Shelley Widhalm

Writing Poetry 101 (plus some fun!)

In 52 Writing Topics, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

When I find a good one of these, I am awed and often inspired, but doing the required reading is a lack in my writing toolbox.

I write but fail to read poetry. I feel my way along, thinking when I’ve typed up my scribbled notes and made a few edits, the poem is finished.

Likewise, when I think about reading poetry, I don’t because I’d rather hang out with fiction – a poor attitude for an aspiring poet.

Even so, I want to improve my poetry.

What I’ve learned about this form of writing I’ve gathered from my writer’s magazines, poetry textbooks and attending monthly poetry workshops hosted by the Matter Bookstore in Fort Collins.

Poetry can be free verse without a specific meter or syllable count, or it can follow any of dozens of forms, anything from sonnets to haikus.

With or without form, poetry can engage a variety of poetic devices to add musicality to the words.

Examples include alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.

There can be onomatopoeia, employing words that imitate the sounds they stand for, such as hiss, buzz or squawk.

Or there can be rhyme and slant rhyme, rhyming between two words that are identical or nearly identical.

There are two realities in a poem, the internal reality of the poet – his or her thoughts, feelings and imaginings – and the external realities in the poet’s world. This can be political or social circumstances, time period, time of day or night, weather, season, landscape and location.

Poems typically fall into two categories, lyrical or narrative. A lyrical poem is a snapshot or a fixed image at a single moment of time; it is a poem of a single moment. A narrative poem tells a story and has a plot with beginning, middle and end.

Poems have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they sprawl across or slide down the page.

As you write a poem:

  • Think of the intent of the poem and the thoughts or feelings you want to express in a fresh way.
  • Avoid using clichés and overusing words that have become trite in a poem, such as tears, heart and from the bottom of ___.
  • Use concrete terms, not generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope or war.
  • Describe the specific, such as how a butterfly constantly shifts direction, unsure of where it heads to show uncertainty, instead of saying “uncertainty.”
  • Use the senses to make the objects and ideas you want to express take on dimension. The senses include sight, smell, hear, touch and taste.
  • Cut excess words to get to the heart of the poem.
  • Think of line breaks. In the case of end jambs, where a line continues to the next line, there is no need to capitalize the first word in the new line unless done intentionally.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago:

Simplify

I am not what you say:
I become what you want
you with a capital
I could not begin
to write my letters
how I feel them
pump through my thoughts –
Go away, I must shear
each one off to make
myself simple, a 9-to-5 girl
with a lost heart.

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  1. loveloveLOVE the poem.

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