This is a guest post by author Danielle Van Alst
I am honored to be a guest blogger for Serious Reading. To commemorate the release of my poetry compilation book A Thousand Little Words I decided to write a post highlighting tips on how to write short poems that are thought provoking and stir emotions. First, let me start by saying that writing a poem is all about observing the world within or around you. A poem can be about anything, from love to loss to the rusty gate at the old farm. Writing poetry can seem daunting, especially if you do not feel you are naturally creative or bursting with poetic ideas. With the right inspiration and approach, you can write a poem that you can be proud to share with others.
I enjoy all types and styles of poetry. That being said, I believe there is a uniqueness and challenge to short poetry. Short poems can convey intimate moments with simple, specific, compelling words. They carry growing momentum from start to finish. A short poem differs from a long one in that poets may spend more time on word choice and clarity. Given this meticulous undertaking, writing a short poem can be tougher than writing a long poem! Never fear, check out this list of tips to help get you started and before you know it you’ll be a poet (see what I did there).
Carry the inspiration until something sparks. This inspiration can be a line, or just a word. Remember this is a short poem; you can begin small.
Pick a Specific Theme or Idea
You can start your poem by focusing on a specific theme or idea that you find fascinating or interesting. Picking a specific theme or idea to focus on in the poem can give your poem a clear goal or objective. This can make it easier for you to narrow down what images and descriptions you are going to use in your poem. For example, you may decide to write a poem around the theme of “love and friendship.” You may then think about specific moments in your life where you experienced love and friendship as well as how you would characterize love and friendship based on your relationships with others.
Choose a Poetic Form
Get your creative juices flowing by picking a form for your poem. There are many different poetic forms that you can use, from free verse to sonnet to rhyming couplet. You may go for a poetic form that you find easy to use, such as free verse, or a form that you find more challenging, such as a sonnet. Choose one poetic form and stick to that structure so your poem feels cohesive to your reader. Some styles of poems that are short are the haiku, the cinquain, or the shape poem.
Read Examples of Poetry
To get a better sense of what other poets are writing, you may look through examples of poetry. You may read poems written in the same poetic form you are interested in or poems about themes or ideas that you find inspiring. You may also choose poems that are well known and considered “classics” to get a better sense of the genre.
Select Your Words
Choose and explore the right words: don’t be afraid to turn to a rhyming dictionary or a thesaurus. But remember: a shorter poem may mean less breathing room for your fanciest vocabulary words.
Write for The Ear
Poetry is made to be read out loud and you should write your poem with a focus on how it sounds on the page. Writing for the ear will allow you to play with the structure of your poem and your word choice. Notice how each line of your poem flows into one another and how placing one word next to another creates a certain sound or rhythm to your poem.
Include Literary Devices
Literary devices like metaphor and simile add variety and depth to your poetry. Using these devices can make your poem stand out to your reader and allow you to paint a detailed picture for your reader. Try to use literary devices throughout your poem, varying them so you do not use only metaphors or only similes in your writing.
Avoid Cliché by Using Unfamiliar Descriptions and Phrases
Clichés are phrases or terms that have become so familiar and well known that they no longer hold meaning. Avoiding clichés will allow you to write poetry that is more engaging and nuanced. It will also force you to stretch your creativity and come up with descriptions that are unfamiliar and unique.
Use Sensory Details
Use all five senses to describe moments in your poem. Consider the sounds, smells, and tastes of an experience or moment, as well as how it felt and how it looked. Be specific when you use sensory detail so you can paint an engaging picture in your reader’s mind.
Read the Poem Out Loud
Once you have completed a draft of the poem, you should read it aloud to yourself. Notice how the words sound on the page. Pay attention to how each line of your poem flows into the next. Keep a pen close by so you can mark any lines or words that sound awkward or jumbled.
If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds. If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough. It is my hope that these tips will help you make the important transition away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe) towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).
My final tip and most important piece of advice, is to be fearless! Have fun with your writing and don’t be afraid to explore new styles, techniques, forms, or get playful with words. Enjoy the creative process and let your imagination loose. Happy writing everyone!