How to improve your poetry and get published
Writing poetry is easy. Knowing how to improve your poetry and get published isn’t, which is why I’ve written this blog. Over the last few months, I’ve gathered together all of my favourite tips and advice and summarised them into a single page. I hope you find it useful.
What makes a great poem? – The best poems are the ones we find ourselves thinking about for days and years after. Why is that? It’s usually because they’ve struck a chord deep within us – elicited a deep emotional response that goes hand-in-hand with the beauty of the language itself. Knowing this only really helps if we let the knowledge guide us when we choose what to write.
Follow that spark – If you have a great idea, the kind that takes your breath away, write it down. Don’t overthink it or worry about your reader. You can edit your poem later. Let your thoughts flow and your poetry will capture that single ‘spark’ that got you excited in the first place. And don’t worry if isn’t a majestic or dramatic topic. It’s often the most mundane events that become the most magical. This is where reading poetry can really help. Poets are masters at turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. They see things from a unique perspective. And it fascinates us. Why else would we read? So don’t worry if you’re not a wordly-wise or enlightened scholar. You are unique. So find a topic that means something to you and let your reader into your thoughts and emotions. And don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re an exceptional writer, this might be all the advice you need but for most of us it then helps to edit.
Reading really helps – Reading is the best way to kick-start our minds into professional writing/editing mode whilst improving our knowledge of form and style – on a subconscious level. I’ve deliberately listed a diverse range of poets and poems below to whet your appetite and to let you see the huge range of styles out there. You’ll soon see what I mean about being able to turn the ordinary into something incredible. I’m not suggesting you copy other poets but reading does give you ideas and stimulates your imagination. And that can’t be bad, can it? If you want to turn your spark into something amazing, read the best.
Lorna Crozier: Compendium on Crows
Charles Bukowski: Millionaires
Yehuda Amichai: A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention
Sir John Betjeman: Upper Lambourne
Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken
Improve your writing techniques – Free verse, blank verse and traditional rhyming verse – If you want to know how to improve your poetry and get published it’s a good idea to learn some of the tricks of the trade. Publishers can easily tell the difference between an amateur and a professional so you may as well try to stand out for all the right reasons. I certainly found it much easier to write good poetry once I’d read and practised some of the basic forms. I’m not saying that form is more important than content. Your creative spark is what the readers will remember but if your choice of language and style matches your creativity, you will shine. If you need more convincing, try reading Why Write in Form? by Rebecca Hazelton. Her article gives us an amazing insight into the form within poetry – even if it seems invisible to most of us. One of my favourite books on the subject is The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry, a practical guide to using metre, rhyme and verse, with helpful exercises to get you started. Even if you have no intention of ever writing in rhyme, this book is invaluable as a guide to improving your poetry. For those of you who want to start writing straight away, Jerz’s Literacy Weblog has 10 very good tips to help improve your poetry and get published, including the use of metaphors, and similes, and how to avoid cliches or being overly sentimental. For the academics or the curious among you, Goodreads list of the Top 50 Best Books on Writing Poetry is a must. A couple of my personal favourites are:
Poetry Notebook 2006 – 2014 by Clive James
Six Poets. Hardy to Larkin by Alan Bennett
and the Poetry Handbook by Babette Deutsch.
Try writing different forms of poetry – Do you know the difference between a Tanka and a Terza Rima? Don’t worry if you don’t, the Poets Garrett have kindly listed every poetry form possible; traditional and free verse included. Writing out of your comfort zone can be stressful, but it can also be enlightening. Forcing your creative spark into a new set of clothes can turn it into something startlingly beautiful. You won’t know unless you try. And it’s fun.
Search and save – The internet is an amazing space for learning – and procrastinating. There are many writers posting about their favourite tips and go-to websites/blogs for resources. Simply sift through and bookmark your favourites. This one was brought to my notice by an aspiring young writer with a passion and talent for poetry. As with many blogs, there is a comprehensive and diverse list of links at the bottom of the page. So thank you for sharing Hailey: Sit Down and Write: Poetry Resources by Ben. L
Now what? – So you’ve written a masterpiece. Now what? Try reading Submitting Poetry to Magazines and Journals or go straight to my List of 24 Australian Journals and Magazines that Accept Poetry.
4 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Poetry and Get Published”
The publishing world is tough, fast, and competitive. The internet has expanded poetry’s readership and writership; this is a good thing, but with so many other voices, it can be hard to know where to submit your poetry to add your voice to the conversation. You may encounter one rejection, five rejections, or fifty rejections before you find a home for your poem. Don’t let this deter you.
Absolutely agree, Duci! It can be so hard to continue when you keep receiving rejections but the only people who get published are the ones who persevere and keep learning to hone their craft. I have digital drawers filled with rejection emails!!
I found this very helpful. The one thing im looking for is “writing poetry for almost novices” Ive read Natalie Goldberg “writing down the bones” and would like to see more guidance books. 🙂
Thanks Sharon. I must admit that I am probably not the best person to help you with this. I have always preferred reading and analysing poetry rather than using guides. Having said that, I do see the benefits and really enjoyed Stephen Fry’s book “The Ode Less Travelled” – although this is more of a practical guide (with exercises) rather than a motivational book like “Writing Down the Bones”. Other books that I’ve heard people suggest are “In the Palm of Your Hand” by Steve Kowit,”Writing Poems” by Peter Samson, “The Poetry Home Repair Manual” by Ted Kooser, “Writing Poetry from the Inside Out” by Sandford Lyne, and “The Triggering Town” by Richard Hugo. To be honest, there are so many great guides out there that it is probably best if you start by looking at “Goodreads’ Best Books on Writing Poetry” and checking out the book descriptions one by one (which you may have done already :)). I’m sorry if my answer is vague. There are so many guides out there offering everything from motivational advice to the absolute practical, and it is difficult to make a single recommendation. I hope you find what you’re looking for and wish you the best of luck with your writing. Alys