ever get the chance to hear your own poem read aloud by someone else, take the opportunity).
Start small. A short poem like a haiku or a simple rhyming poem may be more achievable than diving into a narrative epic. A simple rhyming poem can be a non-intimidating entry into poetry writing. Don’t confuse quantity with quality; A flawless seven-line free verse poem is more impressive than a sloppy, rambling epic of empty iambic pentameter, though it probably took much less time to compose.
Don’t obsess over your first line. If you don’t feel like you have just the right words to open your poem, don’t give up there. Keep writing and return to the first line when you are ready. The opening line is just one component of a complete work of art. Don’t give it more outsized importance than it needs (which is a common mistake among early poets).
Embrace tools. If a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary helps you complete a poem, use it. You’d be surprised how many professional writers use these tools, too. Just make sure you understand the true meaning of the words you put in your poem. Some synonyms listed in a thesaurus differ from the meaning you want to convey.
Improve the poetic form with literary devices. Like any form of writing, poetry is enhanced by literary devices. Develop your poetry writing skills by incorporating metaphor, allegory, synecdoche, metonymy, imagery, and other literary devices into your poems. This can be relatively easy in an unrhymed form like free verse and more difficult in poetic forms that have strict rules about meter and rhyme scheme.
Try to tell a story with your poem. Many of the ideas you might express in a novel, short story, or essay can appear in a poem. A narrative poem such as” The Waste Land ” by T. S. Eliot can be as long as a novella. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe expresses as much fear and menace as some horror films. As with all forms of English-language writing, communication is the name of the game in poetry, so if you want to tell short stories in your poems, embrace that instinct.
Expressing Big Ideas. A lyric poem like” Banish Air from the Air ” by Emily Dickinson can express some of the same philosophical and political concepts you might articulate in an essay. Since good poetry is about precision of language, you can express an entire philosophy in just a few words if you choose them carefully. Even seemingly easy poetic forms like nursery rhymes or a silly rhyming limerick can communicate big, bold ideas. All you have to do is choose the right words.
Paint with words. When a poet paints with words, they use word choices to figuratively “paint” concrete images in a reader’s mind. In the visual arts, painting pictures naturally refers to depicting people, objects, and landscapes that the viewer can see with their own eyes. In creative writing, painting pictures also refers to creating a vivid image of people, objects, and scenes, but the artist’s medium is the written word.
Familiarize yourself with myriad forms of poetry. Every other form of poetry has its own requirements-rhyme scheme, number of lines, meter, subject matter, and more-that make it unique from other types of poetry. Think of these structures as the poetic equivalent of the grammar rules that govern prose writing. Whether you are writing a villanelle (a nineteen-line poem consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with a highly specified internal rhyme scheme) or free verse poetry (which has no rules regarding length, meter, or rhyme scheme), it is important to thrive within the confines of the type of poetry you have chosen. Even if you eventually compose all of your work as a specific type of poem, versatility is still a valuable skill.
Connect with other poets. Poets connect with each other through poetry readings and perhaps poetry writing classes. Poets in an artistic community often read each other’s work, recite their own poems aloud, and give feedback on first drafts. Good poetry can take many forms, and through a community you may encounter different forms that deviate from the kind of poem you normally write-but are just as artistically inspiring. Find a poetry group where you can hear different types of poems, discuss the art form, jot down new ideas, and learn from the work of your peers. A supportive community can help you develop ideas, influence your state of mind as an artist, and share poetry exercises that may have helped other members of the group produce great poems.