SONOMA - Upon the request of a dear friend, I have come up with some tips on writing poetry.
Notice I said “tips on writing poetry”, not “tips on writing good poetry”. Whether a poem is good or not depends on the individual.
We write and rewrite, then write and rewrite again, and repeat the whole process until we feel good about it. But that doesn’t make the poem any better.
So here are my tips on writing poetry. Take what works for you and pass on the rest.
There are no shortcuts to writing poetry. If you want to write poetry, you must first read poetry.
There are many poets and many incredible works. Read and learn from William Shakespeare, Katherine Philips and Robert Frost who continue to awe audiences around the world.
Also read Papua New Guinean poets and see how they utilise the local context in their content.
The poets I would recommend are Russell Soaba, Steven Winduo, Nora Vagi Brash, Jordan Dean, Michael Dom and Caroline Evari.
In my opinion, these poets are the best in the business. I would not hesitate to defer to their expert opinion any time.
You can also check out Keith Jackson's PNG Attitude blog or the Poetry PNG group on Facebook for quality local literature. Good reading precedes good writing.
- Let the idea come to you
Many times I have been guilty of forcing an idea onto paper. This doesn’t work, at least for me, and I end up messing up both the poem and my mind.
Let inspiration hit you hard and mull over an idea for a while. Let it run through you veins and become a part of you. This allows you to translate it more effortlessly to paper.
- Decide on form
Once you have immersed yourself in an idea, decide on the form of poetry with which you will shape it.
There are sonnets, haikus, rondeaus, terza rimas and many others. A lot of work is free verse. There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, you might want to experiment with different forms to add variety to your work. Variety makes your work interesting.
- Stick to the theme and be clear
Every line should add something to develop the theme. It’s advisable not to squeeze too many themes into one poem.
If you’re writing on the tragedy of love, stick to that theme alone and make it stand out. Sometimes, you will think of a theme but, as you write, another theme emerges. It’s normal. It happens all the time.
There is nothing wrong with having overlapping themes in the same poem. However, be sure to show how they connect. At the end of the poem, the reader should be able to see how the first line connects to the last thematically.
- Use imagery simply and carefully
I hate clichés. Their use tends to dull and kill the poetry. Surprise the reader with imagery drawn from an ordinary thing. The toothbrush left on an exercise book... how does it relate to your theme?
Right now, I am looking at blue pants hanging on the clothes line. This tells me the sky has turned upside down. Maybe the gods have decided to come at last!
(Most of my poems have religious overtones so naturally I connect upside down jeans with the Second Coming.) Ridiculous, ay? That’s the point!
- Be particular and choosy with words
Know when, how and where to use a word. When I began writing, I thought writing in archaic English and using big words was poetic. How wrong I was!
Poetry is not about big words and “KJV English”. It’s about the right words being used rightly. (I think I got that from Michael Dom.)
In this regard, apply the Three S Rule: be Simple, be Surprising and Stop.
Use simple words in surprising ways and stop to let the reader complete the poem in the space you created. I believe suspense is essential to good writing.
As the saying goes, “less is more and more is less”. Saying little allows the reader to engage with your poem. Choosing your words carefully helps you share your thoughts and feelings confidently and clearly.
Even when published, no poem is finished. I still update the poems in my collection ‘ABC Dreams’ published in 2016. After you have written that last line, close the book and go for a walk.
Come back and look at it the next day. You will be surprised at the amount of garbage clogging the flow of the poem. It might be a word, a line or some imagery that makes the poem difficult to follow.
Change and cut without mercy. Be your own toughest critic. Never be content. Every poem, published or otherwise, is still a work in progress.
That said, enjoy the process. Writing poetry should be fun. Play around with words and experiment with new ideas and forms. Takes risks in your writing. You become better by learning.
Most importantly, develop your own style and stick to it. We’re not all the same and so logically we write differently. It will take time but once you discover your own style, writing becomes easier and more comfortable.
I am by no means an expert on this matter nor have I truly mastered the art of poetry. These are some things I learned after years of writing. Others writers will have their own ideas on how to write a poem. You should seek their opinions as well.
There is no right way to write a poem. Poetry, like all art, is always evolving so we try to adapt to the changes to remain relevant.
Those who have followed me over the years will realise I have moved on from the long fixed forms to much shorter forms and free verse.
This is because contemporary poetry encourages the use of free verse. Whether free verse should be used to define contemporary poetry is an argument we shall leave to the experts.
For us amateurs and wannabes, we write to free the soul and make sense of the tragedy that life is.