Monday, August 22, 2011

Creative Writing: Part 3, Poetry - Lyrical heartbeats of the Soul

Lyrical Heartbeats of the Soul
da DUM da DUM
da DUM da DUM
da DUM

Doesn't it always feel good when you read poetry that has a soul to it? I'm not necessarily talking about just love and romance or wooing a beloved. I'm talking about 'the reader connecting with the poet' through the contents of the poem. I have always loved William Shakespeare's sonnets. But even more, am I a bigger fan of William Wordsworth's poems. (What is it with these Williams? I wouldn't be surprised if you Williams out there are poets. Seriously.) I mean, take a look at the poem The Daffodils. It has always, always (double always on purpose) fascinated me. What is it that these great poets have that we aspire to have? Is it 'soul'? Is it 'emotions'? Is it a command over one's language? Or is it just a knack for converting expressions and ideas into words?

This week I will take you through some basics of writing good poetry. No, this was not necessarily taught to me in black and white, but is my collection of handy tips from the past few years' interaction with ordinary people like you and me who love to write poetry.

There is one question that always nags my mind when I see it at the forums and discussions. 'Is poetry subjective?' I can understand when people share their opinion about a poem being written for themselves. At the same time, does it have to relate only to the poet or 'what is it that makes good poetry stand out from the lot?' I am sure all of us who rate poetry, especially at Helium, ask ourselves this question, with the amount of poetry that floods the site.

Writer of the Week

Adam Clark

“I guess it’s subjective, in that a poem may be based on the writer's personal interpretation of the subject. But what separates good poetry from the bad is the objective part, like the science of writing poetry. Edgar Allen Poe has a great lecture on this, titled 'The Philosophy of Composition'.

See, poetry like all arts, is a magic show. It looks so full of wonder and magic, but when you look behind the curtain, you see that it’s all calculated tricks; smoke and mirrors. This is what separates the pros from the amateurs. The pros embrace the boring science of the art form, while the amateur embraces the romantic idea of it.

It’s like when you hear piano music being played. You may picture the foot pedal being pressed, the left hand playing this, the right hand playing that while the notes are on the page. When I hear music, I can lay back and enjoy its seemingly magic effect. Why? Because I don't know what's behind the curtain. I am not burdened by that knowledge. It's the poet that has the hardest time appreciating poetry. Instead he appreciates technique; never getting the full effect that the poem intends. Of course, sometimes in making art, you have what Bob Ross famously coined as ‘Happy little accidents’ which is when you unintentionally create something that is later recognized as a great element in your work.”

With this in mind we can take a look at a few basic points that make up the 'science of writing poetry'. I'm not going to beat around the bush, but come straight to the points I have in mind. While these may be only a few pointers, I am sure the more experienced poets from among us can shed their light on what they think makes up good poetry. The points that I mention are in random order.

1. When writing poetry, follow the same grammar rules of prose. That is, the sentence you write should have some concrete structure and meaning. Put commas where commas should go / periods where periods should be. Even if you use only phrases, there should be connectivity between phrases.

2. Always have a concrete imagery. Even if your title or topic is abstract, like for example, if you were depicting 'Pain', jot down words that will describe pain, or be alternative words to be used for pain. These could be agony, hurt, torture, ache, etc. Another example, If you are writing about freedom, you could use words like 'bell rings, break chains, unlock, soar high, run away, escape...)

3. If you plan to write a rhyming poem, try writing with a specific syllable count per line. Begin the first line with something like 8 counts (safe bet) and then work the next line and so forth with 8 counts. Do not work on the rhymes right away, but get your theme / plot / setting right first.

4. Once you get your setting right, work on your end rhymes. Do not use the most common rhymes, but try using a Google search for 'words rhyming with... ‘and you will get 3+ letter words with the same end rhyme or at least with half rhymes.

5. Use metaphors if needed, but the metaphors must be true and relevant. For example, if you are to relate something to ‘being like the desert’, your description of it should likewise imply the desert mood or setting.

6. When converting a sentence draft to a poem, drop the pronouns, articles and conjunctions as much as possible. Put in your imagery as concise, easily understood phrases (this is part of poetic licence). At the same time, maintain continuity in thought from one line to the next.

7. In freeverse poetry, write as you may without rhyming and syllable count, but maintain poetry more than prose. Nobody wants to read a narration of events which could be got in prose. What the reader needs to see is the poet's flair, or flow of poetic language.

8. Your choice of adjectives can create the mood of the poem.

When writing something that shows your liveliness, use words that also express liveliness, like brightness, spring, sunshine, radiance, bounce, laughter, smile, twinkle, etc.

When writing dark poetry, use words that can create such a setting the same way you would do in prose too.

9. If you're writing many verses, make sure that all the verse center around the theme; ie. do not divert on another tangent. Sometimes we can begin with one idea, but tend to end up with another. So always when in doubt, refer to your title. (These are for titles that are put up at Helium). If you are writing your own poem, apart from this site, create a title by which you will center your poem around it. Even if you use the Helium titles, you can create your own subtitle and then write your poem. So whatever it is... concentrate on the same theme throughout.


What does Poetry mean to you?

This is a question I asked my friends last week. The response has been amazing. Maybe in a day or two I might try to connect back-links to each one's pages - but for now it’s just overwhelming to receive your feedback and support. Thank you for this. :)

Gerard Quain: It means passion, the resonating echoes of mind and heart

Linda Hurley: Skip when rating ;)

Angela Masters Young: playing with words

Saoirse O'Mara: A means to express strong feelings.

Alexandra Heep: To me, it means conveying emotions or evoking them, while using unusual words

Gerard Quain: The only unusual word these days is love, it gets abused in ways no one thought possible

Darryl Bunty Rosario: ...thoughts and a nutshell !!!!

Gavin Serrao: A poem is a story, or just the way I feel, expressed in Rhyme, and Rhythmic zeal. To say what I want, even if nonsense, with the convenient excuse, of poetic license!

Son Saturn: poetry is an expression.

Sunitha Fidelis: Poetry is a dream world where we forget ourselves, and also a place where we can express our happiness and sorrows..

Mac Pike: Silly doggerel rhyming to engender either groan, snicker, or stricken cry of outrage.

Deborah Bauers: Poetry is an outlet for what I feel in my soul.

Jane Anderson: Hmmm... Poetry is an artistic expression of the heart, channeled through the mind and conveyed through words. And of course, expressions of the heart are what you feel when you write a poem, not that I've written any. But it’s a transference of the mood of the poet to the reader in language that is beyond merely a string of words and that which makes an impact upon the reader.

W. Diane Van Zwol: Love Poetry is my passion!

Julie Sawyer Helms: My very politically-incorrect answer is that poetry should show/examine the beauty of God's creation, the quirks of human nature or animal behavior, and the flexibility of language. I do not enjoy self-absorbed poems (oh woe is me because of...)

Glory Lennon: An expression of emotion in rhyming sing-song fashion with silent music.

Ruth Olivia Bredbenner: Poetry for me is an unbridled opportunity for creative expression, if inspired, I begin with no ending in mind, I am on freeflow and travel wherever my heart leads me. Words just spill out onto the page, on an unknown journey. I t is as if I am just along for the ride to wherever it takes me. Even I am sometimes surprised where we land.

Cherry Kelly: Creative expressions - spur of the moment (like late last evening) or created over time. When it happens it just happens!

Charlotte Howard: A way to express my emotions at that point in time.

Angela Masters Young: I often start out with a concept I want to express creatively and start 'playing' with words or phrases and placement... until it tells me it's done:) I love the expression part of it, but I really love the word play -- can I take a word or concept and put it together like a puzzle of sorts that expresses and yet allows the words to do their thing.

Mona Gallagher: It depends on the poetry - I love to read lyrical poetry (Hearn in particular) Once I wrote spontaneously and was published, but except for a one or two, they are very forgettable. --but Now I write with purpose-to touch recovering hearts- and I labor over each phrase. ---Planning audio production with a wonderful male voice to do the reading.

Cherry Kelly: I have had poetry published in numerous anthologies over the years from 3rd grade - through college (needless to say numerous decades) different genres (publications) prefer different poetry... I write - what is chosen is -- what isn't - is not.. WRITE from your heart!

Jay Maul: Poetry is the never-ending quest to put into words what we see, hear, and feel. It is an artistic arrangement of language: a portrait painted with letters, a sculpture chiseled with words. Poetry is a reflection of humanity-its ugliness and its beauty, its evils and its goodness. It is the expression of our relationship with God, with the world, and with ourselves.

Darren Horton: Regarding poetry. I like to try all types. I especially like the challenge of strict forms (I also like puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku, etc, so that might be why). The hardest thing for me is meter and trying to be poetic within the boundaries. I think the rhyming and syllable count is the easy bit.


Feedback from Diane Quinn

When it comes to poetry, I know what I like and sometimes poems move me in a way that other writing doesn't; perhaps because poetry emanates more from the soul than other writing genres.

My first recommendation has to be my old friend Jon Coe. You only have to read one of his works to know he's an excellent poet. I found this one that reveals a lot about Jon that I didn't know and his poem sits at 1 of 206 for good reason:

My painful pastJon Coe

If you haven't already featured him, Raymond's poem about Bob the Eleventh is charming and fanciful and is, in a sense, a blueprint for his creative mind.

Cats Raymond Alexander Kukkee

I also like this one of your's Mandy. It sits on top of a lot of other poems in the title also for good reason. Like Jon's poem, this one reveals a lot about you and why you have grown into the wonderful wife, mother, and friend that we all know you to be.

In my home - Amanda Dcosta

I also like Alex's poem about summer from our challenge. It sits at 7 of 155 because it is really good--short, but packed with fascinating word power:

SummerAlexandra Heep

I like this one of Elie's. The message of "don't give up, anything is possible", never gets old. There are times that Elie appears wise beyond her years. She is a rising star!

Anything is possible Elie Hutcheson


Last but not the least is a set of poems that I have found quite entertaining. This has been contributed by Rex Trulove. "I've read my share of very poor poetry, sometimes by people thought of as a poetry 'giant'. I've read great poetry by virtually unknown poets that made me laugh, cry and to feel genuine emotions. To me, a good poem is one that Ican identify with, and that can make me feel, with the poet's words. (that may sound crazy or corny, perhaps a bit forlorny). When I *think* of poetry, I think of my brother, who has written some poetry that never fails to make me laugh."

Ol Charlie

Ol Charlie was an alley cat, his whiskers long and sleek.

The others never realized he had a yellow streak.

He strutted here he strutted there, he scared the feared masked bandit.

His cowardice was never where the other cats could find it.

They said, "He's strong!", they said, "He's brave! He's never lost a battle!"

"He's through," a little mouse began to rave, "for I'm about to tattle!"

"I saw him once, I saw him lose," the little mouse began.

"My mother took the ugly brute and knocked him on his can!"

Well, Ol Charlie slank away for he realized that

it wasn't fitting and proper, for an alley cat.

Yes, Charlie was an alley cat, now he'd better stick to galleys,

For there isn't a single mouse whose afraid of Charlie’s alleys.

Charlie's Comeback

I saw this feller the other day, the feller said to me,

"How's Ol Charlie anyway?", he laughed and slapped his knee.

"You shouldn't laugh," I said to him as he looked at me concerned.

"His past may seem a trifle dim...that leaf he's overturned."

"Into the country Charlie went, far from any house.

This self converted city gent hardly ever touched a mouse.

Muskrats and otters he would hunt with skill he soon developed

but in later adventures, his heart was soon enveloped."

"Rough time he had but anyhow, he finally learned the trick.

In a ring with the cat now, Joe Lewis would look sick."

"Where's he now?" the feller asked, "And what you suppose he's huntin'?"

"Suburbs, where I saw him last, his diet's really somethin'."

"Yes, Charlie's come quite a ways from what he used to be.

Make him mad now, you're sure to pay, he'll run you up a tree!

Advice to you, I will give, and by this rule you should abide:

Keep your doors locked at night and keep your DOG inside!"

(Author of these is Rex Trulove's brother, Steve Trulove)


Creative Writing Guides

How to write a Shakespearean sonnet

How to write good poetry


  1. Poets everywhere begin and end with inspiration..and then learn here a few helpful hints to make their poetry shine. Nice blog post.

  2. I admire the skill it takes to write poetry because this genre doesn't come naturally to me. Another job well done, Mandy. :-)

  3. I thought I already left a comment, mhm ... Well, I learned a lot about poetry and how others view it, all while being entertained. Great post!

  4. I've never been a connoisseur of poetry--only know a few I truly enjoy enough to remember word for word-- but I do take a surreptitious glance at it now and again, and now I find I enjoy it more and more.Go figure!

  5. There should be a LIKE option for each comment. :) Makes it simpler this way. (Lazy me).

    All the same, thanks ladies for your support yet again. Much appreciated, even if you take a surreptitious glance at my page or is a connoisseur of the topics I post. :) Glory!!!!! You have got us addicted to these words for


Amanda Dcosta - Writer,