Poetry Lessons: yours not mine

I need your help.  Last year for my in-law’s 40th wedding anniversary, I wrote a book.  Literally.  It was a personalized, leather bound devotional (260 pages worth) to commemorate their lives.  This year, my DD gets confirmed.

Apparently I’m a better DIL than a mom, because DD gets nothing so fancy.  Instead, I’m working on a poem for her.  My hope is that it will be timeless as she grows.  Lessons to live by, if you will.  Without being preachy.

My problem is that I don’t write poetry. 

Not as a general rule.  Only when the mood moves me.  Like for weddings or funeral programs.  For Mother’s Day.  For inspiration.  For climbing out of a black hole.  For children.  Mostly for the moment.

This is different.  This is forever.  A gift now to be cherished in years to come.  Or so I can hope. 

This is my daughter.  The child of my heart.  The one I am supposed to shape and mold into something spectacular.  Her future is my success, as well as the culmination of my failures.  That’s a lot of pressure for someone who doesn’t write poetry!

Fiction is easy.  Fiction is imagination.  Poetry is the soul.  Just thinking about it sends shivers of fear down my spine.

Like many good college students, I took a poetry class.  I didn’t take to it.  Or rather, it didn’t take to me. 

So now I am seeking your expert advice. 

Please leave your best poetry tip(s) in a comment.  I will compile them into a list for other budding poets.  Together, we will learn everything we forgot or never knew in the first place. 

What makes a good poem?  And how in the heck do you write one?   

POETRY 101

  1. Think in images as you write.
  2. Rhyming is optional. Unless its a limerick!
  3. Poetry tip one: heart.  Poetry tip two: soul.  That’s all there is.
  4. Don’t overthink the poem, go with your gut and write.
  5. Throw down the bones first and then fill in the rest later.  No editing until it’s all down, rather write until there are no words left to say.
  6. It’s all in your heart, get out of your head. 
  7. Focus on how you feel, and always be genuine. 
  8. Don’t be afraid to cry.  It likely means you’ve hit a nerve.
  9. Do not compare your results with anyone else’s.
  10. Jot down reminder words or thoughts and build your poem around them.
  11. Play with it, squish it, squeeze out the dross until you find the pure silver. Then pound out the extra words until you’ve created a work of filigree.
  12. Start with free verse. Don’t try to force your feelings and ideas into a rhyme or iambic pentameter. Only use a specific poetic form if it serves your words.

Wow, twelve wonderful tips.  It’s like an AA meeting for Hopeless Poets!  You guys and gals rock my socks off.

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16 responses to “Poetry Lessons: yours not mine

  1. Rule number one: Think in images as you write.
    Rule number two: Rhyming is optional. Unless its a limerick! 🙂

    • Layinda,

      Oh, that we doth believe
      for poetry that we weave
      rhyming we must achieve.

      I think that’s why high school and college poetry was so horrible for me. Unless I’m writing a whimsical ditty for the younger set, rhyming seems so…forced. Not me at all.

      Thanks for the great tips and the permission to write freely!

  2. Poetry tip one: heart

    Poetry tip two: soul

    If you are writing a poem filled with heart, soul and the depth of feeling you have for your daughter you will be spot on. Don’t overthink the poem, go with your gut and write. Throw down the bones first and then fill in the rest later. It is all in the heart, get out of your head.

    Deep Peace

    • Hey, Ardee-ann, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love your last sentence. “It is all in the heart, get out of your head.”

      For as touchy feely as I am, it is hard not to overintellectualize something so compact.

      Much appreciation for the great tips!

  3. I have the opposite problem: I find it difficult to write fiction. In fact, I can’t but I will try to have the temerity to give you some advise.

    (1) Always be genuine
    (2) Let that poem be the most important thing in your life
    (3) Focus directly how you feel, think about the party
    (4) Keep writing until there are no more words conming out of your pen, keyboard
    (5) Do not compare your results with anyone else’s
    (6) Let it come from your heart, your soul
    (7) If your poem makes you cry, you probably hit a nerve
    (8) Write exactly how you feel–no editing
    (9) Later on it is okay to go back and edit not in the beginning–get it all down
    I know there is repetition here: forgive me!
    Maybe my links may help you a bit

    http://siggyscafe.com/id3.html
    http://siggyscafe.com/id46.html

    • Siggy,

      My problem is there are always more words! I swear there are days I could write forever. Like I have no shut off valve. In that case, how does one know they are done?

      I like the “no comparison” rule. It is difficult to not to judge our works against anothers. I do it in fiction all the time. Like, pshaw, I would never misspell THAT word. However, it is a good reminder in poetry that there are no right or better answers. Only what is in your heart.

      Thanks for sharing your tips and your sites with those of us who are poetically challenged!

  4. I don’t write poetry much – did as a teen though. I like the advice you’ve got – the first one for me is the biggy – images. Heart & soul are right there too.

    • Jemi,

      Maybe I struggle with poetry on the very basic level that poetry is images in such few words. I am a sparse writer to begin with and very seldom write images because I see things so vividly in my head–so what’s the point of spelling it all out!

      Would a limerick do?

      There once was a girl named….

  5. jmartinlibrarian

    We have a wonderful poet (he’s a regional treasure) and he once shared this advice to another person in writers’ workshop:

    Start with free verse. Don’t try to force your feelings and ideas into a rhyme or iambic pentameter. Only use a specific poetic form if it serves your words.

    🙂

    • Jenny,

      I wish you had been my poetry teacher: no rhyming or pentameters of any kind. Just write. A few heartfelt sentences broken up into pretty looking fragments.

      It just might work!

  6. Poetry is the art of saying much with little.
    Try the Fiddler on the Roof angle. Instead of “Is this the little girl I carried?” Try writing I remember when… lines. How did those moments touch you? How has your daughter defined your life by living hers? Write it opposite. How have you defined her life? Play with it, squish it, squeeze out the dross until you find the pure silver. Then pound out the extra words until you’ve created a work of filigree. Good luck!

    • Victoria,

      This is the best advice I’ve ever heard: Play with it, squish it, squeeze out the dross until you find the pure silver.

      I knew I could count on all of you to help me figure out what scads of teachers never could!

  7. Maybe jot down the points you want to make or words that remind you of her and then use that as the framework to build your poem.

    • Lisa,

      I like the idea of starting with words and building from there. I think I try to hard to “see” the poem all at once, when really it should be an evolution.

  8. Cat I will try again: focus directly on your subject ,what is happening to you within and without. Write about your direct experience. When you run out of words, stop.

    I have a friend who also only writes fiction and is terrified of writing non-fiction. I do not know if that is your case. I find it interesting that when you write you can go on and on. I always have written in bursts. Anyway, good luck.

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