If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds.
If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough. (See also “Poetry is for the Ear” and “When Backwards Newbie Poets Write“)
Poetry Writing: Top 10 TipsThese tips will help you make an important transition:
away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe)
towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).
Know Your Goal
Use Metaphor and Simile
Use Concrete Words Instead of Abstract Words
Subvert the Ordinary
Rhyme with Extreme Caution
Revise, Revise, Revise
Tip #1 Know Your Goal.
If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you get there?
You need to know what you are trying to accomplish before you begin any project. Writing a poem is no exception.
Before you begin, ask yourself what you want your poem to “do.” Do you want your poem to describe an event in your life, protest a social injustice, or describe the beauty of nature? Once you know the goal of your poem, you can conform your writing to that goal. Take each main element in your poem and make it serve the main purpose of the poem.
Tip #2 Avoid Clichés
Stephen Minot defines a cliché as: “A metaphor or simile that has become so familiar from overuse that the vehicle … no longer contributes any meaning whatever to the tenor. It provides neither the vividness of a fresh metaphor nor the strength of a single unmodified word….The word is also used to describe overused but nonmetaphorical expressions such as ‘tried and true’ and ‘each and every’” (Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama, 405).
Cliché also describes other overused literary elements. “Familiar plot patterns and stock characters are clichés on a big scale” (Minot 148). Clichés can be overused themes, character types, or plots. For example, the “Lone Ranger” cowboy is a cliché because it has been used so many times that people no longer find it original.
A work full of clichés is like a plate of old food: unappetizing.