Even if it’s been years since you’ve been in school and learned the basics of poetry, anyone can write poetry and learn to do it well. A great place to start is to read a lot of poetry. Read poems in diverse styles by dead poets, well-known living poets, and unknown writers. Read form poems (sonnets, cinquains, villanelles, and haiku), blank verse and free verse. And of course, write! Beyond that, the one tool that has been the most helpful for me to improve my poetry craft is regular poetry critique sessions.
Do not be afraid of the word or concept of critique. It is simply a detailed evaluation and review. Bring an open mind and heart.
I started out with a writing buddy. We met once or twice a month, to read and discuss each other’s work. I was fortunate to find someone who was a better writer than me, and who was also a teacher. But you can learn and grow with anyone who has a sincere desire to improve their writing. When life and circumstances broke up our sessions, I found my way into a vibrant community of poets on Meetup called Living Poetry. From there I began attending monthly poetry critique workshops run by LP’s fearless leader, Bartholomew Barker.
I highly recommend the process. If you can’t find a group to meet with in real life there are virtual options online. I promise you will learn a lot, make friends, and become a better poet.
“Yeah, but how do I evaluate a poem?”
I’m glad you asked. One of the long-time members of my critique group, a wonderful poet named Chris Abbate, (check out his website!) left us to start his own group. He created a list of questions to guide his group members. I loved the idea, so, with permission, I stole the idea and a few of his questions and created a checklist just for you.
The checklist identifies the main components of a poem and gives you questions to consider for each one: Title, Opening; Language; Imagery; Line breaks; Stanzas, and Conclusion. In addition to these objective terms, you will also learn to identify Hot Spots and Cold Spots.
Click here to download my Poetry Critique Checklist.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. Happy Writing!