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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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).
- Movement: outward and inward.
- 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.
- Sound and rhythm: music; echoes in the language.
- Twist: surprise, but also coherence, and subtlety: room for the unknown/unknowable.
- 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.
- 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.”
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