I have been writing poetry for approximately ten years. I will receive my BA in English and Creative Writing degree in Fall 2020. I aspire to be an English Professor at a four-year university. There is always enjoyment in helping my colleagues with writing poems, and I love learning from them, too. This article’s purpose is to provide poetic tactics, introduce a new way of reading poetry, and encourage innovation in hoping it will inspire you to start writing.
I still consider myself an amateur poet because there is no end to learning how to write clusters of words in a sophisticated manner while displaying the mundane as profound. Writing keeps you humble, that way. For those who are not familiar with poetry and don’t consider themselves poets, let me introduce you to some ways I have un-learned the cliché ideas of what poetry is and learned how to find my own unique style of writing (which I will delve into in my next article). This has taken some soul-searching, time in solitude, and enjoying little parts of life I would overlook. I will provide a list of great women and men poets that have influenced me over the years at the end of this article.
I started writing in my pre-teen years. Looking back at my work, you can imagine numerous pages of hallmark card “poems” that are really there to mimic what I have read or seen when developing my own identity. Not just an identity as a writer, but as a person. This is to say writing poetry has shaped who I am, although I have learned over time, I have shifted in style and shifted parts of myself. I am constantly evolving, and I believe this helps me get new material to write.
I say, get yourself uncomfortable. Dive into memories, pain, love, violence, etc. Those things are deep within what has built you over the years and you should acknowledge both the good and bad, which will balance your current and future poems. Writing your first batch of poems will be a drag because you do not know if what you’re writing is good enough. Our first resort, when starting out, is writing what we know. This is also known as clichés. Please avoid them. Clichés are not meant to be poetic, unless used satirically. They are of the familiar tongue and it’s very existence is to be generic. Here’s just a small list of familiar phrases to avoid:
- “Puppy love”
- “Happy as a clam”
- “Kiss and make up”
- “Happily ever after/Once upon a time”
- “Brave as a lion”
- “Frightened to death”
- “Opposites attract”
Remember that some components that strengthen a poem are imagery and tone. If you want to grab readers in, include some images and have a distinctive voice, which does not have to be your own. Describe colors with originality and unpredictability. For instance, instead of “pink”, write in reference to things like “peaches meeting Pepto-Bismol.” When creating a voice, consider using slang or colloquial/casual language, so readers get a sense of who the speaker is (their cultural background, demographics, etc.).
To take advantage of the many words in your vocabulary is essential to developing your poems. If you know more than one language, kudos to you! It is a great tool to use in poems. English is meshed together with many other languages, so it should not be normalized to be the superior language in poetry, or in general. Side note, there is not enough representation of Chicanx/Chicano poets, and surprisingly, no anthology of Chicano poetry.
Here’s a quick layout to look back on when writing your starter poems:
- Avoid cliché language
- Embrace your vocabulary and languages
- Write a list of some of your favorite words down, whether it be because of the sound or the definition
- Display a creative image within the reader’s mind
- Be unpredictable, especially with diction, line breaks and imagery
- Read some of your favorite poets and take notes (or check out my list and explore their work)
Like witchcraft, poetry is intentional. Every word cannot be taken for granted by the poet and their audience. Next time you read a poem, listen to how the sound of words curls off of your lips. “A word is like a ghost: there it is. There it isn’t. It’s true, it’s the truth. It’s all made up. It’s a lie.” (Morley, 2011). Words can linger depending on how they were put together, or they can vanish and be forgotten forever.
Also, the power of sounds in words evokes emotions. For example, the word “serene” comes off the lips with the echoing “s” and the definition of serene is very fitting with the sounds. To be thoughtful and intentional about the content, the arrangement of lines and diction contributes to the impact of the poem, partially (since there are many other factors that define a successful poem). This is one way to understand what poetry is: The existence of words made as art with intentions to sway a reader to feel a certain way and to have learned something while capturing a moment in time, creatively and unpredictably.
Use everything that makes “you” as material for poetry. I am a woman, poet, visual artist, spiritual person, realist, music lover, and many more things. Everything that makes my identity is what I use for my poetry. Be aware that poetry does not have to be about you, but as the natural ego has it, we like to write about ourselves. On the other hand, poetry can be filled with lies. Poetry does not have to be honest. You can write just about anything, so I’ll leave you with this: the medium art of poetry has been around for centuries, and it is stripping down language to be the clearest and the most expressive.
There are so many poets: iconic, infamous, and hidden. Poets are hiding everywhere. Words mean a lot to us. We cannot take them for granted. I encourage you if you do not want to write a poem, write a short story, a novel, a rant, a well-thought-out email to no sender… anything, after reading this article. Discover something about yourself through your very own clusters of words.
Poets to read into, if you enjoyed this article –
- Anne Sexton’s Live or Die
- Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (be aware that the first edition manuscript publication was tampered with and moved around, so it is not up to Plath’s standards and intentions. Her husband changed some poems around and discarded some when she passed away; this was not her complete vision of Ariel. Consider buying her daughter Frida Hughes’s version called Ariel: The Restored Edition: A Facsimile of Plath’s Manuscript, Reinstating Her Original Selection and Arrangement, based on Plath’s accurate vision. It is great!)
- Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf
Individual poems selected:
- Muriel Rukeyser’s “Waking this Morning”
- Lorna Dee Cervantes’s “Meeting Mescalito at Oak Hill Cemetery”
- Francisco X. Alarcón’s “The X in My Name”
- Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Part II, in particular
- Sharon Doubiago’s “100 Memories I Don’t Remember
- Lenore Kandel’s “First They Slaughtered the Angels (part one)”
- Gwendolyn Brooks’s “a song in the front yard” and “We Real Cool”
- Wanda Coleman’s “Wanda Why Aren’t You Dead”
- Charles Bukowski’s “nothing subtle”
- Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”
- Amy Gerstler’s “A Love Poem”
Finally, if you have more questions about writing poetry or want to read some of my work, you can reach me through email or Instagram.
Morley, Paul. “Lost for Words: Pt. II” in the “Last Night Tales” album. Spoken word. 2011. Accessible online, https://youtu.be/cqgH0drdbk4