Kingdom Pen has been receiving a steady stream of poetry submissions for a long time, but this summer they doubled. Pleasantly surprised, the KP staff convened to discuss what to do and resolved to be more selective about which poems to accept. Although the decision was tough, we were also excited about it. We are confident that raising the bar will bring out the best in our dauntless young poets.
We also realized how much our subscribers love writing poetry. Kingdom Pen has published only a few articles on poetry composition, but that is changing. Lady and gentlemen poets, if you are striving to grow, we are leading the charge and will be publishing advice on the subject throughout the coming year. This is the first half of a two-part article where I will cover tips on sharpening poetic skills.
1. Adjust Your Mindset
Poetry shouldn’t be approached radically different from storytelling. A novelist knows he must diligently study his craft to be successful, but I think poets tend to view their craft as an exception to this. They swallow the lie that poetry is about “expressing yourself.” But when you wake up in the morning and your hair is a mess, and you feel tired and groan in anguish, you are expressing yourself. The point is to express yourself beautifully. Work hard at it. Revise, revise, revise. Get feedback. Learn from poets who are greater than you. Treat poetry as seriously as storytelling.
If you’re earnest about poetry, you will investigate it. Read at least one book about the art of poetry. I recommend Suzanne Rhodes’ The Roar on the Other Side. Equally as important, peruse poems of worth. Find poets who impress you and analyze their works to see how you can emulate them.
3. Incorporate Symbolism
Symbolism is the heartbeat of poetry. Not rhyme, meter, or line breaks, but metaphor. Poetry is never about the words that are written, but about the truths that are understood. For instance, Revelation 22:13 (NET) is poetry: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!” God is not describing himself as a letter of the alphabet; he’s proclaiming that everything is bound up and completed in Him.
The more multilayered your symbolism, the better your poetry will be. Symbolism is to poetry what “show, don’t tell” is to storytelling. Don’t write a poem about loneliness. Write how you feel like the only unopened package at a birthday party. Don’t write a poem about your life struggles. Write about a ship tossed at sea. Love is a touch on the shoulder. Peace is sitting under a shady tree. The Christian walk is gardening roses without gloves on. If you retain any lesson from this article, the value of symbolism is what I hope you’ll remember.
4. Handle Themes Deftly
Here at Kingdom Pen we emphasize how to powerfully but subtly weave themes into writing. We’ve even developed a full-length course on the subject! This concept applies to poetry as well. The way to convey your theme subtly is, of course, through symbolism. Longfellow’s poem “Excelsior” is a prime example. By using a story and the Latin term excelsior (meaning “ever higher”), Longfellow taught a message on the nobility of endurance that is more inspiring than a moralistic poem could ever be.
5. Write Free Verse with Care
I tend to dislike free verse because it often lacks aesthetic appeal. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. Free verse sometimes falters in quality because it is considered an unchallenging form of poetry. Since it doesn’t have any structure, people assume it’s easier to write than other forms. Although free verse has no structure, it still obeys one rule: it must be beautiful. Try constructing a magnificent house without following a blueprint. It would be tough, right? Because free verse is formless, it requires extra skill to write well. Symbolism is about the only tool available, so you must wield it for all its worth. Free verse can be glorious, but please don’t see it as an escape route if other poetic forms are difficult for you. Free verse is possibly the hardest. If you would like to study a fine piece of free verse, my favorite is “Potshards” by Sarah Spradlin.
6. Experiment with Structure
As those who have outlined a novel know, structure doesn’t reduce creativity, but enhances it. A gazillion different poetry forms exist, including sonnets, sestinas, haikus, and more. You can even invent your own poetic forms. For beginners, I think structured poems are best. The book you’ll get about writing poetry should explain many of the popular forms.
7. Embrace Rhyme
Some poets disdain rhyme because it’s common and restricts verbiage since you must force the rhyme to fit. Though both these points have merit, I think it’s perfectly acceptable if most of your poems rhyme. Rhyming is common because it’s fun. Also, adhering to a rhyming pattern shouldn’t inhibit your creativity. If you are striving to do a good job, it will instead stretch your imagination. However, I have two warnings about writing a rhyming poem. First, avoid clichés like love and above or fun and sun. Secondly, poetry should never sound awkward for the sake of rhyme: “A poet must rhyme, so on mastering this he must spend time.” If I were working on this poem, I would try to reword the second line or come up with a different end sound.
8. Use Meter
If you are unfamiliar with meter, check out this article. Meter can be a tricky concept to master. I don’t have it 100 percent down myself. It definitely becomes easier with practice though. I think meter is a technique that should be featured in almost every poem. It makes poems sound musical.
9. Explore Other Poetic Techniques
You may be unaware of it, but there are many more poetry techniques besides rhyme and meter, such as alliteration, assonance, and repeated lines. Research these techniques to expand your repertoire. Lucky for you, we have a free download on poetic techniques at the end of this article. Be sure to grab a copy!
Have you experienced any poetic victories recently? Any struggles? Has a certain poetry resource helped you improve? I would enjoy hearing how your endeavors are progressing. Please share in the comments!