By Danielle Fahey
At first glance, poetry seems easy. It’s typically not very long, you don’t have to write full sentences, and it gives you the most creative freedom out of almost any form of writing. But, actually, poetry is hard. It’s hard to understand, hard to craft, and hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a good poem. While the possibilities for poetry are virtually endless, there are a handful of elements that every well-written poem incorporates. Here’s an explanation of what they are, how they’re used in famous works, and how you can incorporate them into your own poetry. Happy writing!
Imagery is one of the most essential elements in poetry writing. Poetry is descriptive; it’s meant to convey an idea by taking you to another world, letting you feel what the speaker feels, and looking at the world from their perspective. Therefore, poetry should rely on the senses. When you’re writing, think of the five main senses and how you can incorporate them. What do you hear, smell, taste, feel, see? Try making a list of sensory words or phrases you can include in your poems (such as “wispy clouds” or “rapid breathing”) and figure out how you can use them to convey your idea. Imagery is a fantastic way of using the classic “show, don’t tell” mantra.
Figurative Language (Similes and Metaphors)
Although devices like similes and metaphors may seem like an excuse for poets to overwrite, they’re actually crucial to a good poem because they help readers’ brains visualize new ideas by comparing them to familiar ones. They take two seemingly disconnected objects or ideas and connect them in a unique way to help express the author’s thoughts. For example, poet Alice Fulton writes the line “After we kissed, I wore my mouth like a neon bowtie for days” in her poem Second-Sight. This connection allows the reader to think critically about how happy the speaker felt after the kiss. When you have an image in your poem, ask yourself, what does this look, feel, or sound like? What can I compare this to that might be an insightful, yet unexpected, connection to readers? Similes and metaphors, when done well, can add quality and artistic value to your work.
For years, people have placed great importance on rhythm. Whether we realize it consciously or not, we associate rhythm with our everyday lives – when we walk, when our hearts beat, when a clock ticks. Well-written poetry often relies on physical rhythms, like accents and syllables, or visual images that relate to rhythm, such as the heart. Shakespeare was the master of this, especially with his use of iambic pentameter – a rhythm that humans often walk to. To properly use rhythm in your poetry, pay attention to word choice. How does it fit the overall rhyme scheme? Is the sound of each line consistent? Do the accents and use of stressed/unstressed syllables form a pattern? Be sure to always read your poems aloud when editing them, either alone or in front of a group. That way you can get a good feel of how your poem sounds, and listen to what you can do to make sure every word is perfect.
While there are many reasons a poem can be good, there’s really only one way to get there: practice. You aren’t going to get a firm handle on these concepts overnight, or with a single revision. You have to explore your emotions, tune in to how your brain connects ideas, and dissect your senses. But with enough practice at your art, the experience is worth it. Keep writing, and never give up on your potential to be an expert poet!