Just do it.
I know that sounds so weird to say considering this is supposed to be a blog post on how to write poetry (which I’ll get to in a minute) but the only way to truly be a poet is to become one. And that means writing poetry. Hence the “just do it.”
When you’re first starting out, poetry may seem like such a daunting task. You have all of these opinions and suggestions on what you should do and what you shouldn’t do and thousands of styles to choose from that it can make you not want to do it at all. I was one of those kids who hated poetry because I kept overthinking the process. It wasn’t until I surrendered to it and let myself breathe did I find my voice. Seven years later and I’ve come out with two poetry books with one on the way. Brief shameless plug about my poetry book Mourning Doves. It comes out April 6th, so be on the lookout for it.
So to make the process a little easier, I’m going to break this blog post down to the basics and provide some examples and tips. I’ll even show off my progression throughout the years, which is embarrassing to say the least, but being a writer means willing to grow. And trust me, I’ve grown.
Let’s get started.
Basics Of Poetry
In order to delve into the world of poetry, you have to understand the basics. And by the basics I mean the structures of poetry. I’ll be honest, there’s so many that I could list off, but some are more popular than others and frankly I hate using some of them. So to make it easier on me (and on you) I’ll go through the ones that I personally use or have used. They also seem to be the most popular poetry styles that are trending right now in the community.
The term “slam poetry” is defined as a type of spoken word performance art. The entire concept of this form is for it to be recited orally. It’s normally performed at poetry slams and it encompasses audience participation, performance, and sometimes competition.
The main thing that makes up spoken word poetry is the inflection of someone’s voice as they’re reciting it since you have to heavily rely on using your body and your tone to portray what the poem is about to the audience.
As for the type of language that’s used in spoken word pieces, you’ll notice that a lot of slam poets use something called concrete language. Concrete language is defined as using words or phrases that elicit vivid images, sounds, actions, and other sensations. You can also include repetition in your spoken word pieces to bring the piece to life.
Spoken word is all about taking poetry and turning it into something that can stand on it’s own, that can live and breathe outside of the page.
Here’s an example of one of my favorite spoken word pieces:
Pay attention to how she speaks and how her voice inflections (along with the visual medium itself) truly pay homage to the message she’s trying to express. It’s a breathtaking narrative about race and being a mixed child in a world that wants to box you in to one thing, even if you’re so much more.
This is a beautiful medium to explore if you like to recite your poetry and you find joy in performing.
Free Verse Poetry
Free verse poetry is exactly that: free verse. It has irregular rhythm, length, and at times it can even forgo rhyming all together. This term is slowly beginning to be replaced with ‘open form poetry’ or ‘mixed form poetry’ but I still prefer to call it free verse.
This one is probably the easiest to get into when you’re first starting out because there’s no real rule that you have to follow. You’re allowed to write freely and truly play around with tone, diction, and syntax.
This was actually the first form of poetry that I got into when I was starting out because it was the easiest way for me to explore and experiment without anyone telling me I was wrong. The only thing that you need to do for this is to come up with an idea (ex. nature, politics, etc) and get to writing.
Here’s an example of what a free verse poem looks like:
Narrative poetry is a form of poetry that tells a story. It’s one of the oldest forms of poetry considering it dates back to Homer and The Illiad. Narrative poetry can be written in metered verse (since older forms were written in this way) but the main idea for this form is that it has all the basic elements of a story: character, plot, conflict, etc. There are several modern day examples that fit into the definition of a narrative poem.
I currently use this form when I write poetry because I like the idea of having my poetry live and breathe as one separate story. I think this is a good form to try out if you enjoy writing short stories. I don’t like to use super abstract/flowery language so I do enjoy working with this form the most. Now do I break the rules a lot? Yeah.
I’ll use one of my poems as an example along with one more.
Yes that’s a sneak peek from my poetry book. But pay attention to how both poems set the scene like a story. That’s the basis to a narrative poem. Now these are both simple examples, but they hit the mark for the most part. Experiment though. There’s no right or wrong way.
Rhyme is a literary device that’s commonly used in poetry. There’s usually a close similarity in the final sounds of two or more words or the lines end with similar sounds. When it’s done correctly, rhyming poetry can be so beautiful and profound.
Back when I was first starting out, I remember dabbling in rhyming poetry myself. I enjoyed it for a short time and it really helped stretch my writing abilities and creativity. I don’t know if I would recommend starting out with this one if you’re a newbie, but if it’s something you’re drawn to, then I would go for it. It can be rewarding when you have a finished product.
Here’s an example:
Read it aloud and notice how every other word has the same syllable. For example, look at “veins” and “brain” or “penned” and “end”
Even though each line doesn’t rhyme, there’s still a sense of flow to it that makes you feel like it does. There’s countless other examples to study, but this is one of my favorites. Erin Hansom is an amazing poet and I remember reading and studying her stuff when I was first starting out. She was the reason why I got into rhyming poetry.
Ah, yes the language. Do you follow the format of Shakespeare and write long, overdrawn sonnets to a dead lover or do you become the next r.h. Sin and waste your time with meaningless Insta poetry?
None of the above. Just don’t.
Shakespeare was good for a while, but we’re in 2021. Nobody has time to decipher that bullshit. Is it decent? Yeah. Did it set a foundation for poetry? For sure. But do you need to use old jargon to get your point across? Not at all.
But what you do need are things like metaphors, similes, alliteration, onomatopoeia, imagery, etc. These are also known as poetic devices. These are the things that give your poem character and really take it to the next level. Without these, you’re just slapping words on a page, so be creative with it.
You can be as literal as you want or as abstract, but please, for the love of God, don’t think that these Insta poets are really saying something. They’re not. There’s a huge difference between real poetry and people who are just using it as a way to make money.
Here’s an example:
No. This is what you don’t do. There’s absolutely no emotion behind it or substance. There’s no use of poetic devices and it falls flat in so many ways. And yet the world continues to promote these type of “poets” to the point that the poetry community is being saturated with their trash. Don’t be like one of these people. Put some actual effort into it.
It may take work, but I promise you the growth is beautiful.
And just in case you look at this man and the countless other “poets” that are getting book deals and tours and shit and you wonder if you should water down your own voice in order to fit in, think about this. This was something that my mother told me years ago when she found out I loved to write. She always said I should write something with meaning and with a purpose because those are the things that stand the test of time.
That shit above won’t even be relevant in five years. But the things you write and the passion you put into it will be remembered. It’s better to touch one person’s heart and they go back to it a thousand times versus millions and they don’t remember it at all. Keep that in mind.
This is for the moments where the ink well dries up and it feels like your pulling your teeth out every time you write on the page. I’m currently in that stage in my own poetry journey, but these are things I use to get the words flowing.
- Read other people’s work
- Pay attention to the world
- Online prompts (you can find them on Instagram or on other blogs)
- Free writing
- Strong emotion
I won’t front. I use strong emotions like anger, love, heartbreak, etc to write my poems, but the problem with that is that once that emotion dries up, so do the words. So it’s imperative to find other avenues that can awaken your creativity so you don’t get stuck in a rut.
Of course inspiration strikes different for everybody, but these are just things that I find to be helpful.
How Did I Get Started?
I think I might’ve mentioned this in my other blog post about writing, but I found my love for poetry/writing when I was twelve after a nasty friendship.
It was the only thing that really got me out of that headspace and it just became something that I continued with. As of right now, I’m currently the author of two poetry books (with one on the way). I don’t talk about my older work because of how horrendous it is, but I’ll share a few snippets of my poetry from when I first started up until now.
This was the godforsaken poem that I was talking about earlier that set everything off. Clearly I had no chill as a fucking child because I was calling people out by their government name. Don’t do that.
Like I mentioned before, free verse was what I first started out with. I wrote this when I was twelve and I published this in my first collection, Can I Tell You A Story About My Soul, when I was fourteen.
Looking back on it though, I did have some shit to say, but the execution was terrible. But let this be a reminder that we all have to start somewhere.
This isn’t the full poem, but I’m not going to subject you guys to that torture.
After free verse, I started trying my hand out with rhyming poetry. I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I started writing it. I have a lot of poems that kind of follow this structure, but it wasn’t something I stuck with.
Then I took a chance with slam poetry. I won’t lie, this form was probably one of my favorites. I had so much fun creating slam poetry that I ended up creating a book full of it, which is where my second collection, Empty Boxes, comes in.
I wrote slam poetry for a little while. I didn’t stop writing it until recently, but it was something that I decided to try after discovering this YouTube channel called Button Poetry.
Of course my goal is to attend a poetry slam and actually read my stuff out loud, so maybe one day that’ll happen. I might have to bring some of the old stuff out. I’ll have to edit it though because a lot of this could use work.
As for what this one is about, I was mad about some break-up so I wrote about it. I barely remember the guy now, but I do remember that poem was popular when I was taking a creative writing class and when I joined the poetry club at my high school.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This was written two years ago, so I was seventeen going on eighteen. I was dating a guy at the time (the toxic one) and before I realized he was an asshole, I was in love, so I wrote about it.
The beginning of the poem was actually inspired by There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury. I loved the title so much that I decided to write a poem about it.
I actually forgot this one existed, but I fuck with it.
And this beauty of a poem was written before the end of 2020. This is the closest to what my actual style is like right now (including the snippet from Mourning Doves).
I wrote this after a bad argument with someone and surprisingly it’s one of my favorites. You can check out more of my poetry @kaethewriter on Instagram. I don’t post all the time, but when I do it’s worth it.
Most of my poetry now is narrative because like I explained before, it just works for me. But as you can see my poetry style as evolved and changed so much in the last seven years, so keep experimenting and keep writing. Don’t compare yourself to other people or get discouraged. Everyone’s journey is different.
Books, YouTube Channels, and Instagram
To conclude, here’s a list of books, YouTube channels and Instagram poets (who are actually good) to check out if you need help, inspiration, or just because.
- Button Poetry
- Write About Now
- Poetry Slam Inc
- Light Filters In by Caroline Kaufman
- When The World Didn’t End by Caroline Kaufman
- The Only Worlds We Know by Michael Lee
- The Crown Ain’t Worth Much by Hanif Abdurraqib
- A Fortune For Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
- Helium by Rudy Francisco
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (a story told in verse)
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (another story told in verse)
- The Sun And Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
- Poems: Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou
- Ariel by Sylvia Plath (I haven’t personally read this, but I’ve heard nothing but good reviews)
- The Blue Gabled House by Lydia Redwine
Even though this is just the surface of poetry, hopefully this gives you the push to try it out yourself. Poetry is such a beautiful art form that everyone should appreciate.