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Writing Tips

Could I be a poet?
Yes! Anyone has the ability to be a poet. Do you ever have feelings, ideas, or dreams that you just wish you could get out? Do you ever find it easier to say things in writing than out loud? If you answered yes to either of those questions then you definitely could be a poet. The one main defining factor of someone who is a poet is that they put those feelings, ideas, and dreams to pen and pad. So, whether you're a dreamer or a stick in the mud, you could very well be a poet. Get out that pen and paper and express yourself!

Why Should I Write?
Why not? Written works of art are always completely yours. They are an expression of who you are and a lasting record of your unique perspective on life. Many people write in journals or diaries and writing poetry is not any different. If no one ever sees a word you write it will still always be your personal, secret thing of beauty that you can always say is yours. There aren't many things in this world that you can say are always yours so hang onto the ones that you can. If others get the chance to read your work then they have been given one of the greatest gifts a human can give; An honest, personal, special piece of themselves. A lot of times people will say that their poem "isn't very good" or "not worth reading". Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those words "not worth reading" may just change a persons life or offer a fresh perspective to a stale situation. "But can I make money?" Ok, ok. This is a common question and not an easy one to answer. First, and foremost that has to be your goal. That is not to say that the "rare" poet who never wanted to make a dime will not get discovered and paid very well for their talent. It's simply that in order to be paid for your work you must first have an audience and you must appeal to that audience. Most poets would say, however, that writing simply for the intent to make money can poison the poetic process and leave your work trite and jaded. To make a long story short, you should write because you want to. Write for the sake of writing, for the sake of inner-release, for the sake of self-reflection, for the sake of sheer enjoyment, or simply for the sake of exercising your digits. Just keep writing!

What should I write my Poem about?
The easy answer would to be to say "Write about what's inside of you" but that is like your mother saying "Because I said so!". The best advice I could give is to remind you that poetry is meant to be your unique, creative take on something. You can't "discover fire" or "land on the moon for the first time" again so you shouldn't try. That is not to say that simply because poems about lost love have been written a million times over that you shouldn't write about it. After all, you may just be able to make a bigger bang. The key is to make it your own and set it apart from anything like it. Try writing from a different perspective or with an ironic twist. All you have to do is listen to the radio to realize that there are still a treasure trove of uncharted ideas and expressions that haven't been tackled yet so get to hunting. There are "topics" and inspiration around every corner. You just have to find it, so happy hunting!

Does a poem have to rhyme?
No. A poem definitely doesn't have to rhyme. The first thing to remember is that poetry is simply written or oral expression of emotion, interpretation, and perspective. A poem should evoke emotion and intrigue the reader. There are hundreds of traditional poetic formats but the style should always be that of the individual poet. Generally rhyming poetry tends to have a bigger audience simply because it is often thought to be easier to read. There are, however, plenty of poets that never rhyme at all. It is often just much harder to express your perspective to a reader if they are not entertained so if you can do so with a poem that doesn't rhyme you have done a great job. Most teachers will usually begin with rhyming poem because it tends to be easier to get the hang of but some disagree. Some think that the best way to learn to write is to simply sit down and write your feelings on paper and when you can learn to put those feelings together you have become a writer. Everyone has their own way of doing things and you should definitely do yours. The key is to do what you feel comfortable with and what works for you.
If you choose to make your poem "rhyme" there are many ways to do so without using the common "say -- day" end rhymes. You can space the rhymes out or combine them. For example, you would say:
"I really like to drive my car
I also have a bike but it doesn't go as far"
or you could make every fifth and 12th line rhyme. There are beginning rhymes like "cartoon -- carpool". There's alliteration which isn't exactly a rhyme but rather a combination of similar sounding words in a phrase. These are phrases like: "Simply sitting silently inside" where the "S and I" combination carries the line. There are simply endless ways to rhyme so be creative. Just don't make the biggest mistake a poet can make, which is forcing that one line in at the end just because it is the only thing that rhymes. For example, it would be a crime against poetry to write something like:
"She danced in a field of daisies"
(and then, in haste, finish with)
"She really drives me crazies"
On that very topic, your rhymes do not have to be "technically" correct as long as they "sound" like they rhyme. Words like "time" and "mine" are often used to imply a sense of rhyme. Be creative, try new things, and do it how you do it best!
If you choose not to rhyme you will likely face more criticism simply because the general audience almost "expects" a poem to rhyme. That is what makes a good non-rhyming poem a true triumph. To be able to reinvent the "rules" of poetry is something that every good poet strives to do. After all, sometimes life doesn't have meter, rhyme, or reason so it shouldn't be pushed into a mold. Writing non-rhyming is often considered to be an "outside of the box" style meaning it's not the norm. Poetry does not ever deserve to be held in any type of restraint or container. Poetry is art and should be treated as such. Just because a tree is green doesn't mean a painter must paint his trees green if he sees them as a brilliant shade of tangerine. If you do what feels right you can't go wrong. Poetry, again, is a process and practice makes perfect. Keep your ear to your heart and your pen to the paper and find your own path.

Should a poem be a certain length?
The length of your poem depends mostly on what you're trying to say and your audience. In the most general sense there is no limit to how long a poem should be. If you are writing a poem simply for your own enjoyment or expression you could write a thousand pages if you saw fit, just as long as you got your point across and your feelings expressed. If you are writing a poem for someone else's enjoyment you should simply consider the poems readability. Would you sit down and read a 200 line poem for sheer entertainment? Many times, if you are submitting you poetry to a publisher, they will limit the number of lines your poetry may be (usually 15-25 lines) simply for publication purposes. It all depends on how many words or lines it takes you to get your points across and if you can't bear to read all the way through it then it's obviously too long. Poetry is all about words. Words are your tool of creation, and the fewer you use and the better they are placed, the more power your poem will likely have.

What is a "cliche" and can I use them?
A cliche is a bit like a figure of speech. Things like, "Like finding a needle in a haystack" or "Sick as a dog" would be considered cliches. Think of it this way; If you've heard it a million times to express the same feeling or idea then it is most likely a cliche. Now for the big question; Should you use one? For the most part it is not advised that you use someone else's overused expression to express yourself in a poem. The point of a poem is to convey your own message, not someone else's. Also, that cliche that you may be thinking of using in your own work may be copywritten by someone else so be careful. However, cliches can be used if done so correctly. By adding a little flare or irony to a cliche can be a good thing. A good rule of thumb is to NEVER use anything that you've seen written somewhere else unless you have permission to do so. Poetry is about creating something of your own so the best advice is to do just that. Be creative.

Should I Edit or Rewrite my poems?
A rule of thumb in many forms of art, like painting, are to quit while you're ahead. That, however, is not the case with poetry. Most well-known poems have been rewritten at least once. A poem that may sound like a priceless work of art may not seem so as you mature and grow older or wiser. This is not to say that you should attempt to "beat a dead horse". If it sounds good to you the way it is or you've suddenly lost inspiration, leave it be. Let others read it and give suggestions. Set it aside and read it at a later date. You may pick it up a year from now and realize that one line was missing that kept it from being everything you had hoped. The best piece of advice is to read your poem to yourself (both aloud and in your head) several times. You'd be amazed how many things you'll discover in this process. Poetry is, after all, a process, but the rewards are endless.

Who am I writing for?
You are the only one who can determine your audience and, in the end, you are also your best audience. After all, if you don't enjoy your work then it's likely no one will. Only you can decide if you are writing for yourself, for specific people or groups, or for a mass audience. If you are writing for your own pleasure or release then the only thing to be concerned with is whether it pleases you or not. Now, if you are writing to appeal to a larger audience then the key is to consider them while writing the poem. If you are merely writing a poem to a loved one to express an emotion then make sure that every aspect of that poem is written to appeal to that particular person and their personality. When writing to a larger audience it can be a much more painful experience at times. You'll find that not everyone shares opinions of your work and that's not always easy to hear. The key is that, regardless of who you plan to entertain in th end, you should mostly write for yourself. If you find it appealing, chances are there are many people that would feel exactly the same.

Should I believe the critics or criticism?
No. Criticism and critics are not to be "believed". Criticism is to merely be considered. Every person on this planet has his/her own perspective. Everyone is a critic, as they say. I always say that every belief is unique and individual, even those that are widely shared. Meaning that just because a group of people like or dislike something doesn't mean they like or dislike it for the same reasons. Critics have been around longer than artists but that in no way makes them the authority on what is good or bad. If they were we would only require one to critique everything. On the other hand, constructive criticism can be a great thing for a poet. As I said before, criticism is merely to be considered. If someone makes a comment, complaint, or suggestion about your poem then you should take it, but take it with a grain of salt. You might just hear something useful that you never considered or that will help you grow as a poet. In the end, it is your poem, your expression, and your unique perspective so stay true to yourself.

What is a Sonnet? (Copyright 2006 by Ann)

The Sonnet has long been lauded as one of poetry's most interesting and challenging forms.Generally styled in the form of fourteen lines with each line holding ten syllables of text, the possibilities have expanded over the years, since first introduced in the Renaissance. The following types and examples are recognized:

A. Shakespearean. The rhyme scheme found in the form that Shakespeare is so well known for is the abab cdcd efef gg pattern. The last syllables of the like letters rhyme in the pattern as shown. The typical fashion in which the ten syllables of the sonnet line is in iambic pentameter. The theme of the sonnet typically is introduced or presented in the first half and then a solution or result is shown in the last lines.

Sonnet 60 by Shakespeare

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, (a)

So do our minutes hasten to their end; (b)

Each changing place with that which goes before, (a)

In sequent toil all forwards do contend (b)

Nativity, once in the main of light, (c)

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd (d)

Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight, (c)

And Time that gave doth now his gift confound. (d)

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth (e)

And delves the parallels in beauty's brow (f)

Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth (e)

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow: (f)

And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, (g)

Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. (g)

B. Italian or Petrarchan. The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is based on the works of Petrarch, who wrote in the fourteenth century. It uses bipartite division into the octave and the sestet, the octave consisting of a first division of eight lines rhyming and the sestet, or second division, consisting of six lines rhyming: abbaabba cdecde (or cdcdcd).

On His Being Arrived to the Age of Twenty-three by Milton

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth, (a)

Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year! (b)

My hasting days fly on with full career, (b)

But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th. (a)

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth, (a)

That I to manhood am arrived so near, (b)

And inward ripeness doth much less appear, (b)

That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. (a)

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, (c)

It shall be still in strictest measure even (d)

To that same lot, however mean or high, (e)

Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven. (d)

All is, if I have grace to use it so, (c)

As ever in my great Task-master's eye. (e)

C. Spenserian. A variant on the English form is the Spenserian sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser (c.15521599) in which the rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e. In a Spenserian sonnet there does not appear to be a requirement that the initial octave sets up a problem which the closing sestet answers as is the case with a Shakespearean sonnet. Instead, the form is treated as three quatrains connected by the interlocking rhyme scheme and followed by a couplet. The linked rhymes of his quatrains suggest the linked rhymes of such Italian forms as terza rima.

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hand by Amoretti

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands, (a)

Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)

Shall handle you, and hold in love's soft bands, (a)

Like captives trembling at the victor's sight. (b)

And happy lines! on which, with starry light, (b)

Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look, (c)

And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)

Written with tears in heart's close bleeding book. (c)

And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)

Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)

When ye behold that angel's blessed look, (c)

My soul's long lacked food, my heaven's bliss. (d)

Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)

Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)



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