Seven Tips for Writing Effective Poetry

Updated on November 24, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

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Good poems have captivating lines. Unfortunately, so do bad ones, and there are plenty of them polluting the Internet highway.

To illustrate one example, there was a poem posted on a website with the following lines:

Give me the murky door

so I can walk on love's floor.

The lines are confusing and it's tough to decipher. The rest of the verses in this poem shed little light on what they mean. Instead, it rambles on making supercilious comments and eliciting the name of Basho, the Japanese Haiku master, in some pretentious attempt to solidify the poem. Despite its intent, it becomes one of the most annoying twelve-line poems one can read.

Poetry writing doesn't have to be this bad. There are some things the would-be poet needs to know in order to avoid such a spectacular failure as the poem on this particular website has become. These tips are not everything that a poet needs to know; however, they are the ones that can improve the planning and writing of this important art form.

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1. Never Settle for the First Draft

This is a very simple rule that can simply be forgotten. Often, when writing a poem, a would-be poet may jot down what comes to mind or what has inspired him or her. That's fine. However, the poem is not complete. It's still jumbled and raw. It needs to be fixed -- or better yet -- needs more planning.

Since the advent of the Internet, website that allow for the publication of poems are often filled with first draft poems; in other words, poems that were written at the spur of the moment. They're clunky, rough and very amateurish. The first draft should be on paper, not as a finished product on the screen. The poet needs to go back, re-read it, edit and decide which direction to take the poem.

...with the attention span of most internet readers, a narrative poem will be short and get the attention of the readers.

2. Try to Tell a Story

Poems use to be the primary format for story-telling. Epics told of adventures in far flung lands; ballads sang about tragedies. No matter what type of format, the art of story-telling is an extremely powerful way to represent the human experience. Also, it makes for an easy-to-read poem.

With the attention span of most internet readers, a narrative poem will be short and get the attention of the readers. Also, it's easy to do a narrative poem that will express a theme the poet desires.

3. Write something with meaning.

Lyrical poems can be fun. Metaphysical poems can be confusing. However, there comes a time when the poet has something to say. These poems are the ones the reader will remember the most. When the poem has substance, the reader will stop to think about the topic being presented. Also, the easiest way to write something with meaning is to write about something the poet knows. It can be a life experience or a political view. Either way, a poet can put his or her perspective to it.

4. Know the Formats

Poems come in all shapes and forms. Some will rhyme while others will be free-verse. Lyrical poems are the most common poems people attempt to write. However, a scant understanding of this format is evident when reading them. Often, the poet attempting to write a lyrical poem will use only one device: the rhyme scheme.

Even a simple rhyme scheme can be misused. The problem is that there's more to a lyrical poems than rhyming words. There's beats, rhythms, alliterations, assonance, and iambic pentameters, to name a few. In addition, there are some forms such as the sonnet, that have particular syllable and "beat" counts; this means that the poet needs to be aware of the stress and unstressed part of a word and be able to use them to full effect.

Some free verse poems are divided by the number or words or syllables in a line. Others will use rhymes.

Seemingly simple formats such the syllabic poem have rules in subject matter and themes to contend with, too. Haiku may have three lines with five syllables in the first and third line and seven in the second line. However, the usual topic is about nature and each line is designated with a topic. In most cases, the second line is the descriptive one while the last line reveals the theme.


Most poets these days vie for free verse poems. It's an easier form to write; however, they have -- surprisingly -- have rules like any other poetic format. Some free verse poems are divided by the number or words or syllables in a line.Incredibly, some will sprinkle a few rhymes just for good measure (still, the rhymes don't follow a set or known scheme and can be eclectic).

Originally posted on juniperbooks.com
Originally posted on juniperbooks.com

5. Read, Aloud, the Classics

Whether it's Shakespeare or Eminem, one has to listen to how these masters utilize the written words. For the most part, poetry was meant to be performance art, as well as a written art. A good reader will know how to enunciate the words to convey the emotion or concept of a Shakespearean sonnet or one of A.H. Auden's poems. Pop songs can bring written words alive, as well.

The would-be poet needs to get to realize that words, phrases, and particular pronunciations can and will create a poem that can be entertaining as well as thought provoking when read aloud. It's something that can be found in nearly every classic poem from ancient to modern times.

6. Know How to Use Words to Create an Image

Use strong verbs, figurative language, diction and imagery. A word like "run" is boring. A strong verb such "dashed" or "bolted" conveys a stronger image. The same thing can happen when figurative language is used. Instead of saying "the boy jumped" it can be written as "the boy leaped like a lion."

Maybe the poet wants to write in the jargon or diction of a particular culture. Using this technique can give the impression that the poet has stepped into the lives of someone else and is telling their story. That, too, makes for a strong poem.

Poetry shouldn't be much of a mystery to writers.

7. Still, Be Wary of Grammar

When writing in jargon or slang, the spelling will always be different. That's an exception, though. It is important that the poet edits his/her work to make sure words are not misspelled or missing. Also, watch for punctuation and syntax errors (then again, if the poet is inspired by E.E. Cummings's poems, then they can throw all that talk about grammar out the window).


Poetry shouldn't a mystery to writers. However, that's exactly what it has become. A major problem is that many writers and readers do not understand how poems are formulated. It can be complex, but it can be a useful art form to express one's feelings and communicate it to the masses.

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© 2017 Dean Traylor

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    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 6 weeks ago from Canada

      Hey Dean, A poem a Day keeps the Dr Away. :)

      I read, and write poetry, but I cannot for the life of me understand stressed and unstressed syllables, and I don't understand the feet. I just wing it. Its a bit like playing music by ear. I wish there was a new method of teaching form. I've spent most of my adult life puzzling over it. Still trying.