WHAT MAKES A GOOD POEM?

What to look for when reading and what to aim for when writing:

This is the briefest of summaries, mere definitions of key elements in poems. It might be a good exercise to play with each one and then try combining them as your skill develops.

  1. Details: naming; seeing, hearing – all the senses; every word working and, conversely, subtlety: a balance of specific and mystery / known and unknowable / sayable and unsayable. Is the monarch butterfly pinned to a board or does it fly free?

  2. Engagement: poet’s presence, not only intellectually (ideas/abstractions/metaphors), but physical presence/immediacy; an invitation to readers to enter the poem, to be stirred, to connect.

  3. Intimacy: the voice of the poet comes through; expressive words, perspective, insight – the surface narrative/lyric, but something written between the lines that speaks in the poet’s voice but that also touches me unearthing something that connects us (something beyond personal/universal/ah ha moment).

  4. Movement: outward and inward.

  5. Portal: the word, phrase, or stanza that shifts the poem from the surface theme into the deeper, more subtle one, the poem written between the lines.

  6. Sound and rhythm: music; echoes in the language.

  7. Twist: surprise, but also coherence, and subtlety: room for the unknown/unknowable.

  8. Question: I want insight, but not a definitive answer (not overly generalized; respect for the individual); I want to be left with something to think about beyond the poet’s skill with structure and words, rhythm and other “tools” in the writer’s toolbox.

  9. Wow factor: awe moment; not just by poet’s craft/skill/talent, but by the mind and heart of the poet.

Every poem does not have all of these things, but they are what I look for when reading and what I aim for when writing.

You may also be interested in reading How to Write a Good Poem? 6 Writing Tips. The blog looks at the advice of Jane Hirshfield, Robyn Sarah and Tony Hoagland. For more tips scroll through the category “Writing Tips & Workshops.”

Please share your thoughts and share this post. Thanks,
Kathryn

Author: Kathryn (Kate) MacDonald

Writer & Writing Facilitator. Photographer. Eclectic Reader & Reviewer.

3 thoughts on “WHAT MAKES A GOOD POEM?”

  1. Yes! This is one of the best summaries of the qualities of a good poem that I’ve seen. While poetry is very open to interpretation and everyone can do it differently, these factors are absolutely what set apart a poem and a great poem. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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