Writing innovative poetry, the kind of poetry that reputable literary journals publish, entails knowing exactly what each word of a poem does to the reader. A good poem should be evocative, skillful, and cohesive, but before attempting to hone these attributes, a potential poet should be knowledgeable of the various forms and attributes of contemporary poetry. A good way to become familiar with the aspects of contemporary poetry is to take classes, join writing workshops, and subscribe to contemporary literary journals. Reading and understanding good poetry is vital to being able to write good poetry.
The first phase of writing a good poem includes a process of brainstorming. There are various ways to approach this process, but after a good deal of experimentation, the poet will find the one that works best for his or her personal style. Some poets will begin this process by actually writing a poem. Other poets will write prose or notes until he or she spots something that could be developed into a poem. The most important concept to consider with regard to this first phase is to write fearlessly. Write without trying to sound poetic, avoid abstractions, and be as detailed as possible. Write what is on your mind without worrying too much about grammar, literary devices, and line breaks. Often, when a person engages is this type of free writing, he or she will naturally write in some sort of rhythm or pattern. It is in the next phase of writing that these natural literary finesses are smoothed out and heightened.
The next stage of writing involves looking for a shape within the words that have been freely written. Read the words out loud, paying careful attention to phrases and words that leave an indelible impression. Then, prune some of the language by omitting unnecessary lines and hackneyed expressions, such as “I walk this lonely path, " or, “My heart cries out. " A good poem is going to have fresh images and is going to offer unique perspectives. If you find hackneyed or overly abstract expressions in your writing that are pertinent to the overall theme of your piece, try rewriting them using language that has never been used before to describe these situations or feelings. Also, pay attention to whether your poem is telling its message to the reader or if it is showing the message through unique images. An example of telling would be, “I am sad and lonely. " An example of showing would be, “I fall into his empty chair, listlessly holding his photograph…"
Once you have found the shape of your poem and reworked the language to include fresh images, you will need to read it out loud. Listen to the line breaks. Listen to the actual language. Ask yourself whether the line breaks are appropriate. Are there abrupt words dangling at the ends of any lines? Do you have conjunctions or prepositions trailing at the ends of your lines? If so, you might need to rework the lines, and at times, you may need to reword entire lines. This stage also includes getting constructive criticism from writers or poetry enthusiasts who will be objective with their feedback. You can look for or start a poetry critique group in your local area, or you can join one of the many critique forums and workshops online. This part of the process can be the most difficult for new poets who are not accustomed to having someone digging around in their creative endeavors with a scalpel. Understand that even incredibly well crafted poems will get their fair share of comments from the critics. Also, adhere to your intentions. If a critic misreads your piece, it could very well mean that you need to rework your piece within your own aim.
Finally, after having written your poetry with the knowledge and understanding you have gained through classes and reading, and after having reworked and submitted your piece for critique, you are ready for your final draft. Your final draft is not a final product. Your final draft is what all your hard work so far has produced, but you will need to read it again, possibly a day, a month, sometimes even years after you’ve written it.
When there is nothing more to prune, add, or change to the poem, you may consider submitting it to one of the literary journals you have subscribed to when you first began your journey as a good poet.
Devrie Paradowski has been published by several literary journals such as Adagio Verse Quarterly, Eclips e-zine and Meeting of the Minds Journal. She has also published articles with Poetry Renewal Magazine. She is the founder and editor of the online literary journal, LE Quarterly: http://www.literaryescape.com/journal/