The Basics: Poetry

Why Read Poetry?

I'm one of those people who used to absolutely hate poetry. Mostly this stemmed from having to read poems that were older than my grandparents and were written about trees. Don't get me wrong, trees are great and all, but I would rather read about something that would make me think or, at the very least, get my heart rate up. I didn't want to read about how beautiful or serene some random person thought the forest was. No, I wanted a story. I wanted emotions. I wanted something with substance.

I was still mostly in my "I hate poetry" phase when a certain author friend of mine sent me an arc of her poetry collection and asked for me to review it on my book-based blog. However, the idea of a poetry collection written by one of my favorite authors intrigued me. If anyone could get me to read poetry, it would be someone who I trusted. And lo and behold, I adored it. I read it once, then twice, then a third time before I even published my review. The point here is not to rave about how amazing Hayley Stumbo is, although I could certainly do that for hours, but rather to show how you just have to find your specific brand of poetry.

I, myself, prefer angsty poetry about pain and healing, as I think it helps me a little with dealing with some things that have happened to me throughout my life. But if your thing is to read poetry about trees, then you do you. All I'm saying is that before you dismiss poetry altogether, like I almost did, try reading a different brand of poetry and maybe, just maybe, you'll find a new favorite.

Why Write Poetry?

First things first, only write poetry when you want to. I don't think that everyone should spend every second of their free time writing eloquent poems about how their dog died when they were 7 or when they almost drowned in the 10-inch baby pool at their local community center. If you don't enjoy writing in any sense of the task, then don't write poetry. Poetry is hard to write, and it's taxing. If you don't even enjoy writing in your diary or writing a fiction story when you're bored, then maybe poetry isn't for you. I could be wrong and maybe poetry is the only type of writing you like to do, but I have generally found throughout my years of writing and interviewing authors that a love for writing prose comes first and a love for writing comes second. In summary, write poetry because you love to write poetry. Don't force it upon yourself. Maybe you love to read poetry but the thought of writing it makes you want to vomit. Only write poetry if you want to.

Now, you could be asking, "what do I poem about?" Well, first, that's improper grammar. It should be "what do I write a poem about?" However, because poetry is pretty much rule free, you can throw out almost all grammar rules when composing a poem. But more on that later. To answer a simple question, write about what comes to mind. I write about past experiences that have really impacted me, good or bad. I've found that my most extensive, well-written poems, however, have been about the bad or traumatic events in my life. But if you want to write about that time your dog died when you were 7 because that's what gets your writer juices flowing, then that's what you should write about.

I write poetry mostly as a way of healing. I've found that while writing difficult experiences down in my diary helps a little bit, it also forces me to relive bad moments while I write it down. No detail is spared when I write it in my diary. For me, it's hard to write bad things down in my diary even if it helps. It's much easier for me to start with a poem, because then I can write in a broad sense of the events, the feelings, and the results that moment left on me. I write to heal. You may write to heal, or you may write just for fun or to bring happiness to yourself. But always write for you, not for someone else. Only after you've mastered writing for yourself and developed a true love of poetry should you then move on to writing for others.

How to Write Poetry

The most basic thing you need when starting to write poetry is an idea. You don't need to know how things end, but I usually find it easier to write about real- life situations rather than ones I have no experience with. The second thing you need to do after coming up with an idea is to throw almost all grammar rules out the window. If you don't want your poem to have any capital letters, get rid of them. If you don't want any punctuation, don't use any. Poetry is where you can ignore grammar rules and get away with it.

Now that you have an idea and have gotten rid of your idea that poetry needs grammar, we can move on to what poetry needs. There are three structural elements to a poem that all poetry has. It may seem like I'm contradicting myself there, but there is so much freedom that is still allowed despite this. A poem needs these following 3 things: lines, turns, and stanzas.

Lines in poetry aren't necessarily full sentences, they're just all the words on one line of text. Take the following excerpt from one of my poems:

"There’s a grief
that can’t be
except for

The bolded part of the poem is an example of a line. There are 11 lines in this one excerpt from my poem. Lines can be full, complete sentences or they can be a single word. It is up to the author. I try to place enjambments (place where a line ends but the thought/idea doesn't) in places that will have the reader wanting to know more or that will have the most intensity.

Turns in poetry are when you send the reader in an opposite direction than they thought they'd be going. You can't have a poem be written "happy, happy, happy." There needs to be a twist. Try writing "happy, sad, happy, happy, sad, scary." There are plenty of turns in that. Many times when poets write, they place the turn in the last line of their poem, but you can have turns wherever and whenever you want. I, myself, don't put turns in very often because I'm telling a real- life experience and that experience may not have a turn. But most good poems that are written for the reader and not the writer contain turns.

Lastly, Stanzas are just how the lines are grouped. A stanza could be one, two, or even seven lines, with a space between that stanza and the next one. It's up to the author how they group lines and stanzas. I generally stick to one thought, theme, or idea for each stanza and then move on. For an example of this, see own poetry example down below. Each time I talk about a different person I've lost, I start another stanza.

Example Poem

© Lauren Gantt
	"There’s a grief
	that can’t be
	except for 

	a role model
	and friend 

	year ago,
	no more nights playing video games.

	a bright light snuffed

	I wasn’t there
	when you

	because suicide has
	taken you
	and all I have left is

Thank you for reading this. I hope that you have taken something useful away from this article on poetry, whether it be a new interest in reading poetry or a burning desire to write some for yourself.
I'll catch you all next time.

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