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5 Top Tips for Poets

Poetry Is Not Emotion-Journalling

You do not have to write a soppy, sentimental, passionate poem about your one true love, a Petrarchan sonnet about your pining for an almost celestial creature.

Instead, your poetry can be about anything you want it to be about. Don’t be led by current trends — formatting as well as content — be free to use the page and your words however you wish. There are no restrictions, and no topics are too taboo, from nature to space to social justice to sex. There’s no such thing as ‘proper’ poetry; only poetry that is successful in communicating its information.

Sesquipedalian Words Aren’t Effective

The majority of readers will have no idea what ‘sesquipedalian’ means, and this tip will thus seem alien and disinteresting. In the same way, if you use ‘big’ words because they seem fancy and whimsical and give your poem a haughty air, the effect can be too alienating, especially if you’ve used the words you’ve just found in a thesaurus incorrectly.

It is widely accepted that polysyllabic and particularly loan words, of French origin mostly, sound romantic, fantastical and intriguing, and that an impressive vocabulary is the sign of a true, seasoned writer and poet. Instead, they usually come across as hammy and frustrating, especially if you’ve only chosen a word uniquely because it rhymes with another [tip on rhyming coming right up!] but that actually comes from a higher register of language.

Use the language that you know and with which you are familiar. If your vocabulary is, in fact, quite extensive, your natural writing tone and style will accommodate that organically with minimal effort; you don’t need to force it in order to sound ‘more poetical’.

Don’t Be Usin’ None of ‘Em Contractions and Colloquialisms, Ya Hear?

Notice how the use of a lower register in the above subtitle conflicts with the mood, and flow, of the rest of the text thus far. Contractions and colloquialisms usually give an informal, intimate and, above all, comedic tone to your writing. They feel ‘down to earth’. An overuse of these could either make your text illegible and convoluted, forcing your read to figure out what letters or words are being omitted, or jarring to read against otherwise neutral language and higher registers. So, make sure the language type you use is consistent.

Notice also how the words ‘contractions’ and ‘colloquialism’ stand out against the rest of the words in the above subheading. This serves as a good reminder of and example for the preceding tip. It feels out of place, too formal.

Thou Shalt Scribe

Similarly, Old English pronouns appear regularly in classical poetry, the kind of poetry we are taught in educational institutions is the ‘best’ poetry, perhaps even the poetry that first introduces us to the art form. However, Old English does not just consist of these pronouns but of thousands of words that have either lost their meanings or gained entirely different ones today.

Old English, especially in poetry, can be characterised by puns, innuendoes and metaphors that can be easily missed by the modern reader, however informed a critic one may think oneself to be. These can be easily forgotten or overlooked by modern writers, and adding ‘eth’ or ‘est’ at the end of a modern word does not make it grammatically correct or Old English, either, I am afraid.

For these reasons, I would recommend staying away from writing in Old English altogether, unless you are a seasoned scholar dedicated to this language and its oddities. Not to mention that attempting this can be far too restrictive on your creativity. I would recommend reconsidering the purpose of your writing in Old English — to sound knowledgeable and impressive, for personal research, or for academic reconstructions and teaching?

Don’t Be Led by Rhyme Schemes

Instead, make sure that the words you are choosing benefit and work with the work you're writing.

When you’re writing poetry, you should have full command over the creative material you are producing, and if you find yourself struggling to come up with the next line, not because you are experiencing writer’s block, but because you are trying to find a word that rhymes, it’s time to ditch the rhyming scheme.

Rhymes can feel childish, really only experienced in modern daily life through nursery rhymes, and much too singsongy, dominating your writing’s structure, flow and intonation.

Rhymes can equally be beautiful and resonant, and I include them more than regularly in my own poetry, too, but they must be a device that works for you; you mustn’t be ‘working for it’ and compromising the integrity of your work for a mere rhyming scheme.

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