TIPS FOR WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY PART ONE

Over the last 6 months, I’ve written roughly four hundred poems, and I feel like I’ve learned something (God, I hope I learned something; otherwise, I really have wasted a lot of time writing poetry.) I’ve seen lots of these tips on writing, and some of them are pure bullshit (i.e. “the timer method” or “write a villanelle today, and a sonnet tomorrow”)

Let me tell you something, and please, if you disagree, let me know. The villanelle is DEAD. The sonnet is DEAD. Do you know who your audience is if you write one of these poems? Someone who is trying to get you to read their villanelle and/ or sonnet and/ or haiku. Haiku is great as catharsis. Don’t get me wrong. Haikus can be lots of fun. But they’re just small words.

No one wants to read your nature poem, unless your nature poem says something that’s not been said about nature. Don’t tell me about how nature’s beauty fades. Robert Frost kind of owns that with “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

I don’t want to hear how the clouds look like pillows in the sky. Or marshmallows. Even cigarette smoke has been said. Tell me the clouds look like albino mustard gas. Weird, huh? At least it’s interesting.

Thou shall not speaketh like this. Poetry has to, has to, has to be honest, so unless you’re Shakespeare who somehow caught a hold of a time machine, do not talk like Shakespeare. Talk like Jake, talk like Lucy. Poetry is not pretty words. Poetry is words that you think need to be said. That’s about as terse as I can get. If no one cares what you have to say, then it’s probably not poetry.

Which brings me to rhyming. Rhyming can be really great. Just know this: your job as a poet is to trick people into reading poetry. This is a general idea of what people think of when they think of poetry:

What sun rises on the east

Tis the eyes of lovers in love

What wretched soul bequeaths the beast

That crushes the soul of fragile little dove

It’s cryptic. It’s cliche. It’s all naturey. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “bequeath” before. It’s overdramatic, and to get back to my main point for now, it rhymes.

If you’re gonna rhyme, you’re taking on a bigger challenge. Plus-sides of rhyming: it can be catchy, it’s is more musical, you can play with putting ideas into the words you rhyme (i.e. mate and hate (contrast or juxtaposition)) What you’re not doing is thinking about who is going to read this. This is why people say poetry is dead. Poetry needs to become a part of its times. We get more real as a society, more honest. That’s all we’ve ever done. We break down barriers, and I think when you write like a 16th century poet you lie to your reader. I admire rhyme. I wrote rhyme a long time, but if you want to be heard, talk (or yell) more like you do, and less like Francis McFancypants, Esq.

You have a rhythm. Everything you say has a rhythm. And believe it or not, it is a challenge to write the way you talk. To find the poetry in the words that press down on that god damn keyboard. Think about the way you type even. You type faster and slower. That’s one of the reasons I’m an advocate for typing poems. It’s rhythmic. It’s like playing the alphabet piano. It helps. You find. Your internal rhythm. Your pace – your flow – the way you truly. Speak.

It’s a bummer coming on here. Though there are some great poets on wordpress, tumblr, facebook, you have to filter through massive hills of shit to find them.

Read modern day poets. Go to a local poetry slam. Even better, don’t find your poetry in poetry; find it in music, on billboards, in other people’s words. I can’t tell you how much poetry I hear people say everyday of my life. My sister the other day said “We are not infants in business suits, though…” in casual conversation, and I knew there was a poem there. That she meant more than just an obscure reference to an episode of Rugrats we watched when were little kids. It was amazing. It made my day.

More than anything – write. Write shitty poetry. Shitty poetry is warm up rounds for the good poems. Trust me. I can see the patterns in my books. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get at what you’re getting at.

Also, before I misguide someone there, think less. If you try to be deep, you are going to sound like you’re trying to be deep. I had this idea I written in my phone “Life is the murderer. Death is just waiting for you on the other side.” I really like that thought, BUT it’s too “profound”. It needed to be humanized, rationalized, and a little bit bastardized. I ended up writing a poem on it, two months later, might I add, where it came out:

life. shit, man. life is your friend sometimes. death
is always waiting by the phone for you to call and
hear me, you. when life stabs you in the back. when
she sleeps with your best friend and turns off your
alarm so you’re late for work. when life cancels your
insurance before driving your car into the first brick
wall she can find. when she strikes you with sodium
penethol (truth serum) just before your lifetime achievement
speech and calls your mom and tells her you murdered someone

and the cops catch on and they break into your house
in the middle of the night and arrest you for the crime
that life committed, hear you, me, brother. death will be
the friend who takes a taxi to the penitentiary to come
and bail your sorry ass out.

Be down to earth. Every poet is trying to become a god, when the whole point of poetry is to utilize it to become a human being. Consider your audience, and I don’t just mean that in a high school English teacher way. I mean that in a “learn to empathize and sympathize and apathize with everyone, so you know how to speak to them” kind of way.

Write everyday. Bring a notebook with you. Send text messages of poem ideas to yourself. Write down advertisements you see. The other day, I was driving to work and on the radio, there came a flash flood warning, at one point the man on the radio said “Do Not Drown.” Whoa. There’s a poem there. Everyone can hear that flash flood warning in their head. They can hear the baseball announcer’s voice; they can hear the preacher at the funeral; they can hear the preacher at the gospel church; they can hear the 1950’s ad for Brillo pads; take advantage of your multiple personality disorder.

I have a lot more to say, but I’m gonna stop, thus marking this part one. Please leave me any questions or comments, and I will include good questions in my next post on the subject. In the mean time, I dare you to write who you are, and how you are. Write the whiskey that’s burning through your liver, and write the spit that’s stuck underneath your tongue.

Love,
Brice

P.S. I think this poem speaks to this subject a bit, too.

VINCENT WOLFRAM’S RESPONSE TO TIPS, PART ONE (PLEASE READ)

READ “TIPS FOR WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY, PART TWO”

68 thoughts on “TIPS FOR WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY PART ONE

  1. Wow, well done on the post. It presents an opinion on writing poetry in today’s age that is rarely talked about. And you also present helpful tips for poetry in the modern era. A post that got my brain thinking, thank you and again well done.

    P.S. Though, I do write Haiku and Sonnets, I can say for the most part they are not on the traditional subjects, at least I think so. I have not really written about nature, or the fluffy clouds. I have one or two poems on such in my earlier writings but… I try to stay away from that topic. As for them being dead, I am on the fence with that. I believe forms of them are dead, certain subjects those two types of poetry often talk about, are dead. But, they still have their uses. I for one love the sonnet as I find it is a great poem for showing emotion, while limiting it at the same time, stopping myself from rambling or going on and on, as I sometimes tend to do. And when I do this (often in my free-verse) I can get too wordy as you mentioned, starting to use too many words just for the sake of trying to make it look, pretty. But, what do I know. I am just some guy that has returned to writing after eight years of absence, in both the writing and reading aspects. Simply, I am exercising my writing by trying out all forms.

    • I think if you get something out of sonnets, then keep writing them. Dead may be a little harsh. I just don’t know anyone who’s not a poet who reads sonnets. I’d like to see some of your stuff. I’ll have to swing by your blog.

      I’ll tell a quick story here. In high school, we had to write a sonnet a week for an english class. Everyone hated it – except me. The other kids would pay me to write sonnets for them! I don’t think my conscious would let me go back and do that again, but I was young, impressionable and broke.

      One of my favorite bits about it is when I wrote my own poetry, I couldn’t stop writing in iambic pentameter!

      • That is an amusing story. May not have been the moral or ‘right’ thing to do, but hey in high school we all need the extra cash. I wish People had paid me for the poems I had been writing hah.

        Well, welcome to my blog (whenever you swing by), hopefully you find something amusing/entertain/thoughtful on it. Currently I’m actually dabbling more into prose but have cleaned up the menu that it is easier to find everything else (my poetry, and the two projects I am working on.) Anyways, again thanks for the rant, it was thoughtful. Have a good one.

  2. Thank you for this. It makes me even more honored that you followed me. However, I’ll have to slap you back a little and say that the idea of life as a treacherous whore in the example poem you posted is cliché. BUT your “no bs” writing style might make up for it, especially the last three lines. Don’t forget to address spacing/line breaks in your next part! The spaces of the page are as much a part of your poem as the words.
    Poetry
    is dead? Who
    said that?
    Grrrr

    • Ooh, burn… yeah, I guess the “life broke my heart” is a little worn out. Maybe I can do some gender bending. Thanks for reading.

      I’ll definitely
      try to do some
      stuff about
      spac-
      ing in my next blog
      entry.

      Thanks,
      Brice

  3. I’m printing this to use as my writing bible! I wonder I’d you could write a haiku about mustard gas looking clouds? I’ve been experimenting with the old forms…I was told my haikus were crap because they were about smoking cigarettes and not nature…

    • Writing bible?! That’s a big compliment! Thank you. Snakehair beat me to the punch, and did a darn good job! I’d love to hear some smoking cigarettes haikus. This writing class you’re taking, are they teaching you all these classic poetry forms?

      • No. It was the focus of my undergrad and it drove me NUTS because we weren’t allowed to “experiment.” I almost failed because of that curiosity. When I started at Naropa, I freaked out when they said “Have at it!.” I have been experimenting with old forms and trying to make them new – I am editing some of my old “traditional” pieces, making them more abstract. Should be interesting! I’ll post a few of those non-traditional haiku poems this weekend! So where’s my digital copy of your book to read????? LOL!

  4. Ha! I love a good rant. I gotta ask, what got you riled enough to write that?

    Structured forms like Haiku are good for providing limits to work in. Giving yourself challenges. I’ve found a voice in my writings that I like but I don’t want all my poems to sound the same so occasionally I force myself outside of my usual writing habits. Not necessarily a structured form but doing different things to force your mind into new spots. But outside of that free form poetry best suits our times.

    • I agree. I’m all for experimenting. I put myself in different forms every chance I get. Free form does best suit our times, and free form, in my opinion, is more honest.

  5. Great rant! Nice to see a bit of passion on the WordPress scene.
    Someone suggested I started writing haiku this year (on sci-fi and zombies to start with!), and I have to agree with you – yes – they are cathartic. I rather enjoy the way they capture a snapshot of a moment, but I am proudly a completely amateur poet. :)

  6. Thank for the blog, enjoyable read and really good perspective. Definetly makes you think about poetry and writing poetry in a different way. A very honest piece of writing to. I do remember someone once saying you should write how you would speak. You put it in your own words nicely ‘poetry is words that you think need to be said’. I will definetly try take note from this.

  7. Pingback: Defending Formalism and Transcendance « Dread Sonnets and Other Grim Folly

  8. I’m liking you for opening up the subject, though I do disagree with some of your views on structure and language. But lazy me, I will rely on Vincent’s blog to expand on my thoughts. I do wonder who is saying that poetry is dead, it seems to me that over the last few years the popularity of slam, rhyming rap, and just about every country song has kept it more alive than ever. I am not saying that it’s all great art but it is poetry.

    • I think a lot of people just feel “poetry is dead”. I wrote an essay for school called “Poetry is Undead” that talks about slam and music as modern day medians for poetry. I just want to awaken a public interest in poetry, which is a big battle that I’m just a small soldier in. Also, I’ll be writing a follow-up soon to Mr. Wolfram, so I’ll have some stuff to say back to you as well, Elaine. Thanks for the read, and for always being a voice on my website.

  9. “Though there are some great poets on wordpress, tumblr, facebook, you have to filter through massive hills of shit to find them.”

    I completely agree. There are some days when all I want to do is read some great poetry, but I can’t find it through a random WP search. I’ve got a few e-literary journals bookmarked that help. Some days, however, I just want to be surprised.

    On some level I feel the shitty poems are a way for people to get something “off their chest”, so to speak. It’s OK to write stuff like this, I’d just rather not see it shared so frequently. Sadly, you can’t fix the internet.

    • Yeah. I acknowledge that I can’t fix the internet, and definitely that people should write poetry whether it is good or not. I just so rarely get something out of formal verse. The structure and the rhyme ruin it for me. It’s like watching someone trying to dance in a coffin.

  10. In terms of breaking down ‘modern day poetry’, I’d argue that concentrating on the Imagery/the Image is as important, if not more so, than something like rhyme/rhythm. Poets/writers need to know that it’s okay to use simile and metaphor, regardless of how much teachers used to berate you for it at school… Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying. Good job.

    • All I’m trying to say is people should put themselves in their writing more, you know? It’s the same as saying “be yourself”. That’s where I think the best poetry comes from.

      On a random note, I also like the quote “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

  11. This is the very first thing I’ve ever read of yours but you are now my hero for this piece alone. My God, I’m in love with your down home everyman/woman poetry philosophy. Now, on to read more…. and thanks for following my blog and work.

  12. If I were to ever consider myself a professional anything..it would be a professional ranter! Seriously, I think I need a diploma, of sorts, framed and on a wall. Maybe I will print myself one later! Anyway, that being said, I completely get everything that you let out here and agree with most of it. One thing that bothered me was, ” If no one cares what you have to say, then it’s probably not poetry.” I don’t think that is necessarily true. It just means that they didn’t get it. They didn’t connect. Not everyone is going to be affected the same way by anything you say or write. Not everyone feels the same level of emotion on any certain topic. Whether you were to get up in front of a crowd or an audience of three, read one piece that you feel passionate about and deliver your most awesome performance ever…there is going to be someone who sits there and stares like “WTF was that?” and just didn’t get anything from it. I don’t think it means that it isn’t poetry, at all. As long as it was honest and what you were feeling, it is what it is! So it makes me want to ask, do people care about what YOU have to say? I know there are a hell of a lot of people that couldn’t give two shits about what I have to say (I live with three of them), but that isn’t going to stop me from saying anything! It just means you have to work a little harder next time to get it right..spit shine it a little! I can guarantee that if I took one of my poems to my grandma she wouldn’t think it was a poem!

    I love reading other peoples poetry because it makes me think. I like things that make me think…it keeps my mind on one thing. I don’t think like a lot of people. I have a habit of seeing, or reading, more into things. When I write, I do it to vent. Mostly. Whether it be journaling or poetry, it has always been my best release. I don’t follow any sort of form and honestly, having to write poems in form, in high school, was my least favorite thing to do. My daughter had to write a poem last year. The teacher gave them the topic, the first line had to be the same as the last, it had to rhyme and I believe it could only have a certain number of lines. I couldn’t help her! I can’t do it if I’m not feeling it and I ended up telling her to take it to the teacher and ask her just how many words on that topic that could rhyme! I feel that when they get to teaching poetry in school, they need to broaden the horizons a little. I understand teaching the proper forms and going through histories greatest poets, and all, but they need to let them in on modern methods, too. I can bet that more kids would be interested then. I think this would help them realize that, like you said, a poem can be anywhere. The same for the music reference…most people that aren’t familiar with free form/ slam/ performance poetry, aren’t thinking of music as poetic. If they would “bequeath” (sorry, I had to!) the 16th century stuff for a little bit, they would realize that it is out there more than you think.

    I could keep going, but I will stop.. I can’t help my wordiness!

  13. I agree with a lot of your points, but have one big objection: you haven’t read enough contemporary sonnets! There are some good ones out there – and they don’t all rhyme. And if you have another blog post’s worth to say on this topic, I can’t wait to read it.

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  15. Firstly thanks for the Follow. I write poetry when it flows, because it feels right at the time. It’s weird to me to have someone follow your posts who’s looking at the merit of the writing like an english teacher marks a piece of work. I hope you enjoy my posts, I’ve actually really enjoyed this one! Thanks for the insight (forgive me if I don’t always apply it)!

    Happy reading and writing!

    http://kirstylou42.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/alone-in-a-crowd/

    • Thanks, Kirsty! And thank you for leaving me a link! I appreciate when people leave me something to check out with their comments. Helps to find the better stuff to read on wordpress!

  16. Thanks a lot. How about writing poetry that can be understood. Most people don’t like or read poetry because they don’t get it. Too much hidden meaning is often a wasted effort. Unlike you, I write for myself and not for an audience – its hard to tell what people will like. I try to speak honestly and as sharply and beautifully as I can and let the response take care of itself – sometimes its hit and other times its miss.

    • You should always write for yourself, I think! I am with you on that. Vonnegut said, and I’m paraphrasing, write for just one person. If you open a window and let the world in, your writing will catch pneumonia, and I agree with that. I don’t know where I’m at. I guess. I write from my gut to the page, and for me, but I try to be understandable too.

  17. I am quite humbled a writer like you is following my crawling blog.
    Now, whilst I guess you are not claiming sole authority on poetry, let me say plainly that you do have an art signature. Your writing style is rather uncommon.
    Keep up the good work of learning and teaching.

  18. After reading this post, I am tempted to delete all my crappy poem posts in my blog. LOL. Good read!

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  21. Thanks for dropping by and following my blog Brice!! I like your post. Although i know nothing about poetry. My ramblings are unedited textual versions of my heart’s vibration. I wish you a joyful affair with your art :)

  22. I don’t know what I’m doing on here other than being polite and returning your visit, and being curious enough to read your post. I don’t write poetry, and read it reluctantly because it seldom speaks to me. I am a lover of words, but prefer prose. Thanks for perhaps mistakenly following me?

  23. Great post. I agree with most of what you are saying here. I applaud your passion to bring poetry into the modern world, where it should be on the dirty streets of our daily existence, not just the lofty dusty halls of learning. I am with you in that. But believe me, there are far more modern cliches that I find all over wordpress. If I read one more emo poem about blood, flesh, wounds or skeletal parts I may scream.

    And nature isn’t really the problem, even the themes are not the problem. Hell, like it or not, we are natural creatures, and therefore part of the whole natural beast. I suppose we could just ignore nature as we have done in this country. Drill, drill, drill, and spill and maybe, who knows maybe (in a manufactured bubble city?) humans will survive.

    And there can be a good case made for the fact that we really are all writing the same stories over and over. The key is the style, the mode, the words and metaphors used. “Make it new,” Ezra Pound said. But I think it was Elliot who said that to be a writer, one must first be a reader. The problem that has happened is that poets end up only talking to, writing for and reading other poets! No wonder our art form has lost its edge and relevance!

    Also I would not say that the villanelle is dead or that sonnets are dead. There are some amazing modern twists. And there can be a lot learned and enjoyed by exploring forms. But don’t write in them as if you are Shakespeare. Make it new, put it in modern settings, language, new metaphors. “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a great example, but there are many many others. What you are rebelling against is stagnation and cliche. I agree with you, but don’t throw out all the stuff in the cupboard, some of those goods have a long shelf life, and the best meals are often made with left-overs.

  24. AHHHHH….the disappointment is chasing me around my room. I found after I read this post I should find something else to do LOL considering my only poem which is also my only post is ALL rhyme! Even if it was totally me ;p
    But your post made me think. Even if I didn’t like being chased by the disappointment in the room.
    <3 Aiden

    • I wrote that a bit ago, and I have some ammendments. I do think a focus on rhyming can be bad, however, it’s poetry! Do whatever makes you happy! I have a poem called “Mama, I Ain’t Sad (I’m Just Singin The Blues)” and it HAD to rhyme. Wouldn’t have worked if it didn’t. I wouldn’t be too discouraged either “being chased by the disappointment in the room” is great poetry. I bet you’ve got quite the poet in ya. Write often and write loud.

  25. Pingback: FLASHLIGHT CITY BLUES: FAVORITE POSTS OF 2012 | FLASHLIGHT CITY BLUES

  26. I think all styles are useful to learn, we carry them forward from one generation to the next, but great poetry (however it’s structured) hits the sweet spot of an idea that’s time has come. Your advice about writing in your own voice is spot on, great post filled with poetry.

  27. I have to agree with alot of the points in this post.My poems,are me. I don’t try to write like miss fancy pants,or bullshit the reader.What i write is truthful and although i don’t have a college education. I have been writing poems since i was 9. I’m alot older now,i know i’m not the best,or maybe even that good.But it is my best. I have been trying to educate myself on writing .So my short stories have improved. I agree with your point a view,wish i could be in that league. Going to keep trying,working hard at writing and maybe have at least a few pieces,my grandaughter would be proud of.

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