Poem Doctor: 10 things to try

If your poem is struggling and refusing to breathe, here are some things you might try, to revive it and massage its heart:

1) Change the tense. Quite often present tense can make it more immediate.

2) Lose the first stanza: sometimes that’s just gearing up.

3) Look at your ending. Are you trying too hard to point up a moral? Chop it.

4) Look at your order and structure. Sometimes the ending needs to be the start.

5) Check out individual words. Is the one you have used the very, best most accurate word?

6) Consider changing the form. A free verse poem sometimes wants to be a formal poem. I speak from experience. I once had a poorly draft. Then I noticed there were two or three lines of iambic pentameter. The poem was telling me it was a sonnet. And when I listened to it, it wrote itself – and went on to be published in London Magazine.

7) Cut any parts where you have needlessly repeated yourself. Tautology is the enemy of brevity.

8) Read it aloud. Are there any parts you struggle to say? Then they need redrafting until they sound right.

9) Check your rhythm. Even free verse has a rhythm. (Metre is different, more regular). I often scan my poems out when they don’t feel right; this helps me find where it stumbles.

10)  In free verse, are your line breaks where you want a tiny pause? Don’t be afraid of having irregular line lengths and stanza lengths, because sometimes that can have the effect you want.

Good luck. It’s worth leaving poorly poems aside for a few days, or reading them aloud before you go to bed. Sometimes when you wake up the next day, your wonderful brain will have solved the problem for you and you will know what to do.


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Filed under Education, Writing challenges

4 responses to “Poem Doctor: 10 things to try

  1. Excellent advice. Many thanks.

  2. Reblogged this on MMU Writers and commented:
    Some really useful advice from a seasoned poet here!

  3. Reblogged this on Carolyn O' Connell and commented:
    Good advice