Recently, reading a lot of the poetry posted on the internet, I’ve come to realize that these days, poetry has turned into an excuse to dispense chunks of succinct, minimalist imagery in the form of unmemorable rhyme. Let’s not talk about rhyme, though. If your poetry is poetry just because it rhymes, you can quit reading right now. Poetry is more than that. It has the capacity to describe our very humanity in fewer words than it would take to write an application for a driver’s license. It is not about finding that elusive word you want for the last word in a line, just so it can fit the line before it. That’s missing the point. Poetry exists to describe a feeling.
Most fledgling writers use imagery for the sake of imagery. They forget that it exists to describe, to show and not to tell. These writers find problems with writing original stuff because they struggle with writing concrete pictures of those abstract concepts that dwell in their minds. The key to good description is coherence. The key to coherence is having a crystal clear picture in your mind of what you’re writing about.
Incoherence is the biggest barrier to writing good poetry, and that is why most people can’t find their true potential with it. Forget prose. Prose is even more challenging, given that people can’t keep their mind hooked on ideas being written through longer chunks of text. When it comes to verse, every writer will have difficulty keeping to the rails if he can’t keep himself tethered to the words he’s writing, or if the concept starts to vanish on him. Writing in staccato bursts of tied-together imagery makes for some very immature material. If the picture in your brain is real, then the description will always always be coherent, organized and relevant from line to line.
With every word I write, I understand that the necessity for imagery is no excuse to put fuzzy ideas down on paper. If the pictures in your head are damaged, the new-born metaphors you conjure will be cowardly, amateur expressions that turn into broken pixels and crumble dutifully for even the untrained eye. Bad imagery, therefore, is even worse for an infant piece than the misuse of punctuation and grammar. Make sure that when you do use imagery in your writing, it only adds to and glorifies the line before it. If it doesn’t, fix it or remove it.
Think it out, and the words will write themselves out. If you have the gift of beauty in your speech, it will play on paper. If not, tough luck. Try something else that you think you have a gift for. You must have the heart of a writer because the heart is inevitably a much better writer than the mind is, even though it takes both to write well. Your mind is a prison to the best words it contains. It’s the shyest organ you have. It thinks that other people will not understand what you are writing. That brings us to the final lesson of the day:
Say that to yourself every time you finish writing something. Say it to yourself when you’re writing it. Once you realize how personal and free an act writing is, you’ll forget to wall your words up.
After you’re done writing what your heart writes, you can run over it with your mind. After all, we wouldn’t want grammatical errors in what you write. Put it away for two weeks. After those two weeks have lapsed, read it again with your mind, and open your heart a little. What comes from feeling must eventually translate to feeling, or its purpose is void and the intention has failed. If you feel when you read what you’ve written, forget the critics. Who cares? We are our own worst critics.