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~ Tips for Poets ~

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper 
until drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler

"The beauty of things was born
Before eyes and sufficient to itself;
The heartbreaking beauty will remain
When there is no heart to break for it." -
Robinson Jeffers

II. What´s in a Poem?

3. Style: All your options

Determine the overall athmosphere

Tragic, despairing, wrathful, creepy, humorous, solemn, joyful, fuzzy warm feeling....
A tragic poem may be creepy and/or humorous at the same time. Stay consistent with your choice, and remember to make your words and imagery serve that purpose.

Determine the style of language

Everyday language, colloquial/slang, formal, simple, elaborate, ritual, old-fashioned, gibberish (remember Jabberwocky!), specialized (untranslated words from Old Norse, allusions to history and lore...)
The poem is: literal, deliberately vague or ambiguous, has a second level of meaning, is mythic...

Be emotional and passionate - not corny

Use strong language and fresh, clear images. Tear their hearts out. Make the audience weep, or laugh, or grow pensive. Make them feel what you feel. Moreover, explore your own feelings to the depth as you write - don´t write about anger, but with anger in your heart, even if you´re a sedate person. Remember your past, explore your feelings, especially if you´ve had no such personal experiences yet. How does it feel to desperately search a missing husband ? Work yourself up if you need to :). Step back from time to time to regard your written results dispassionately.

Imagery and Description: Be vivid.

Even if you write about a gentle walk over flowery fields, find strong and hopefully original imagery to convey it.
Employ the senses. The reader must be able to touch the rough bark, to smell the flowers´ heady scent, to hear the brook´s gurgling and feel the hair of his lover blow against his cheek. Little details like these, used with consideration here and there, do much for a poem´s vividness. Make good use of the wealth of onomatopoietic ("sound-painting") words (rattle, jingle, squeak...)

Metaphors, Similes, Contrast...: The chance for originality and vividness.

Odin is the ravage of the storm (metaphor). He talks to me wordlessly (oxymoron).
The crows settle on the corpses. How ? Like a living cairn. Like black snow 
(both similes and oxymorons - there is no black snow, a cairn does not live).
He did not hesitate, but flung himself into the fight (contrast). Ragnarok will be no picnic (contrast).


When I wrote about the Icelandic conversion at Thingvellir, I first checked up every scrap of background information on the event, persons and place concerned. I half-memorized a local map, read the Icelandic names of the adjacent rivers, lakes, and settlements, tried to find out what kind of character the Lawspeaker Thorgeir was...

Visualizing and Roleplay

Get into the skin of your poem´s character, look through his eyes. Walk around in the scene in your mind. What does he think and do? What landscape does he see from where he stands ? What´s happening in his vicinity ? What wishes and fears motivate him ? How´s the weather, and what time of day is it ?
Even if you never actually include one of these things verbally in the poem, it will work wonders for your writing process.

Use archetypes - not clichés (for you heathens: this is NOT meant as theology!)

This is somewhat debatable, depending on culturalization, experience and gusto, but still...

The unknown guest, the strange wanderer is an archetype. You´re not the first to use him as a figure, but he has lost nothing of his fascination over the centuries.

Rhyming June, moon and swoon is a cliché, songs that go "oh she left me and now I´m feeling blue oh" are clichés, as are all phrases and ideas that have been used all too often by poets. It may be unfair, but you´re born too late in time to use those and be still regarded original. Exceptions are e.g if you want to make a parody, or a planned allusion to a well-known existing poem.

Be original - and don´t overdo it.

Think around the corner. Play with words. Surprise your reader, deliberately not fulfilling his expectation. Say what everyone else says, but say it differently. Don´t repeat the phraseology of others, find your own expressions. Forget the standard poetic garden filled with daisies, roses and lilies, and choose a harebell for a change. Or a garden hose.

All the same, the standard reader must be able to follow your train of thought. Don´t express yourself so cleverly that you lost him miles ago.

Variety vs. Repetition

If you´ve e.g. used the word "fighter" several times, you might want to substitute "warrior" in some places, or maybe "soldier", "mercenary" or "battle-tree" as fitting. Enrich your poem by use of varied language.

Or again, you may deliberately repeat a word, phrase, line or chorus stanza, with or without slight variation, throughout the poem for effect.

Example: Use and repeat a certain line somewhere at the beginning, in the main body and at the end of poem. Make slight changes each time that reflect and make a statement about the poem´s progress. Your reader will build up anticipation, which each time will be rewarded by the line, bringing both familiar and new elements. Especially fine in longer poems like ballads. Read "Their Voice" as an example if you like.

Image: © www.fingalarts.ie .