In honor of National Poetry Month, I'd like to offer 10 tips for writing poetry. This list grows out of my personal experiences as a poet and as a teacher. All poets struggle to create a clear picture in their reader's mind. I hope this list is helpful to you and your students.
1. Don’t be chained to rhyme. Rhymes drastically reduce word choices and can send poems in nonsensical directions. Think about what you really want to say in your poem and if you can’t say it with rhymes, ditch them.
2. Embrace alliteration. The repetition of a beginning sound can reinforce the mood or subject of your poem and create a musical quality, akin to rhyme. For example, my poem “Olympic Skater,” uses a number of words beginning with an “s” sound. http://www.jacquelinejules.com/skater.htm
3. Use everyday experiences. Anything can be a powerful topic. One day I found a missing blue sock and wrote a poem called, “Finding a Sock.” http://www.imitationfruit.com/Issue_7/finding_sock/finding_sock.html
4. Juxtapose. Linking unlike things or experiences can be powerful in a poem. Gliding down the slopes one day, I remembered how klutzy I used to be in middle school gym. It inspired a poem called “Graceless Girl Skis Down Slope.” http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1223/p18s02-hfpo.html
5. Examine your endings. I’ve had more than one poem accepted on the condition that I kill the last two lines. While my initial reaction is always horror, I usually come around and see that the poem stands alone without an ending that hits my reader over the head with a fry pan.
6. The internet has pictures. When I am trying to describe something, I often do a search on Google images. Staring at a photograph can help you paint a picture with words.
7. Don’t forget the other senses. How does it smell, taste, touch, and sound? While sight may be a dominant sense, particularly in our video driven society, adding other sensory details will enrich your work.
8. Lists are good. Providing details, particularly in groups of three, gives your reader a stronger image. In my poem, “Daddy and
Venice,” I remember a ride through the Grand Canal in with “velvet seats, a Persian rug, and a singing gondolier.” http://www.imitationfruit.com/Issue_6/daddy_venice/venice.html Venice
9. Rearrange the lines. Sometimes a line works better on the top than in the middle. And don’t be afraid to cut off the top if you have created a stronger beginning.
10. Economize. Poetry is all about economy of language. Cross-examine each word and be sure it’s needed and evokes a strong enough image for your reader.