Someone asked me about how they could improve their poetry. This is a difficult question to answer, because poetry is not a skill that could be learned. Rather, it is instinctive and personal. However, there are little tricks that could stimulate your natural abilities.
The first step is to find your motivation for writing poetry. Let me give a personal example. When I started writing prose as a child, I tried my hand at poetry as well because I thought that it was a natural companion to prose. I was wrong. My words felt forced, my rhymes unnaturally thrown together, and my general themes empty and meaningless. I believe this was because I had no profound motive or, urge to write poetry. I simply wanted to do it for the sake of doing it. Because every teenager writes poems. But as I could find my voice in fictional prose more easily, I abandoned my feeble attempts at poetry for a few years and concentrated on what worked for me. Then a couple of years ago I went through a very tough period. As failure after failure marched into my life and everything was collapsing around me, I desperately sought something to hold on to, something that would relieve me of my sorrow, and that would revive my dying hope. All of a sudden, words, couplets, vivid images flashed up before my eyes without being forced. They flowed naturally into the riverbed dug by my sadness. I felt a pressing urge from within to transfer my deepest emotions to paper and thus distance them from myself. I never enjoyed writing a diary, but my hidden, most repressed sentiments called out to be acknowledged and expressed. They found their natural expression in the form of poems. And I slowly discovered in myself a talent to write poems. But above all, this talent stemmed from my motivation to express myself through poetry. So, my advice to you is the following: reflect a little and find out what poetry gives to you. Why do you want to write poems rather than a journal, or prose? What do you want to express through poetry? Do you feel the urge to translate your thoughts into verses? Or is it only because everyone else is doing it?
Following on from the first points, it is of equal importance to let poetry conceive naturally and speak for itself. Do not sit down with the definite intention of writing a poem, because what comes out of that will be mediocre and commonplace. Instead, do something completely unrelated. Do some housework. Listen to music. Go for a walk. Suddenly, a spark will hit you, and words make an unexpected visit. You may not come up with the full poem in a second, but at least you have some foundation to start constructing the poem on.
Having said that, it is advisable to look at the works of other poets for inspiration However, their poems should only provide the basis that could spark your own ideas. Study their poems and try to identify any recurring themes or techniques in their works, but don’t try to copy them. It gets you further if you experiment with your own style. Try writing different forms of poetry, e.g. haiku, limerick, sonnet etc, to find out which one fits you the best. Of course, you can alternate between different forms, if you discover a talent for more than one of them.
I admire poems that are laden with mythological references and foreign phrases, because they give an indication of the poet’s wide knowledge, and they also inspire me to conduct further research in these fields. If you wish to enhance your poetry and make yourself more accomplished, then build up a solid base of general knowledge you can draw inspiration from. Look at topics such as mythology, history and Latin phrases, then try to weave these references into your poems.
However, don’t worry if the words you come up with are simple. Yes, the pressure to flaunt a wide vocabulary is ever-present in our lives. But overly compicated and long expressions are unnecessary, and do not even improve your poems. After all, isn’t constructing beautiful lines using the simplest phrases a better proof of masterful skills than sticking together the fanciest, most incomprehensible words dripping with kitsch?
Do not get bogged down by the alleged necessity to put rhymes into your poems. I believe that a good, catchy rhythm is far more important, as it can give a sense of direction to you, and can serve as a magnet that draws the words. Free verse is wonderful if you don’t enjoy being confined to s certain count of beats, as it allows you to turn any form of rhythm into poetry. Read your poems aloud to see how the verse flows, and identify any errors in the rhythm.
Do you struggle to come up with topics to write about? You don’t need to embark on a ‘treasure hunt’ for ideas. Simply observe the most mundane elements and everyday actions of life. Can they be metaphors for deeper, universal truths or messages? For example, you can write a descriptive poem seemingly about rainfall, but the deeper meaning behind it could be sorrow or depression.
To produce well-written poetry, it is also important to have an understanding of the technical aspects of writing. Research features such as alliteration, metres, assonance, syntax etc. Here’s a link to a glossary of terms: http://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/glossary_of_poetic_terms.htm. Of course you don’t have to incorporate these into your poems, but you will benefit from possessing a basic knowledge.
And the most important is to write, write, write. Experiment, make mistakes, scrap everything, start over, try something else. The more you write, the more developed your poetry becomes. Just as singers have to constantly train their voices, a poet also needs to train their ‘poetic voice’ endlessly.
I hope I could inspire you to try your hands at poetry. I’d love to read your poems, so don’t be afraid to share them with me!