Making a start
- Read poetry. Read as much as you can, and then read some more. Experiment with the styles you like (or hate) as you find your own voice.
- Keep a notebook in your pocket, bag or phone at all times—and fill it.
- The power of poetry lies in its brevity. Distil the language; make each word count.
- Experiment with form. Follow the rules to a T… then abandon them all, and rewrite the poem. (You might find the final draft, with just the right devices, sits somewhere between draconian rule and complete freedom.)
- Don’t just rely on sight-based imagery. Make your reader smell, taste, touch and hear your poem.
- Consider the whole gamut of poetic devices available to you as you write.
- Find the routine that works for you and stick to it. Write every day, even if it’s only one line.
- Join a critique group online or in the real world. Let ‘em have at your poem. (You only have to take home the advice you found useful.)
The big questions
- Why are you writing this poem? What does it have to say? Interrogate every line and word to determine its worth.
- What are your poem’s intentions? Make sure it speaks for itself.
- Keep your target audience in mind. Is your poem solely personal (in which case it will need to be reworked before submission) or are you writing for a reader—through print or performance, maybe even both?
- You can always return to the previous draft. Don’t be afraid to edit, alter, experiment, or cut up your whole poem and rearrange it.
- Cut unnecessary modifiers (adjectives and adverbs), articles (the, a, an) and conjunctions—but don’t chop just for the sake of it.
- Avoid tautology, e.g. ‘enormous vast emptiness.’
- Show through action and imagery, rather than merely telling.
- Evoke feeling in the reader, rather than exclusively recording feelings literally. If your poem looks like it could be printed in a Hallmark Card, it’s time to redraft.
- Keep in mind that active tense has more punch than passive, and is usually easier to read. (I.e., ‘She punched him’ rather than ‘He was punched by her’.)
- Choose metaphors (x is y) over similes (x is like y) wherever possible.
- Choose concrete descriptions over abstract concepts (e.g. ‘love’, ‘justice’). Powerful imagery will evoke abstract ideas, anyway.
- Read your poetry aloud—to yourself, a mirror, your cat, or a friend. Consider the poem’s natural rhythms and how you can manipulate them.
- Just as your words must work hard, so too must your line breaks. Consider the pace and shape of your poem as you make line and stanza breaks.
Submitting your poem
- Proofread! We want to see your work at its best. Also, there are few things more embarrassing than finding an awkward tpyo or misplaced a’postrophe just after you’ve hit ‘send’.
- Support the publications you’d like to submit your work to. Do this through buying them.
- Fit the submission to the magazine. (Horse and Hound probably isn’t after your radical cut-up poetry.)
- Read and reread the submissions guidelines. Ticked everything off? You go, Glen Coco!