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Poetry Mythbusters: 4 Misconceptions About Writing Poetry

Poetry is a diverse art form that can take on any number of styles and subjects that are as original as its authors. There is, perhaps, more freedom involved with writing poetry than any other genre . . .

. . . and yet, many writers find it to be intimidating, scary, or even boring.

Why is this? As I’ve discussed in previous entries, many writers have some kind of bad experience or preconceived idea about poetry rooted in past experiences. Whether it was a well-meaning English teacher, a bad critique, or just insecurity about their writing abilities, poetry gets a bad rap for a lot of reasons.

Which is sad . . . because a lot of the things people believe about poetry actually aren’t true.

Are intimidating ideas about poetry keeping you from letting your creativity go wild? Let’s find out as we bust four myths about writing poetry.

Myth #1: Poetry has to rhyme or have some kind of rhythmic pattern.

Great news: rhyme and rhythm aren’t requirements for great poetry. Just ask William Carlos Williams, Allan Ginsberg, or even Walt Whitman. Truthfully, I’d argue that very few poets can use a particular rhyme scheme or rhythmic pattern without making it feel forced or monotonous.

Some poets enjoy working within the constraints of a particular style of poetry—Malcolm Guite, for example, does sonnets like nobody’s business.

But if that isn’t you, no worries. It isn’t always about fitting your poetry into some kind of box. Often, it’s about using the freedom of the white space on the page to say whatever you desire with imagery, line breaks, repetition, and other devices.

There are a million different ways you can use language creatively to communicate a message without having to adapt a particular style or pattern. This isn’t middle school English class. You won’t lose points on the assignment.

On the other hand, though, there’s this caveat . . .

Myth #2: Poetry is easy to write because it’s short.

Nope. The length of a piece of writing does not equal simplicity or difficulty, whether we’re talking about prose or poetry.

This is why I find flash fiction so challenging to write. It’s one thing to write every detail of a story out because everything seems important in developing the characters and plot. It’s quite another to condense that same story into a matter of paragraphs.

Some authors compare writing poetry to carving a marble sculpture. What starts as a giant chunk of rock can gradually be whittling down until it produces a final work of art filled with fine detail.

This is, in a sense, true for all writing. Revision is about paring down your work until you are left with only what is needed to communicate the story or idea. That has nothing to do with length. That’s just what it takes to create a good experience for readers.

However . . . if you are now devastated to learn that poetry might not be as easy as you anticipated, there’s no need to despair. Everyone’s process is different. It’s worth giving poetry a try so you have the chance to discover what yours is.

Myth #3: Poetry has to be about Big Ideas.

Although there are many great poems about love, injustice, politics, and social issues, these big topics aren’t a requirement for writing poetry. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you are just starting out, you should avoid these ideas altogether.

Why? Because poetry is about being concrete more than being abstract. Love, injustice, etc. are abstract ideas, which means that any poems focused on them will paint with broad strokes and be more difficult for readers to relate to as a result.

You can write a poem about love. Or, you can write about a specific moment with your significant other, parents, friends, or children that communicates love through vivid details.

This is what I mean when I say that good poetry needs to be concrete. Think about the images, sounds, scents, and textures that come to mind when you think of your subject. The more specific your poem is, the more it is centered in the physical experience of the world, the more readers will be impacted by your work.

Myth #4: Poetry has to be very serious and use stuffy language

Let me be very clear about this: you are not Shakespeare. Shakespeare was very good at doing what he did at a very specific time in history. There’s only one Shakespeare, and likewise, there’s only one of you.

You don’t have to use big words or lots of “doths,” “thees,” and “thous.” In fact, don’t do either of these things.

Your poems also don’t have to be serious in tone. While your poetry may indeed be very thoughtful and solemn, there’s no requirement to do this in order to write good poems.

There is a great tradition of humorous poetry (just read anything Shel Silverstein ever wrote) that you can contribute to if funny is more your thing.

The Bottom Line

If you aren’t writing poetry because you think there are some rules attached to it that you aren’t capable of following, ditch that kind of thinking. You don’t need negativity when you’ve got poems to write and your own unique voice to discover.

Poetry is a unique genre where you can feel free to express yourself through language. That means you can try whatever you want, no pressure required. After all, you can always revise it if it doesn’t work.

And just as a reminder . . . everyone has to revise their writing. Even the greatest poets ever had to rework their creations. But you’ll never get to that point if you don’t give writing poetry a chance to begin with.

What Do I Do Now?

If you’re ready to really take writing poetry to the next level or just get started, here are a couple of things you can do:

1. Download the Ultimate Poetry Workbook. It’s a free workbook that contains prompts, tutorials, poetry lessons, and more to inspire you on your poetry journey. And you can get one right now by clicking here.

2. Schedule a Virtual Meetup. Sign up for a complimentary 30-minute Zoom with me to talk about your burning poetry questions or even share a work in progress! I’m happy to help with whatever you need to get started.

Click here to learn more and get on my calendar!

What about you? What do you wish people knew about poetry? Comment below and bust your own poetry myth!

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