10 ways to write a poem!
No sentence in the glory of English language has hit me as hard as this one did. I started writing poetry when I was in class 7th. I still remember the day when this girl in my class gave me a disgusted look when I hesitantly read it out to her. It was about animals with human heads stuck in MY head. And from there began the journey of this bard which was going quite well till someone decided to tell me “How to write a poem – An algorithm in 7 easy steps.”
Seriously? What are we coming to? Though I don’t like it much, I manage to understand mathematics. I know there are ways to solve equations and rules to apply for results. But my darling believers of physics and maths – These rules DO NOT apply for poetry. A poem comes to you. It happens. Words flow from the limited or extensive vocabulary you have. Poetry is not limited to metaphors and rhyme. It’s the thought that a poet puts forth that matters ( Again, this is my point of view. Yours could differ.) One cannot set poetic barriers and force words into templates calling it ‘the right way’.
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I don’t disagree that there are rules of meter, diction, rhythm and stanzas to an ideal poem but I don’t consider that as the basis of poetry. The seed your thoughts plant is the most important ingredient for a verse. And it cannot be forced to branch out in a specific way. It’s natural course will decide what becomes of it. The gardener (poet) can take care of the plant, nourish it, trim it every now and then, make sure it doesn’t wither and that’s about it. I know of people who write like possessed beings, so completely gripped by their muse, that the pen refuses to move at the pace of their thoughts. Now how do you apply rules when that happens?
You might retort asking what about the different genre of poetry? Ode, Elegy, Haiku, Sonnet… without rules what happens to them? Well, nothing happens to them. They remain where they are. These genres were once created, not out of structured Do’s and Don’ts, but to compartmentalize poetry so that the readers know what kind of writing style they connect to. The guy who wrote that first ever ode, did not know he is writing an ode. He just gave words to his feelings, put them on paper in his writing style, someone read it, loved it, measured it in words, punctuations, meter, rhyme, diction and decided this form of poem will be called an Ode. Absolutely no harm in it. Even I would want a form of poem to be born out of my writing style. That’s epic! What I want to emphasise here is these blinkers we have put on aspiring poets that stunts the poetic growth and limits imagination. Teach aspiring poets different forms of poetry but don’t tell them that’s the only way to write poems. Anything other than that is junk. Who took that call anyway? Why are we in this constant race of standardising art? Why can’t it just be the way it is?
Now without whining more on this topic let me put down 6 ways to write a poem that DON’T ALWAYS WORK
Pick a beautiful topic to write about
Scrap that off! Write about your socks, your desk drawer, your broken pencil, an ugly pitcher of beer or absolutely anything you want to write about. You will be amazed at how your words can make things beautiful.
If not for that pitcher of ugly beer,
We’d never have been in love.
You for once would never have
Made sense of my drunken chatter.
Nor I found your stubble anything to
Die for, considering how they prick
My chin, every time I try to kiss you.
If not for that pitcher of beer,
If not for the full moon night
I wouldn’t pass for a lunatic
Who roams about in rags,
Shouting your name in vain, to municipal lamp posts!
Use Metaphor and Similie
Use heart and mind instead! Compare your topic to things you love, but don’t force the comparison.
Poetry need not be grand all the time. You can just say what you feel in simple words.
Your eyes are like the deep blue oceans (is too done!)
Your eyes is the first thing I noticed about you (Is not bad either)
Rhyme your poem perfectly
Well, I would any day prefer –
Somewhere in a dusty corner lies
a memory of you. Neatly folded
into a perfect square. Tucked away
precariously amongst identical pages
of denial. Sometimes, it threatens to
burst into flames. But layers of conceit
(both yours and mine) douse it. Effectively.
One of these days I will bury it deep enough
and keep it out of reach. Safely. Forever.
Your love was my life
Through struggle and strife
The day you left my hand
And left me in life’s quicksand
I was shattered and sad
You were everything I had.
P.S. I am not against rhyming poems. I am against forced rhymes.
Follow Meter and Diction
Please do! If it doesn’t take away the essence of the core thought. Go ahead.
According to wikipedia – Iambic pentameter, is a common metre in English poetry, is based on a sequence of five iambic feet or iambs, each consisting of a relatively unstressed syllable (here represented with “×” above the syllable) followed by a relatively stressed one (here represented with “/” above the syllable) — “da-DUM” = “× /” :
× / × / × / × / × /
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
× / × / × / × / × /
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
This approach to analysing and classifying metres originates from Ancient Greek tragedians and poets such as Homer, Pindar, Hesiod, and Sappho.
Being a literature student, I was amazed by this style of writing that’s because my professor taught me this as someone else’s brilliant poetic style. He never asked me to mould my poems into iambic pentameter. I did give it an experimental try though but then I realized why Shakespeare is Shakespeare and I am me.
There are ballads written with ballad meters that have swept me off my feet. Here’s one such.
The captain at the tip of his ship,
Who sang into the onrushing storm.
And while it raved and raised its whip,
He offered it his sweet and strange song.
The stars hid themselves away that night,
For they could not bear to hear the sound,
Some guilt laden set them-selves alight,
And fell downward mindless and unbound.
Like queens that cast themselves from high towers,
When despotic swords dyed their dreams red,
And they mutely became part of the stars,
Myriad martyrs die unheard and unsaid.
And here’s another poem that touched me without the ballad meter
Inside an old jar,
I keep in the corner of a fading memory,
there was left a little heap of chocolate peel.
I emptied the jar on to my lap
and sewed with my fingers
your enviable sunset skin.
And with a touch of moonlight fever,
I fashioned you after a dying river
that in men arouses an undying thirst.
Plan before you write a poem
…so that it all goes away by the time you are filling ink in your historic fountain pen!
No. Write whenever and wherever it comes to you. Scribble on the newspaper if a poem happens to you on the shitpot, record it if it reaches you while driving (keeping your eyes on the road), tap it on your smart phone if it emerges out of nowhere when you are jogging in the park and recite it to yourself if you are at a breathtakingly beautiful place. Chances are, it might not come back to you, but know that you have done justice to your senses by not chasing a pen and paper when nature was planting a kiss on your forehead.
Do you think this poet worried about the structure when she penned this soulful piece? She was just the walk she was taking
Let’s take a walk
Just you and me and none of our goddamn pretensions
None of the constant editing of words and phrases in our daily interactions
Let’s say things as they come to mind
Hell, let’s just not say anything at all
Let’s just take a walk..
Let’s be quiet and hear the rhythm of the crunching noise
of our footsteps on the frozen grass
let’s let our footsteps synchronize, quietly, silently, naturally
let’s be quiet and take a walk..
Let’s look at the stars
But let’s not point out galaxies and constellations and the “north star”
Let’s really just look
and notice the glittering reflections of this starlight on the frost on car windshields
let’s be quiet and watchful and take a walk…
Let’s let ourselves bump into each other tripping a little over the sidewalk
and let’s not acknowledge it
let our walking bodies collide when they do and separate when they do
and let’s please not talk about it
let’s be quiet and watchful and easy and walk…
We love hearing ourselves talk
talk about abstractions that sound commendably thoughtful
trivialities weaved with specks of forced humor
stories about ourselves that are really the fictions that keep us interested in ourselves
but I don’t want to know your fiction tonight
your sense of humor
your hazy thoughts on the meaning and purpose of life
I want to know the rhythm your feet step in
the way you breathe when you’re not vocalizing everything that comes to your mind
what really draws your attention when you’re looking for someway to break the restless silence
and then maybe,
when we’re done knowing each other in this uncomfortable forced silence
struggling to distract ourselves from this non-interaction
we can talk
Writing a poem is not a point where one needs to reach. It’s a blissful journey through events, experiences, memories and time. If it fits the desired template, great. But if it does not, never mind.
Get feedback on your work
Well, let me not even open my mouth on this bit. I will leave that to Mr. Rainer Maria Rilke. When a young poet asked him for feedback on his poems, this is what Rilke had to say.
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
With those words of wisdom, I rest my case.
I did not write this piece to mock at poetic forms and I don’t intend to criticize the technicalities of poetry writing. But when a young mind asks you ‘There’s so much brewing in my head, I want to write a poem about it’ please, please, please, for heaven’s sake don’t say – Here are 5 sure shot ways to write a good poem.