A Lesson on Writing Poetry

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:

Who cares?

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.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. This is one of the best descriptions about how one goes about using imagery and symbols in writing I’ve read. If more people understood what you are talking about, we’d have a lot more better equipped poets and writers in an instant. Too bad it isn’t so, eh? But I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh, it took a while for me to get this too. Great post!

    1. Robi says:

      Thanks, Ollin.
      We can only hope. People just have to keep at it!

  2. A practical approach to poetry that I can say. The who cares always mar poetry and makes poetry amateurish.

    Nice article, that will certainly open minds.

    Thanks.

    1. Robi says:

      Thanks so much. Keep reading. 🙂

  3. Madhumita Ghosh says:

    A very good lesson indeed. But the fundamental lesson is, in my opinion, poetry-writing cannot be learnt. Either one has it, as you have said, in the heart, or one just doesn’t have it. While writing a poem and in an effort to make it interesting, poets nowadays exercise a jugglery with words, which are very often not complimentary to the idea, at times, totally irrelevant and meaningless.
    I also believe that reading and writing go hand in hand. To write good poetry, one has to read good poetry, not for copying, of course, but to know what good poetry is all about.

    1. Robi says:

      Yes, good poetry needs wisdom to be born. All writing is born of internal conflict in that sense. Like Herman Hesse said,

      Knowledge can be communicated, but wisdom cannot. A man can find it, he can live it, he can be filled and sustained by it, but he cannot utter or teach it.

      As far as reading good poetry is concerned, I’m currently writing something on the value of reading, and how it is THE human skill that keeps our species above and beyond all the other creations of God. I completely agree with your point of view. Reading tells the mind what it is capable of, so it can break its self-imposed fetters and walk alone. Keep a look out for the article 🙂

  4. ishansaluja says:

    As someone who’s been trying to get more serious in poetry, I thank you, good sir.

    1. Robi says:

      You’re welcome. I hope you pay attention to Madhumita’s comment. Reading good poetry is absolutely essential to writing good poetry. 🙂

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