The Right Words

For years, I’ve been screaming about rhyming poetry. Sometimes I make it a joke, and sometimes I hint that it’s very old fashioned.

What I’ve been neglecting is a section of my book that talks about poetry and words. It talks about finding the right word, not bland words or grandiose words, and I think it puts a proper perspective on rhyming poetry.

After all, because of its brevity, a poem’s every word holds that much more weight, and must be chosen with great care. Here are some tips to help you choose wisely:

  • Narrow your focus: Grandiose themes like ‘love’ and ‘injustice’ need to be pared down to manageable size. What sort of love, what kind of injustice?
  • Write around your theme: Is your poem about love? Then don’t use the word ‘love’ in your poem! (What a bland word it has become, after all . . .) Instead, describe the precise feeling, build a metaphor, write around the idea of love to get through to the core of what you’re trying to evoke.
  • Express ideas, not emotions: Poetry is more than a venting of feelings (that’s what a diary is for!). Put some intellectual distance between yourself and the subject matter of your poetry.
  • Ditch the Rhymes: Don’t rhyme for the sake of rhyming. New poets tend to think they can get away with less-than-perfect rhymes, and/or rhymes divorced from meter. Not so! Stick to free verse unless you’re prepared to work very hard at mastering formal poetry.
  • Edit your poems: Poetry too must undergo many revisions in order to shine. Don’t be afraid of scrapping whole verses, or cutting everything down to a few good lines and rebuilding — this is a necessary part of the process of producing great poetry.

 In general, writing poetry is a matter of compressing language to what is most essential. Limit the number of articles and other fillers. Use adjectives sparingly, because overuse can become jarring to the reader. When in doubt, cut it out.

Poetry is not chopped prose, so try to avoid ‘telling’ a story as much as showing the reader just enough information for the story to solidify in his or her mind. A lot of poetry is very subjective and emotional by nature- do not fear using stronger language or more intense imagery in order to get your point across to the reader. What will ultimately sell your poem is a strong ‘voice’- that point of view that separates your work from anyone else’s.


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