Handy Hints: Writing Contemporary Poetry

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Tue Jul 06, 2004 7:15 pm

Without wishing to be prescriptive, there are certain generally accepted dos and don'ts when writing contemporary poetry:

*Try to avoid using archaic language like "thee" and "thou" etc. In fact, avoid any word you would not use in ordinary speech.

* Avoid using elisions such as "o'er" or "ne'er". Elision was a technique used by poets in previous centuries to reduce the number of syllables in a metrical line and looks very dated today.

*Avoid using cliches or worn-out constructions such as "shifting sands" or "dancing daffodils". Look for something fresh instead.

*Avoid using abstractions. "Love", "Beauty", "God", "Truth" etc mean different things to different people. So try to be specific.

*Show, don't tell. Remember Eliot's "objective correlative". Find a way of showing how an emotion affects you or your character. "She is sad" = telling. "She slumps on the sofa eating Mars Bars non-stop" = showing.

*If you use rhyme - consider whether you are controlling it or it is controlling you. If the latter, then maybe you should try free verse or half rhyme.

*Avoid altering the normal word order of a sentence to accommodate a rhyme scheme, as in: "He to the bathroom went."

*Check your poem carefully for spelling mistakes and incorrect punctuation.

*Avoid excessive use of adjectives.

*Cut out every word you dare.

*When you've finished, read your poem out loud to identify any awkward sections.

If you've covered all these points - get posting!