Five Ways to Write Better Poetry

There is a lot that can be said about poetry.  There are many opinions, fancy terms, and different schools of thought.

I consider that writing good poetry, like any form of art, depends on two major factors – the quality of the communication itself, and the technical skill with which the parts are put together.

This article discusses technical points only.  But these are often overlooked, and when you put them to use, you can actually take a mediocre poem and turn it into a masterpiece.  I’ve seen it happen many times.

Here are five ways to write better poetry:

1.  Poetry flows better when it has a rhythm. Try to write poetry in such a way that the syllables match up where there should.

For example, if the first line of each verse has 5 syllables and the second line of each verse has 7 syllables, keep that beat.  Try to avoid omitting a syllable or adding an extra syllable if you can.

Here is an example from a poem I wrote (called Dust in the Earth):

Yours is the voice of the enemy –
Cold is your clutch on my soul.
Strange are the words pouring emptily –
Telling me why you should go.

Line 1 – 9 syllables
Line 2 – 7 syllables
Line 3 – 9 syllables
Line 4 – 7 syllables

Different poems will have different patterns.  But (other than free verse) each poem has some pattern.  The point is to follow the pattern of that particular poem.

Sometimes you can get away with extra syllables, when you can “swallow” the extras and not disturb the beat.

I sometimes break the above rule myself, but I try not to do this if it will interrupt the rhythm and general “beat” of the poem.  The key is to see if the poem still flows.

This applies to the  other points I will list out in this article as well – read the poem back to yourself and see if it flows.  Does it sound rhythmic, like music?  Does it sound professional?  Or does it sound amateur, or choppy?

2.  Finger counting – you can literally count syllables with your fingers as you compose your lines, to make sure that you keep your rhythm, as in #1 above.  When writing the poem I referred to above, I actually was counting the beats of each line on my fingers, to make sure they matched up.

More than once I have encountered a poet who had great concepts, but was lacking rhythm in their poetry.  By simply counting the beats of each line with their fingers, and correcting the lines where necessary (by using a slightly different choice of words, for example) they turned their amateur poems into great pieces with emotional impact.  All I had explained to them was the simple “finger counting” technique that I use when I compose my lines.

3.  Rhyming poetry flows better – There are many people who swear by free verse, and free verse can be good.  But too many people use free verse as an excuse to be lazy.  I have also seen it used as a cover-up for plain lack of talent.  Something like …

I like to go to the ocean …

It’s so nice.

The ocean.

The pretty ocean.

“Ah, yeah,” the person will say.  “That’s free verse!  Modern poetry!”

Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but I have seen some pretty awful stuff.

The greatest poems in history have had rhythm and rhyme (not to mention, meaning), as have the greatest songs.

There is a reason for this.  Rhymes flow.  Rhymes are catchy and have a musical quality to them.  They are (not fully, but to a large degree) what makes something a song or a poem, as opposed to an ordinary piece of prose.

4.  Match your accents – Sometimes your “syllable counts” match up fine but the emphasis falls on different syllables throughout the lines, in such a way as to break the rhythm.

Imagine if I had written the above verse as follows (instead of how it is written above):

Yours is the voice of the enemy –
Your clutch on my soul is cold.
Strange are the words pouring emptily –
Telling me why you should go.

Notice that in both versions, the syllable count is the same.  But in the second version, the rhythm is thrown off.  Because the accents fall in different places.

To illustrate, I will capitalize on the words that have the most emphasis when speaking these lines (obviously you don’t “yell” these words, but you do say them with a bit more emphasis than the others):

Example 1:

YOURS is the VOICE of the enemy –
COLD is your CLUTCH on my soul.

Example 2:

YOURS is the VOICE of the enemy –
Your CLUTCH on my soul is COLD.

In example 1, the accent falls on the first and fourth syllable of each line.  So it flows.

In example 2, the accents don’t “match” and the rhythm is thrown off.

5.  Repetition

Repetition and pattern is one of the things that makes poetry powerful.  Besides the repetition of rhythms, accents, syllables, and rhyme, one can also use other types of repetition.

For example, in some cases, one can repeat the same sound at the beginning of a series of words.

Here is an example from a poem I wrote many years ago, called Magic:

Sometimes I sleep while the nations roll round,
Mimicking bravery, muffling the sound
Of unspeakable slavery…
Sometimes I weep as the voice in the sky
Whispers the reasons I ought not to die,
Murmurs of treason,
And fades to a sigh.

It is subtle here, but I intentionally used two words beginning with the letter “s” in the first line, and two words beginning with “m” in the second line.

Here is another example where I did this, with a few words in the first line (from a poem called Treason):

Since the sadly silent lives
Of faded men, your voice revives.

I used the repetition of the “s” sound in the first line, to make the poem flow a bit more there.

I hope the above rules will be of use to you.  I have known people who were able to put some of the above steps into application very easily, and improve the quality of their poetry immensely by just thinking with some of these points.  They might work for you as well.


About Anna

This post was published by Anna Vera Williams, the webmaster of Poem Poem Poem, Free Poems, In Loving Memory Poems, Poems and Stories, and Anna Vera's Poems. Anna has been writing poetry since she was four years old, and is also a photographer. She has worked in many occupations and has traveled and lived in four continents. You can find Anna's poetry book, her photography, and other writing, at her Lulu Storefront.

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5 Responses to Five Ways to Write Better Poetry

  1. dexiell veinn November 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    heheheheh not a joke indeed..^_^ but your explanation is correct, there must be flows as rhythm of river . You are very talented person ;p …

  2. Hans February 16, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    I have been an avid poetry fan for many years. All these years I thought I was a good poet. Till I saw this post. I must say that it is quite informational. Thanks for the tips. I never knew there was so much detail I had to put in. Thanks once again.

  3. Anna February 17, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    @Hans – Thanks for your comment. I am sure yourpoetry is not bad but a little tweaking might make it even better 🙂 Please feel free to submit:

  4. sprogrejser March 3, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    hi Anna it is nice reading your post. I too like poems very much. I like your tips to write poem. Your tips can prove useful to new poem writer. Do post your good poems I will be back to read it.

  5. Tom Fenning July 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    Anna, thank you so much for this wonderful information. As you already know my love for writing poetry; however, I have never followed any rules, because I never really knew the rules. This article that you have given will open my eyes to pay more attention to writing now. I’m still plugging away writing in my own fashion. Mostly about family. I now have 24 greatchildren with two more on the way. My 16 grandchildren will soon have my in the Guiness book of records. As each child is born I write a poem for them. At each birthday I write a poem for them. When my grandchildren got married I wrote a poem for them. At least they will know who their Pop Pop was. I also have written journals as to where I was born. My naval service. My schooling and so forth. Things that I wished I had about my parents and grandparents.
    I absolutely love this site. You are doing a wonderful service for those of us who like to express ourselves and are happy to share what we have to say.

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