Some Thoughts about Writing Poems

Medway poet and contributor to Confluence, Bill Lewis, shares some of his thoughts on writing poetry. Of course not everybody writes in the same way, and rules are made to be rewritten, but Bill’s tips certainly chimed with us...

“Most of my poems come to me as free verse. Occasionally I rhyme a poem but not very often. The fact is it is very hard to make a good rhyming poem in English. However, writing free verse is not as easy as it may seem. It is harder because you do not have a strict metre or rhyme to keep it tight.


All good poetry needs an economy of language. For example there is a poem by William Butler Yeats called ‘The Second Coming’. It is worth noting that almost every line in that poem has been used as a title for a novel, play or film by other writers. This is because Yeats made every line a thing of beauty.


There are good poets who can rhyme, but the failing of most rhyming poetry that I hear read out at readings, is that there are lines in the poems that are only there to rhyme with the one which proceeds it. No poem should have a single weak line in it. Every line should shine on its own.


So if, like me, you write most of your poetry in free verse you need to learn that same economy.”


Here are Bill’s tips:


1) Try not to repeat words in the same poem. You can always find another word for something as English is not a pure language and has many derivations from Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Norman French and loan words from past colonies.


2) You can use alliteration, but don’t overdo it. Try reading some Anglo-Saxon poetry and see how they used it. Remember that poems were first spoken or sung and that most people will read it from the page. The poem should work on the page as well as the ear. Sound out the words by reading them out loud.


3) Find the natural rhythm of the piece. It is best to tell it as plainly and clearly as possible.


4) Never scribble a poem on the back of an envelope and read it out that same night or publish it immediately. Revision is your most important tool. Your poem deserves better. Revision is for a poet like a darkroom for a photographer. Respect the poem, it is a living thing.


5) Ask yourself this question: Whose voice do I hear in the poem? There is no easy answer to this.


6) If your poem sounds as if you’ve heard it before then you probably have. Find a unique voice. This takes time. Anyone can write a poem but only a poet can write a great poem. Work at it. Don’t be precious, be professional.


7) Poetry should not just be therapy. Your feelings matter. But feelings alone do not make a poem. The same goes for your politics. You can make a political speech but a speech is not a poem. You can find subtle ways to make a political point while seeming to be talking about something else.


8) The poem does not serve you. It is the other way around.


9) Find teachers: Mentors (living or dead) are very helpful.


10) The last is the most important: Read. Read everything. Writers who don’t read should not write.

Bill Lewis is a Medway-based writer and artist, who was one of the founders of the Medway Poets and the Stuckist movement. See more about Bill on his website

His writing has featured in Confluence#3 and #4.

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