10 Practical Tips for Poets Beyond the Page
By Saanvi Mundra
10 Practical Tips for Poets Beyond the Page
Many of us have this misconception in the back of our heads that poetry is supposed to be perfect. Many, many times, I never start writing because I am afraid to write garbage. But it is better to be a bad poet than no poet at all. On such days, I label my page with “free writing” to psychologically grant myself permission to vomit words without immediately judging them.
It is better to scribble one thoughtful line every day than to write occasionally when “inspired”. When nothing flows, write a poem on anything- the creases on the blanket, the pen, the sky. The key is to exercise your voice regularly- even when there is no inspiration- so when the Muse finally shows up, you are ready.
Store your work by date. This will allow you to track how your writing has evolved over time. If paper is your preferred medium, strictly dedicate a notebook for poetry. All my poems that were hastily strewn on random pages or in the margins of books are lost today.
Reading poetry hones your intuition on what works and what doesn’t and gives insight into how different literary devices like rhythm (Bells, by Edger Allen Poe) or metaphors (Victor Hernández Cruz's Red Beans) can be used effectively. You write what you read, so constantly change the type of work you read- explore different poets, eras and formats.
When reading, always jot down lines that strike a chord in a handy journal. These can serve as strong inspiration when the creative tap does not flow. Some phrases that have helped me conjure up beautiful poems in the past are- ‘I suppose I would like to be more of a planet, turning in and out of light’; ‘If softness were weakness, flowers would never grow’; and ‘fold them like the wings of frightened birds/ shot cruelly down’. For visual inspiration, check out Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge page.
Once penned down, keep poems out of sight for at least a week in order to view them objectively again. Exceptional poems don't burst forth from an unbridled wellspring of imagination; rather, they emerge as sculptures painstakingly chiseled from raw stone. Key areas to consider during the editing process are -
Trim any unnecessary words and simplify lines that are too long and complicated. Concise is powerful.
Evaluate your imagery. Replace generic terms with specific, sensory language.
Read the poem out loud. Try using a consistent rhythm and meter, then breaking the pattern deliberately to convey a message. Consider alliteration, assonance and other literary devices to enhance the auditory experience.
Consider how the visual representation of the poem can strengthen your theme. This includes ‘shape poems’, manipulating line breaks to control the reader’s pace, and arranging text in unconventional ways like spirals and diagonals.
Lastly, proofread your work.
When you are comfortable, seek feedback from publications like Polyphony Lit. A third eye will help you recognise your strengths and uncover interpretations and confusions that may have eluded you as the writer. When receiving feedback, separate yourself from the work. Filter the suggestions and implement only those that align with your creative voice. If multiple readers point to the same issue, pay close attention.
Submitting to literary magazines? Group your poems in sets of three and five and create a default bio and cover letter template to make your submission process quick. A good habit is to submit another poem immediately after a rejection.
Delve into blogging. Running a poetry blog has nudged me to produce poems more consistently. Now I have a handy, curated collection of my work that I can easily share. I post 20% of my poems to make sure only my best work is online. The downside is that many literary magazines accept only unpublished work, and a blog post may count as previously published.
Instead of reading passively, cultivate the habit of viewing poetry critically, and delicately unpeeling its meaning in a structured way. Allow the hurried dismissal of ‘bad’ poetry and intimidation of ‘godly’ poetry to fade. In the realm of poetry, there's no concept of absolute perfection or inherent flaw. Each verse radiates its own unique beauty, while simultaneously harboring the promise of enhancement.
These are the things that work for me, and I hope they fuel your poetic odyssey as well!
Saanvi Mundra is a blogger at Voices and Junior Editor at Polyphony.