I have an old friend who recently approached me with the desire to re-incorporate writing poetry into her life. How wonderful is that? It gave me the opportunity to pull together some basic rules of the road – rules which are, of course, meant to be broken, but only after they are initially understood. They may seem very basic, indeed, but it is always good to revisit such things and discover, as I did while compiling this, how much has been forgotten or lost along the way. I thought I’d share them with you now.
- Lines need to start and end with strong words, either in meaning or in metrical/rhythmic stress. Small connecting words can be too weak to hold those positions.
- Be careful of ending lines with sentence ends. Enjambment is your friend.
- As we say in Writing Through, write with your ears. Sometimes sound is more important than meaning, especially at the end of a line.
- Beginnings of lines can be used as surprises, ie the line ends in a way that leads you to a certain thought but then the next line starts with a word which is not what you expected. It’s great when that happens.
- Beware of the Ta Da ending, where the last line is burdened with all the meaning of the poem (this is a big problem of mine and is a trap I fall into all the time).
- A quite famous poet who shall remain nameless (not a poet I like that much though although she is honored and revered by many) once told me at a book signing, when I asked her about the use of exclamation marks, that a poet is only allowed to use one in her/his career. I think she’s probably right about that.
- Trust your reader. She/he is smart enough to understand what you’re talking about, if you’ve constructed your poem well. She’s also probably smart enough to give your poem her own meaning, regardless of what was in your head while writing it. And that is, actually, the point of sharing your work in the first place.