10 Ways to Supercharge Your Poetry
It's not an exaggeration to say that poetry saved my life. It can be one of the most intimate and rewarding types of writing. I never feel as connected to myself or the world as when I’m trying to capture one true moment from life in a poem. If you write poetry, you probably know what I mean. So if you're looking to inspire, increase, or improve your poetry, here are ten ways to supercharge your poetry-writing experience. Read. All writers must read to grow. But it’s probably more important (not to mention easier!) for poets to read widely in their field. But don’t stop at Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. Sure, read The Masters. But don’t forget the Newbies, either. Read poetry books in the library and while browsing in the bookstore. But don’t forget the on-line ‘zines and journals as well. The irony of poetry is that as little our society values it, you can find it almost anywhere. Practice your Imagery. Use your five senses to describe your world. Include not only visual imagery, but taste, touch, smell, and sound. This not only gives more practice in authentically capturing real moments of life, but it deepens the experience for your reader. Make your poem a little snapshot of your world.
Access. Always keep a notebook near you to jot down ideas, images, new and interesting words, line snippets, great openings and/or closings, and clever turns of phrase. Consider even having a special notebook or journal earmarked especially for your poetry.
Submit. Send your work out into the world. Submit to both print and on-line journals. Get rejected (you will). Revise. Practice. Then send your poems out again until someone says “yes” (they will). Don’t be afraid to share your work with The Masses.
Readings. Support your local poetry readings. Find a coffeehouse open mic, university- sponsored reading, or poetry slam. Hear the work of other poets as they read it out loud. Get a sense of the aural nature of poetry. Listen to rhythms. Ponder syntax. Consider breath patterns and line lengths. Then go home and, using your new insight, write a new poem. Or forty.
Revision. With my poet’s penchant for metaphor, I have always likened the revision of poetry to the trimming of a bonsai tree. Hold this little piece of nature you’ve created in your hand, close your eyes and envision what you would like it to look like, then open your eyes and cut away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary to make it look the way you envisioned. Subject Matter. Remember: a poem can be about anything. It doesn’t just have to be about nature, rainbows, and unicorns. Try writing a poem about an usual topic. Write a poem about a lamp, for example, making certain not to overlook the metaphorical possibilities in light/enlightment/seeing clearly, etc. You could also write about a swimming pool or a blender or gardening or making a hamburger. The list is endless. No subject is off limits. That’s the beauty of poetry.
Emotion. One of the traps of poetry is the temptation to write around an emotion, rather than to fully immerse yourself in and write with and through that emotion. Don’t be afraid of feeling! Without a doubt, this can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the art. Emotion is the currency of poetry. Show me the money! Take a class. Continue to learn about poetry. Look for a university extension class being taught by a local poet, or a night school class, or a workshop at your city’s writer’s collective, or even on-line correspondence course. If nothing else, at least read a book about the art and craft of poetry. I recommend Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldrige. It’s fun, easy to read, and has lots of great exercises. I’ve had great success with it.
Network. Finally, find other poets who share your vision. Bask in the camaderie, socializing, and philosophizing about your favorite art. Help each other by agreeing to critique each other’s work. Writing is isolating enough by itself. Make sure you seek out your comrades in arms.
I hope these few tips will supercharge your stanzas and give your verse more horsepower.