Throwback Thursday: How to Write Poetry

I’ve been asked for feedback on poetry a few times, a task I found amusing since I’d begged others for the same in the past. Art is very subjective. Art is also only so when the majority of people agree, when it takes skill, and when it’s not someone peeing in jar and taking a picture of it.

On that note, please enjoy my informative blog post on how to write poetry, first published October 1, 2017.

A Muse, The Blues, Some Clues -AKA How to Write Poetry


Lo! What light, what cackling sun
Burns your eyes?
It laughs as you run;
Jumping, grasping, to
Catch the poem…

If you thought that was bad, you were right. I literally wrote that without any thought, direction, or meter. I took about fifteen seconds.

Don’t get me wrong -sometimes people like that crap. Sometimes the Crap Off the Cuff really isn’t bad. However, poetry is just like any other crafted item: the more practice you have at your skill, the better anything you make will be.
Translation: those who are experts can write a decent impromptu poem, and the stuff they worked longer on is even better.

So, *ahem.* Let’s stop mucking about and finally jump into A Few Steps for Writing Poetry:

1. Don’t.
Seriously, there are already a lot of good poets out there who have already written your idea in a better way. Thanks to Google, you can probably find it.
There are also a lot of terrible poets who have murdered your idea and now it’s bleeding by the side of the road begging people to stop clicking that they Like it.

2. Still determined? Good! You’ve passed the first test: that of true motivation for verse. I feel that motivation, a muse, hangover, emotional distress, late-night deadlines -whatever your name is for it- are vital to writing a poem.
Even if you don’t have a clear subject or good structure, the sheer determination to express what you feel will squeeze something out.

3. Actual Guidelines
So… there is this type of meter I poked fun at initially. It’s called free verse. Let me tell you, from my extremely limited experience, that freely versing can be a BAD idea. It’s the commando version of creative writing, and needs a brave, strong, experienced writer to handle it.
My recommendation, therefore, is to follow a meter. No, you don’t have to go full-out iambic pentameter. Only do so if you wish to be counting on your fingers and looking up rhymes for “depressed” all evening.
A good start is to come up with a few lines in your mind, then count the syllables (and pattern of stress/non-stress) and roughly follow that for the remaining lines.

4. Stress and Non-stress
Really quickly: this is where we put the emphasis on our words when we speak. I threw it in here because I mentioned it in the previous step, and you might be scratching your head over it.
Sometimes, I write a poem and there is one line that is really bugging me. Usually, it’s because I followed my syllable count, but did not follow normal speech rules of emphasis.
Because of that, the syllable count is actually off. Readers (including you) will do a mental glottal stop to be able to stress the words where we are accustomed to.

5. To Rhyme, or Not Some Thyme?
This one is up to you. I mostly rhyme for mine, every other line.
The length of each line and how often you rhyme (every single ending word, halfway through, every other, or randomly) will determine whether your poem feels like a poem, Dr. Seuss, or a rap song.
Keep in mind that even Seuss mixed things up a bit. One of my favorite stanzas in The Cat in the Hat is:

So, as fast as I could,
I went after my net.
And I said, “With my net
I can get them I bet.
I bet, with my net,
I can get those Things yet!”*

Try it; it’s fun to read through.

6. Word Choice
Let’s say you want to emote about love and loss of said love. You are going to make us all feel something different than affection if you literally use the word “love” more than about three times. Sometimes, my limit is even one.
This is where your friend, Mr. Thesaurus, comes in. I mentioned this in my How to Not Suck at Writing rant as well, because it’s really important.
Let’s say you’re not that into synonyms. Too much woooorrrrkkk.
You will sound way more mysterious and intelligent if you do it. Like, “I loved and lost and lost my love” could become “Adored, then absent; Carelessly cherished.”

7. More Word Choice
Poetry is all about obscurity. Even when it’s a straightforward tale of a path diverging in the forest, everyone still says the poem is about something deeper.
So, use your new thesaural friend to obfuscate your terms, or make the simple description of your plush tiger on the shelf sound like it represents your childhood memories of being abandoned.

8. Practice and Preparedness
This goes for anything, but especially creative writing.
Read other poets, and copy their style. Keep a notebook to jot down random lines that come to you on the train. Try, try, try again. Everything you read and write will give you experience.

Now, go! Make the world a poetic place.


©2020 Chelsea Owens
*from The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. All rights and copyrights, etc. apply

15 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: How to Write Poetry

  1. what you say is good, Chelsea: the only thing I’d question is that poetry is about obscurity. I can see why people think this but it’s unfair and selective: some poems can be — no names mentioned, no pack drill — but most good poems do make sense, indeed touch on a deep sense. As to your example, I would contend that Robert Frost’s poem is one of the most straightforward and powerful in our language. i wish with a sigh I could write half as good as he. And thanks for persevering with my piece: perhaps it is more flash fiction that poetry but I like to hedge my bets 🙂

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  2. Brilliant…..practical… but I get the impression that you just don’t like poetry. So I’ll throw in smarmy Done well, poetry is a very effective art form and can be beautiful, tragic, and provocative. Even if poorly executed, there is a bit of life in poetry. I rarely get comments or criticism (the literary type) on my poetry (and I write a lot), and perhaps the blogosphere is not the right venue to expect that. Because of the apprehension towards poetry, I never know if I hit the mark or didn’t.

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    1. Ah. Sorry about that. The post grew from repeated readings of bad poets and their fawning followers. 🙂 You see that, now, I host a terrible poetry contest in retaliation. Like with writing, I love good poetry.

      I contest that general standards exist; that some attempts are blatantly ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ Most, I agree, are fine and hit that mark with some or others.

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  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for boldly going where few have gone before and saying “Sometimes people like that crap” (but it’s still crap 🙂 ). Also, thanks for the tips! I haven’t sent any poetry into the blogosphere for months, but your ideas got me thinking….

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  4. I love to read poetry – but I have to follow your first item of advice – don’t. Writing has been my joy throughout my life and I have received lots of positive feedback on my writing – but poetry – no! I’ll leave that to others and just enjoy their poems.

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  5. Chelsea, just to let you know I’m suspicious that WordPress has been messing around with my list of who I follow on here. I was on your blog and there was a follow button that looked like I hadn’t followed you, so I clicked it and and sure enough it added me. I’m not sure what happened but I wanted to give you a heads up. I feel like this has happened to me before with a couple of other people’s blogs on WordPress. Grumble, grumble…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! I totally had this happen to me! I’ve since realized it’s a miscommunication between WordPress’ security crap (cookies, etc.) and those on my computer -at least that’s the case with making me sign in whenever I want to leave a comment…

      Liked by 1 person

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