Young Scot spoke to poet Kenneth C. Steven and got some poetic wisdom that you can use.
Somebody once said that poetry is to writing what dancing is to walking. In a poem you can get right to the heart of a feeling or a moment just like that; you don’t have to spend lots of time introducing characters or setting the scene.
Often we choose to write a poem at a particular moment because we feel really moved by something; an event, a memory, or a person. These emotions might not always be positive – we might just as often feel anger or jealousy or grief.
But time and time again, it’s poetry we choose to express our deepest and strongest feelings. On Valentine’s Day we might want to write romantic things to the person who’s making our heart flutter with love, or a funny poem to make them laugh and love you even more. But also when a friend is ill or even dies we feel it so deeply we want to find some way of expressing our pain and loss.
But we don’t only have to write a poem when we feel highs and lows. All of us have memories, what about trying to recreate the moment we first saw a newborn lamb? Or the day when autumn came to the city? We might be inspired by the magic of a journey, perhaps to some exotic place. Or it might be a journey of a quite different kind – when we travel into our dreams or when we pick up an object which takes us back to an old house or a forgotten friend.
One of the ways I started writing poetry was by composing diary poems, recording my inner thoughts at certain moments by trying to paint pictures with words. But your poems might be completely imaginative, creating new characters and places and events.
However you write, there are a few useful things to bear in mind to help you improve your poems and make them truly sparkle.
- Spend ten or fifteen minutes before you put pen to paper really concentrating on your idea. Try to ‘get’ there in your mind; if it helps close your eyes. Give your imagination time to fire up and begin to send out ideas and images.
- Use all of your senses when you’re imagining the place or the poem or the event you’re describing, not only your minds eye.
- Try to use really vivid description to make a scene come alive. Don’t give a general view, make it detailed and as precise as you can.
- Make what you say full of your impressions and reactions. Remember that although millions of people have seen a sunset, write about yours, nobody has seen a sunset through your eyes before.
- Concentrate on the verbs in your poem. Verbs are the ‘little dancers’ of poetry. Where adjectives can be heavy and weigh description down, imaginative verbs create movement and energy.
- Always try to read your work aloud when it’s finished to hear where there are weak words or where the rhythm falters.
- Never be scared to revise. The best poets have to work and work at what they’ve written to make sure they’ve said exactly what they hoped to.
- Read the work of as many poets as you can, both modern ones and the dead ones too! There are all sorts of good reasons why certain poets became famous and there are plenty of things they can teach us about writing.
- If you want to be serious about working on your poetry, then find somebody you can really trust to read what you’ve written. You want somebody who’ll offer you constructive criticism, in other words be able to point out what’s good and what could be better.
You might be inspired to start a poetry group at your school or at your local library – perhaps you might even find there’s one there already! Then you could swap pieces of work with other writers and offer hints as well as receive them on improving style and technique.
And don’t give up. The poem is there just above your head. Keep jumping and jumping till you can catch it!