How to write good poetry
By Lily Swarn
” Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood “,felt T S Eliot . I think it is as apt an explanation as ever can be .
Contrary to what most people will have you believe , good poetry writing is not a chance occurrence . Anyone can pretend to be a poet of sorts by either rhyming diligently or by using bombastic terminology . That is sacrilege.Poetry ,like any other creative form ,arises out of distilled emotions and passions .Poetry is like the eagle that chooses to ignore all borders .
If a poem hasn’t moved the reader in some way or the other , it is a futile exercise . Pouring out one’s grief or angst may facilitate the emergence of a great poem but it is of no worth if it hasn’t been healing and cathartic for the reader as well .
Oft repeated words and phrases are the death knell for ambitious poets .Their predictable and trite appearance in verse is banal to say the least .When you write ‘white as snow’, you are saying the right thing as that is what you learnt in school and that is what you heard people around you say . It is therefore not arousing the interest of your reader in any way . Perhaps if you said ” As White as the salt desert”, it just might invoke a bemused smile .
I would like to share with you , my own dalliance with Poetry,. Poetry ,to my mind is an exquisite temple sculpture from Khajuraho .Beneath it’s sensuous exterior lurks a potent divinity . I write about subjects that fuel my rabid imagination or those that move me to snarling beneath my breath . My poetry is entwined in the magic veiled behind the ordinary .I am enthused by the mundane . It’s machinations mesmerise me as much as the sublime .
I believe that poems must not be simply read . They should be seen , smelt , felt and heard . The texture of the withered leaf , the perfume of her tresses , the orange of the hearth , must be experienced by the reader .
For a poem to reach dizzy heights , metaphors must never vie with images . They should just blend into the fabric of the poem and leave you yearning for more .
I know a lot has been written about revising your verses again and again but I must admit to being guilty of the opposite . I childishly trust my instinct . The first lines that bubble out of my fevered brain are precious for me . The honesty of those words defy any editing efforts . I disagree vehemently with those who emphatically advocate cutting off and clipping off what they call extra verbiage .To me , that is what the poem must be all about .The rush of emotion that dares to ride rough shod over reason . The minuscule streak of madness that adorns and embellishes an ordinary subject is the stuff good poetry is made of .
I also believe in layered undercurrents running through the body of a poem . The theme certainly needs to be clear but it could well have many golden threads glowing between the obvious wordings . A taut brocade from the lanes of Varanasi , silken and awe inspiring with its design and pattern. A good poem is for all times , like that Tanchoi sari you got in your trousseau – an heirloom piece that each generation reads with relish long after the poet is dead and gone .
Now , let’s take a quick look at what some famous poets did to become great ! Let me digress to inform you that my personal therapy is Nature gazing .Nature whispers its secrets as it flaunts its magnificence . My poetry is never disappointed from its nature rambles. The other magic wand for me is the ambrosial hour of Dawn -The Amrit Vela . It is the time when the surreal woos the real .The panacea for all ills for me is a cup of strong tea. Poetry flashes in strong spurts as I cradle a cup of this manna.I also believe in writing each and every
day . It should be a part of a poets life , almost like eating food . The best poetry also originates from the pens of well read scribes .All those voracious reading bouts with torch light under a cotton stuffed quilt in winters or sitting atop the highest point on a terrace in the summer breeze have facilitated my writing to flow effortlessly .
Agatha Christie munched on apples in her bath tub to help the creative juices and Amy Lowell who won the Pulitzer prize depended on her cigars.D.H.Lawrence supposedly climbed a mulberry tree without a stitch of clothing , Maya Angelou rented a room in her hometown and never allowed even the cleaning staff to disturb her .TS Eliot often changed his identity to Captain Eliot after the success of The Waste Land. S.T.Coleridge is believed to have partaken of opium and that Kubla Khan was inspired by an opium dream . Poetry is an elusive art as Samuel Johnson himself admitted to being ” a hardened and shameless “tea drinker, drinking up to 25 cups in a single sitting .
I think a walk in the sylvan or not so sylvan surroundings does one a world of good just like it did for Wordsworth .
There is also much benefit in reading one’s own poetry aloud . The combination of art and music along with poetry brings out a new dimension.
It is good if different people interpret a poem in various ways . It simply means that they are internalising it according to their own experiences both joyous or traumatic .
Read other poets but try not to lose your unique style. It is your signature in the literary firmament.Try out varying forms .Practise writing a love sonnet a-la-Shakespeare or a Haiku .
If free verse gives you the freedom that you crave then don’t forcibly bind yourself in rhymes that are school girlish .
Vocabulary is your friendly weapon . Please do not misuse it by hammering home unfathomable javelins on your readers.
It’s better to leave abstract words that can not convey concrete emotions . Start with a narrative poem or ballad perhaps , using the arsenal that is uniquely yours. Make your poetry be an extension of yourself . I love it when a fledgling poet tells me ” Madame , I could visualise your whole poem “. That is what a poet writes for .
” Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land , wanting to fly in the air “
was Carl Sandburg’s thought .I seem to believe, along with Robert Frost that “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting ” .I never know how my poem is going to end , once I start writing it . A good poem will often surprise its creator with an unusual punch line..
When It was suggested that I write this article , I was terrified that I was about to shatter many accepted norms and beliefs about this genre of writing . My thoughts are the only thing bohemian about me . I let my poetry handle them well .
Thank you very much for reading these words . Love and God bless .
Copyright Lily Swarn 16.5.2018