By Guest Blogger Mary Thompson
The poetry you write and like will be viewed subjectively. For example, some people love only rhymed poetry, and some prefer modern or free verse that doesn’t rhyme. For either, what judges look for is a poem that is crafted and original. For instance, if you rhyme, are your ending words conventional or what you see and hear in music all the time (love, above, dove)? Remember, music can hide what is common, while plain words cannot. Do the lines flow naturally or does the rhyme seem forced?
When I want to rhyme, I feel more comfortable with a traditional form, like the sonnet. Here’s the beginning of one I wrote after September 11th, “The Waste Land Revisited”:
Mr. Eliot, with all due respect,
April is no longer the cruelest month.
It’s September that we will recollect
As the time we created a new front,
Notice that “month” and “front” are not exact rhymes, but what is known as “slant” rhyme.
How do we craft free verse, especially since it sometimes sounds like it came full blown out of the author’s head and so must be their first, inspired draft? The best have been sculpted, returned to again and again after leaving the poem and coming back to it. Many have another poet read or critique their work. Here are five tips to consider:
- When I read it out loud, how does it sound? Does it flow?
- Do I use strong, concrete, unique images or do I have words that are too abstract, that one can’t touch or feel, words like “love,” “death,” “pain”? The theme of a contest may be abstract, but your poem should not be.
- Does your poem say something about life in a new, condensed way, like a snapshot?
- Are the words at the end of each line strong words? Although some poets do it, try not to end lines with “a” or “the” with the thought carried to the next line.
- Have your last line be as strong as you can make it. Your reader has been waiting for it.In my poem, “Butterflies Alive,” the poet meets with a young girl, mid poem:“A girl with hairin simple cornrowsreads the sign that saysthey live for only a week or two.She confides, ‘I’m afraid of dying.’”
There is a reason for ending each line where it ends. I describe the girl in concrete terms, but simply. The reader can read the sign along with the girl and poet, a sign that gets to the heart of the poem.
Remember, from an image or concrete object, a beautiful, original poem can from you. Happy writing, and best wishes when you enter those contests.
See February 2014 poetry contest details at highdesertblogging.com.