Poetry Tips: Drafting/Sculpting a Poem -Things to change or remove
In poetry – as opposed to, say, pop lyrics – every single word counts and needs to justify itself. This may sound intimidating, but at this stage in learning the craft of poetry, it is trial and error; only by error does one learn anything. There are various poetry tips you can follow when drafting and sculpting your piece. Some may argue there is no wrong or right way to do things in creative self-expression – and in a way that’s fair enough. However, in attempting to get some poetry published, there are certain contemporary editorial standards you need to be aware of before submitting to journals or publishers.
There are really five main rules:
Archaisms = such as, ‘morn’, ‘morrow’, ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thy’, ‘oft’, and so on; or words that have an overly Romantic or Victorian ring to them like ‘wondrous’, ‘beauteous’, ‘slumberous’, ‘yonder’, ‘yon’, ‘jocund’, ‘faery’, ‘poesy’ (an old term for poetry), ‘Muse’ (artistic inspiration as a poetic motif, derived from Greek myth) etc.
Flat prosaic language = words such as ‘that’, ‘which’, ‘what’, ‘therefore’, ‘such’, ‘like’ etc. and conjunctions (words like ‘but’, ‘because’, ‘however’); unless absolutely necessary. And and the can often be replaced by a simple comma or alternated rather than both duplicated, giving a listing effect, so:
‘the shadowy woods and the rolling fields and the stacking clouds’:
‘the shadowy woods, rolling fields and stacking clouds’
Prosaic language is basically that which is ordinary or common place, more associated with prose, that being the more grammatically focused narrative language used in, say, a novel/piece of fiction, or in a factual book.
Latinate words = words ending in –tion, -ate, -ive, etc. Try to avoid.
Abstract nouns (names of moods or states or conditions) = ‘joy’, ‘sadness’, ‘beauty’, ‘happiness’, ‘imagination’, ‘jollity’, ‘gay’, ‘heavenly’, ‘gracious’, ‘sagacity’, ‘despair’ etc. These are words that tend to determine the tone of a poem and are too restrictive or un-evocative. Instead try to use concrete nouns (names of things) = ‘sun’, ‘water’, ‘tree’, ‘grass’, ‘sky’, ‘sand’, ‘chair’, ‘vase’, ‘flower’ (e.g.: ‘flower’ would in itself impart a tone of ‘beauty’, thus replacing the abstract noun) etc., i.e. objects and images. And good descriptive adjectives = ‘flaming’, ‘curdling’, ‘ramshackle’, ‘barbed’, ‘gnarled’, and countless others. English has a rich vocabulary, so use it.
If rhyming, never invert the syntax (grammatical structure) of a line to fit the rhyme = ‘The misty present and the foggy past/ Clear through memory which does them outlast.’ Note here the syntax of the second line has been inverted to fit the rhyme and so sounds archaic, not to mention clunky – we wouldn’t say it like this in modern speech, rather we’d say: ‘…through memory which outlasts [them].’ There is also internal rhyme, which means words that chime together throughout a poem but not explicitly at the end of lines – an example of this will follow in the Rhyme and Form tips sheet.
Poetry Tips compiled by Alan Morrison for Creative Future