How Do I Know If I'm A Poet?
Are you alive? Do you hear an inner voice that cries
for expression in a form other than direct speech? Are
you moved by the world around you? If the answers to
these questions are "yes", then you are potential poet.
What separates poets from non-poets? Poets write,
non-poets don't. If you really want to be a poet, the first
thing to do is put your inspirations to the page...so you've
come to the right place.
To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme?
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The basic thing to remember is that Poetry is the
or verbal expression of inner feelings and impressions. It is
an art form that allows the creator to layer understanding
and meaning with subtle references or to create a specific
feeling or impression that works at both the conscious and
Early poetry was rhymed because it was sung or treated
as lyric. As in the case of early music writing, this led to the
development of strict forms, styles and meter of writing.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing a poem in any
style you may choose, so long as the content agrees with the
style. An experienced poet will feel the theme they wish to
write and a specific style may come to mind. A Sonnet is a
classic form for writing love poems as it has become nearly
synonymous with the subject. However, one would seldom
see a poem that decries the brutality of war in sonnet form,
unless there was a specific intent to pose two such emotions
in counterpoint. There is no set rule for form or styles
(although specific forms and styles have their rules) and just
as you'll find in any area of study, the "beauty is in the eye of
You'll find in Publishing Books such as Poet's Market
that some publishers refuse to look at rhymed poetry, while
others will look at nothing else. On the side of those who
nearly insist on rhymed poetry is a loose quote of Rudyard
Kipling who when asked how he felt about the new form of
poetry called "Free Verse" replied: "I'm not sure, why don't
you quote me some?"
Conversely, the current trend in modern poetry is towards
Free or Open verse. Keep this in mind when you are told
your poetry "should be" free verse by other poets and
It is fairly obvious that the mind uses sounds to assist
memory, which is why a rhymed poem is probably more
easily remembered. However, a poet must decide whether
it is better to have a poem easily remembered or better
understood and appreciated. If you have a talent for creating
rhymned poems that don't sound "too rhymy", then by all
means, go for it! If you find yourself forcing rhymes and
corrupting your poem just so it fits, another example of
"fitting a square peg into a round hole", you should reconsider
the use of rhyme.
Some new poets think you have to write in either rhyme
free verse. This is not the case. Many poems combine the
styles, if one can really call them styles, with a resultant poem
that retains the lyric qualities of rhyme, yet has the free flowing
sense of free-verse.
The best advice we can give to new poets is to READ.
you should choose to read cover to cover an anthology, great;
if you choose to read short collections of poems, that too is
okay. Just be sure to read a good cross section of poetry,
poems that span the greatest spectrum of time, style and form.
Avoid end-stopped rhymes as a rule, be careful of not
trying to make all your rhymes "full" rhymes. For details on
structure, format, style, etc, you can check our Poetic
Reference section for books on the subject.
As we stated elsewhere in our website, civilizations
measured by their "collective" perceptions. This means that
there is no one single person who has a privileged point of
view. So if you want to write a poem in any specific style,
go for it. Poetry can be as public or private as you desire.
If your poem expresses what you feel, then it is a good poem.
If no other person who reads it understands it, you'll need to
make a choice: are you trying to provide them insight or just
please your inner-self. If you want to make that connection
between them and yourself, you'll need to rewrite it. If they
don't "like" the poem because it's too "rhymy", again, they're
only one opinion in a world of five billion...but you should still
What is Cliche?
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"Fit a square peg into a round hole", "beauty is in the
of the beholder" these are cliche expressions. Cliche, as
defined by the Oxford dictionary, is a "hackneyed phrase or
idea; a banality, colloquialism, chestnut, platitude, stereotype,
truism." This roughly translates into: if you've heard it before
to represent the idea you wish to convey, it's probably "cliche".
When can you use a cliche? Good question.
with very few exceptions, you should try to avoid cliche at all
costs. A good poet is looking for a "new" way of putting an
old idea into focus. What good is it to say "all that glitters is
not gold"? The phrase has been beaten to death, so let it rest.
However, there are times when you can reword a cliche
the context of your poem so it refers "to" the cliche, without
actually repeating the cliche. For example, if you were writing
a poem about a young woman's hair and you said "her hair,
like golden strands indeed did glitter too, against the rule of
men." or something along those lines.
If you wished to express the same idea, you could also
rewrite the cliche so that it was referenced and parodied at
the same time: "the warm nature of the room and the nervous
manner of her arms were proof: "all that jitters is not cold".
Although really a pun, it references the cliche without using it
Rule of thumb: Avoid using any metaphor, simile or other
figure of speech that you have seen in print; fix the idea you
have in mind, find the word that best describes or fits that
idea, then simply say what you have to say, using an image
you have in your mind, not one taken off someone's dusty
How Long Should It Be?
Length depends on what you're trying to say and to whom
you're trying to say it. Edgar Allan Poe stated that a poem
could not be too long, but that it sould be readable within an
hour's time. Few modern publishers would agree with such an
opinion, but Poe's comment shows how different people have
differing views on the subject.
There are times that publishers will insist on limiting the
length of a poem, but that is usually due to limited space in
their publications. The general restrictions such publishers,
and many poetry contests apply is "no more than 20 lines"
(sadly, Poe's classic, "the Raven", would be disqualified).
There are times when you can reformat your poem to
comply with such restrictions. One case that comes to mind
was a rhymed poem that was too long, but when reformatted
not only met the criteria, but actually sounded better and had
a subtle, more complex, inner rhyme! The result was a
A general rule of thumb is that unless you are creating an
ode that will stretch on into a length some might consider
epic, you need to try to say as much as you can in as few
words as possible. A favorite saying we have around here
is "I just can't seem to explain my lack of brevity, no matter
how many words I use". If it takes you more than a page to
say what you have to say, make sure it's worth saying.
There are many examples of poems that exceed
conventional length restrictions, but if they've made it into
print, they were probably worthy of their publication. Not
all your poems, regardless of what you may think of them,
will be considered "great" by posterity; in fact, you'll be
extremely fortunate to have even "one" such poem in your
lifetime. This, to the true poet, is of little concern; we say
what is in our hearts and on our minds and hope to connect
with even one other human being in a way that moves them
closer to our perception and emotion. "In time, even this
will pass away".
Should I Rewrite It? or Just Let It Be?
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I'm not sure I can think of a single "great" poem
written and never revised. Even the Rubaiyat of Omar
Khayyam, translated/written by Edward FitzGerald, was
published in a total of five separate "translations", some of
which differed dramatically from the first and most widely
read. This is an example of not just rewriting the poem
before it was published, but of rewriting even "after" it was
published and well received.
There are those rare, and I mean "rare", occasions
where a muse will drop a poem fully developed into your
lap. When this happens, you accept it as a gift and let it sit.
If you can see no way to improve your poem, read it to
others and keep your ears open for comments they may
provide. You will find, as most poets do, that a poem left
to sit for a while will not sound as good upon revisiting as it
did when originally written. This is often painfully true as
poets grow and mature with time and experience, whereas
old words are seldom so blessed; what seemed brilliant
verse to a novice is often trite or banal to a more developed
There are a number of workshops you can attend both
on and off line that will help you grow as a poet. Be
advised that not all comments are sincere, constructive or
even intelligent, they are merely comments by others on your
work. It is a mixed bag out there, so be prepared for
tomatoes as well as laurels for you efforts.
Critics: Should I Believe Them?
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Q: How many poets does it take to change a light bulb?
A: 1001...one to change the bulb, 1000 to say it's already
One thing for sure, the creation of the first artist was
preceded by the first critic. Critics, like any person you pass
on the street, have just one more point of view. However, a
good critic is well versed in the subject being addressed,
which puts them in a position slightly apart from the average
person on the street. This does not make them "better" at
doing the work, it just means they have more experience
"evaluating" the work based on previous work and trends.
Don't assume a critic is good just because they like your
work, or bad because they don't..
All you need do is look at movie reviews to see the
differences even the most renown critics have to one
another. So, what's good and what's bad? Only history
will provide that answer. The bottom line is, again, what do
you want from your poetry?
There are poems rather highly acclaimed by critics that
will be far over the head of the average reader. This is due
to their, the critics, frame of reference being different than the
average reader. If one has never read Robert Frost, how
can one understand even a blatant reference to "the road less
traveled"? Critics usually exist in a world quite removed from
the "common man" in that they are not only on the cutting edge
of what's being done, but have the benefit of probably having
read thousands of poems that have gone before. Not many
people have the time or resources to devote on such a single
subject. If they did, they'd be English, Literature or Art
Majors, or even publishers/editors themselves.
So, what do you believe and how much do you accept?
Again, listen to what is being said; don't take everything as
gospel, but don't completely disregard even the most caustic
reviews of your work. Remember, you asked for comments,
so don't kill the messenger.
The minute you read your poem aloud to an audience, or
allow your poem to be read, your poem is no longer just a
private matter, you've released it to the world. As such, you
should be prepared to hear things that may not be praise. By
the same token, not all criticism is constructive or correct.
Even when the comments are correct, they may be given in a
very caustic manner. The bottom line is not to be defensive,
nor let yourself be offended by content or delivery of the
criticisms, but to listen and weigh the comments with your
Critics are a dime a dozen and just as the little joke
top inferred, there are far more critics than artists, so don't let
them wear you down. Everyone is a critic, even you.
One tool you might try, even before you put your poem
out to the public, is to read it aloud to yourself. Recording
and playing it back to yourself is even better. Best, but most
painful perhaps, is to have someone read it who is not familiar
with your work. This is especially true of rhymed poetry,
where even the most inexperienced ear will hear forced
rhymes and faulty meter.
Keep this in mind: When you get your hair cut, who do
you ask "how do you like my haircut?" Do you ask another
stylist? or do you ask someone who only knows what "they"
like? If you wanted a critical analysis of your haircut, you'd
ask another stylist. If you wanted an "impression", you'd ask
someone with a less technical background. Use the same sort
of judgment about your poems; don't ask for a technical
review unless you want a technical review.
What Should I Write About?
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It may seem strange to see this question, but it is
asked immediately after someone has told the poet "blah,
blah, blah, that topic's been done to death!" The natural
question then is "so what do I write about?"
This is a troublesome question to answer. It is easy
say "write about whatever it is you feel you need to say" or
"just write what is in your heart", but neither will really help
avoid the pitfall of reinventing the wheel.
The answer is simple, yet difficult: Write about
something you think needs to be said, but write
about it in a way that is new or from a different
For example, it is difficult "not" to write about the
Meaning Of Life, but how does one say anything new
on a topic that's been beat up for the last few thousand
years? How does one avoid a string of platitudes, truisms
and cliches? That's the trick of it, isn't it? That's the razor
that separates "good" poets from "great" poets; being able
to give a fresh perspective to old topics is a quality that is
rare, and therefore one that makes those who can achieve
such a goal above those who try, but fall short of the mark.
All we can say is "don't give up" and remember that your
poems don't have to be "great", they only need allow for
your expression and give you an opportunity to touch
another human being in a way that goes beyond the words.
We at New Poets Press provide images without stories
to inspire your creative muse. When it seems that
everything else has already been done, we do the
unexpected and provide a set of images that we want a
number of poets to express in their own words.
Perception of any single event or image is different for
each viewer; it is the combined views that define our
culture and time, our civilization. Here is your chance to
contribute YOUR perspective of these images that
generations will read and perhaps better understand who
we were. History is made by those living in the present;
help us make our history a bit clearer to those who care
to look and learn.
How Deep The Metaphor?
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A metaphor is the application of a word or phrase to
something that is does not apply to literally; A simile is a
figure of speech where one thing is compared to another.
A metaphor is just as its name implies, a metamorphosis
of one thing into another. For example: "cotton-ball clouds
drifted across the bowl of night" is a metaphor, whereas
"clouds, like cotton-balls, drifted across the night sky" is a
We mention the distinction here because the two words
are so often confused. The other reason is to introduce the
idea of Metaphor as an integral part of poetry. Not all
metaphors are so obvious. In Robert Frost's "the road less
travelled", the metaphor is life's choices and two roads
diverging in a wood. However, there are other metaphors
in the poem as well as deeper layers to the first. The depth
of your experience will often determine how deeply you are
able to make the connections. Often, a reader will actually
read more into a poem than the author intended. This is not
a bad thing, it just shows that we all look at the world through
eyes tinted by our own experience. This is one of the
beautiful things about poetry; in not speaking directly of
things, we allow freedom of interpretation.
If your metaphor is too obscure, you may lose your
audience; if your metaphor is too shallow, it may seem too
obvious and therefore lose the impact of discovery. You,
the poet must decide "who" the audience will be and therefore
how deep the metaphor. Accomplished poets are often able,
as in the case of Mr. Frost, to write a poem that works on
several levels at once, thereby allowing enjoyment by a wider
audience of a single poem. This, however, should not
necessarily be the intended goal. Remember: content is
paramount, so let the voice and style follow content's lead.
Listen to feedback from various audiences to determine if
your metaphor is working at the level you intended.
Explaining a poem, or metaphor (unless it's to your English
teacher) is like explaining a joke to someone who didn't get it;
they may understand it, but it will have lost any impact you
intended. It is often better "not" to explain it than destroy
whatever the reader may have got out of it, intended or not.
Caution: Do not mix metaphors! Don't combine metaphors
that have different, contradictory images with one another.
For example: "The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song and
the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot." Avoid such a
mixture unless you are writing "specifically" about the
contradictions we sometimes create for ourselves, or are listing
a number of cliches, worn out metaphors or similes. The basic
rule is that you should leave those old shoes at your writing
Who Is My Audience?
This is at the core of "why" you are writing in the first
Are you writing as a way to get your feelings out in the open to
yourself, or are you writing in an attempt to share a view or
feeling with someone else? If you are reaching out to someone
else, then you need to determine who that audience may be.
If you're writing for a class assignment or for a contest,
you'll be more restricted in both style and subject. If you're
writing for the pure joy of writing and sharing, you have the
full range of your imagination to employ. Once you
determine "to whom" you are directing your efforts, you'll
better know both how and what to write.
Once you've written the poem for a specific audience,
don't make the mistake of judging its effectiveness by asking
for a review by someone outside that audience. If you are
submitting a poem to a magazine that is looking for horror,
don't ask someone who is of a more sensitive nature to review
it. At best, they will probably think you are a bit twisted. At
worst, you may change the way that person forever thinks of
If you've written a more general poem, you can feel free
get feedback from a wide spectrum of readers. A word of
caution: Do not believe all the comments you receive, good
or bad, especially if they come from the mouths or hands of
friends. I've often been in chat rooms where a poet was
applauded for a "great" poem, only to receive a number of IM
(immediate message) comments from the same people telling
me how bad the poem really was. So, why can't they be
honest? Well, often they are trying to give some sort of
positive reinforcement to build confidence in new poets. The
best place to receive honest and educated feedback is from
workshops, but check your ego at the door, and take your
heart off your sleeve.
You are often better off not forcing family and friends to
provide feedback to poems you've written. If you want their
feedback, leave a few of your poems lying around. If they like
them, they'll tell you later that they found one of your poems
and thought it was very good. If they didn't like them, they will
pretend they never saw them.
A final note on this topic: I saw a cartoon in the newspaper
awhile back that had a news commentator ask a poet about
his work (this poet happened to be male), to which he replied
... and then proceeded to force upon the reporter a string of
other poems by saying "and listen to this one I wrote about...".
The moral of this story is that you need to soft-sell your work
to people, don't hit them over the head with it. Like everything
else in life, there is a time and a place. Not everyone enjoys
poetry, nor are the ones who do always in the mood to hear it.
Why Am I Writing?
This is the heart of the matter. If you're writing to
famous or immortal, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort,
frustration and disappointment by stopping now. There are
literally thousands of poets alive today, probably hundreds of
thousands...now, name three famous poets still alive. If you
were able to do that, name ten. Very few poets can do so, a
few published poets can name perhaps half a dozen, but nearly
all could name over a dozen famous poets that are no longer
alive. You don't have to be dead to be famous, but the best
measure of greatness is your ability to last and be appreciated
by those still living.
Yes, there is a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing your
work published, especially in hardback, but this should not be
the drive, it should be a goal of only those poets who wish it
to be so. There are an untold number of poets out there who
write simply because they feel the need to write; they write for
the pure joy of writing. Many of the great poets were poor
and virtually unnoticed in their lifetimes. Some were
considered untalented until long after they were gone. Edgar
Allan Poe was turned down by his publisher when all he asked
for payment was ten copies of the would-be-book. The book,
had it been published at that time, would have included "The
Murders of the Rue Morgue", the "Descent into the Maelstrom"
and a second edition of "Tales of the Grotesque and
Arabesque", some of his greatest works. The letter he wrote
to the publisher asking for consideration of these works into a
book was sold in 1944 for $3000.00! The most he ever made
in one year was $800.
Who can tell what may befall a poem written today when
viewed by tomorrow's reader? One thing is for sure: the best
works come from the purest intent, not from a search for fame
or profit. If you seek fame and profit, write novels or
screenplays. If you feel the need to express your inner-self in
verse, write poetry for the sake of your own mental well being
and satisfaction. If you feel the need to write, and still desire
some degree of immortality (if such a thing exists), then write,
review, edit and submit your poems to publishers or publish
Some editors and publishers, as well as some instructors,
will say "before you write, consider what it is you are trying to
say and whether or not it needs to be said, or if any person
besides yourself will care." We at New Poets Press do not
agree with that line of thinking. We encourage writing for the
sake of writing, as it helps the author express inner feelings
and persceptions, allows growing as a writer, and provides
others a glimpse of the world through the eyes of another
living human being.
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