Finding A Voice: Avoiding Generalized Poetry


One very common mistake poets make is a tendency to generalize. Finding the voice in your poetry is a difficult and sometimes daunting task. It's also as necessary as the imagery a good poem is riddled with. The voice of a poem does not need to be your voice, most often it will not be. The poem is very effective when the poet uses a different voice altogether as we can find some commonality or sympathy with anyone. So if you want to write a poem from the point of view of a serial killer, a cat, or a blade of grass waiting for the lawnmower to come, knock yourself out! (This is called personification.) Generalized, or broad poetry doesn't really have a specific voice, it is more about events or happenings that could be allusions to anyone.

It's important (and I can't stress this enough) to give your poem concrete images. Any time you use an emotion as the noun you run the risk of generalizing your work. Show, don't tell your reader what to feel. Metonymy is a good way to do this. Refer to one thing by using the name of something associated with it. (i.e. Instead of saying cat, say meow.) Other useful tools are symbolism and metaphors. (see my other hubs)


This is not to say that broad poetry doesn't serve a purpose. It can be meaningful to people if it's put in the right context and is fun (and easier) to write. I dabble in it occasionally, but don't often publish it. Here are some examples of my own broad poetry. This first one is one I wrote to share at my own baby shower, old ladies in tears.

A Stirring Inside Me

A stirring inside me

Patiently I wait

For the precious movement

Slowly, to abate

Oh, little one inside

Child of my heart

I can't wait to see you

For our lives to start

Special and beautiful

I start every day

Thanking God for the opportunity

To have you come my way

I think about the future

And what it has in store

For this child I already love

And will love more and more

A stirring inside me

I smile a little smile

Soon, my dear, soon I'll greet you

In just a little while

I wrote this one when I was trying to make a relationship work. I did publish it, but it's far to broad for truly great poetry.

Remember the Bad Times

Please, smile for me

Go on and show those teeth

Fill the house with photos

It still doesn't show what's underneath


Good times, great times

The best of times they show

No one takes pictures of the bad times

The times that help us grow


Please, for me, capture the sad times

Those that make you cry

The times when your anger takes control

When those you love cheat and lie


Yes, remember the bad times

But don't leave out the good

Keep it all together so,

Your life can then be understood


Too many people lock them away

And only remember good times

Everyone needs reassurance

So life can look so much more kind


But, please, love your bad times

And hold them to your heart

To make the good times better

So the great times can start.

This one was a eulogy, I should work for Hallmark.

For A Loved One

When I think back through the years

One thing was always true

A few people would always be there for me

And one of them was you


Oh, beautiful soul

As the tears stream down my face

Because in my heart, there's a hole

Nothing will ever replace


I remember a time when I was hurt

You were the first one there

You scooped me up and comforted me

My pain, you seemed to share


So many things you gave me

I feel honored to have shared the earth

With someone who was so special

And who had so much worth


Your steady love for your family

Your patience with a child

Your faith in God above

And your last bright smile.


Now that we've done all that, let's look at a poem I recently wrote, that isn't broad. See the difference? Now this one isn't really finished, still have some tweaking to do, but I think it's a pretty good example. What do you think? Let me know.

An Odd Odyssey

A dog eats its own offal,
an undeniably ugsome occurrence,
and too near the house grows
a beech. Frail branches scrape
over chipped graying paint.
old paint. lead paint.
The dog isn't dim enough to eat it.

It's inevitable, isn't it
that light should fade beyond the treeline
and grass should turn brown,
brittle beneath woozy summer heat.
Drawn to the beech, I have no one
to interpret this complexity
of leaf and root and longevity.

Ravens ate Anne Boleyn's eyes
(Did she really have six fingers on one hand?)
and all for want of an easy divorce.
The house sits, eyeless, on its hill,
usefullness long past. The bank took it.
The years took it.
Had I a child's choice, we'd have never left.

Through the years I can't cease returning
to gaze upon the torpid husk of my childhood,
no more than a shark could stop swimming.
The dog trots away as I watch,
feeling a certain kinship with it...
all creatures conjoined, made one,
by the shit squeezed stinking from our bowels.

Comments 32 comments

Snow Wolf profile image

Snow Wolf 5 years ago from Portland,OR

Very good hub.


Nikkij504gurl profile image

Nikkij504gurl 5 years ago from Louisiana

That last one was really awesome! I like it just as is. Good gub. informative.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado

The concept you address here is one of the biggest lessons I have to teach my middle school students about writing poetry every year. The concrete imagery in your final poem grabbed my immediately and lead me through a number of interesting thoughts and emotional reactions. The "general" poems you wrote I understood, but did not connect with emotionally.

Still, you make a point I had not considered before. Such poetry does have a use within specific contexts. Thanks for adding another touch of clarity to this concept!


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

TY Snow Wolf! Glad you enjoyed it Nikki! You have my permission to use any of my hubs you like to get the point across to your students wayseeker, just make sure to give me full credit for the actual poetry ;) For my name, message me and I'll be glad to give it to you privately. (Don't think that "Odd Odyssey" is necessarily appropriate to the middle school crowd, however... They'd find the ending too fun.)Glad you got something out of it though, and I have to give credit for the idea for this hub to R.S. Hutchinson, a creative writing teacher on Hubpages who didn't particularly appreciate my unsolicited criticism of his very fne poetry recently. (Even if it was a bit vague.) See there I go again. Anyway, I'm not appraising anyone else's poetry unless they ask me to from here on out. Though, I still think if you publish it, it should be ok to critique it. (FYI I'm not even going to read anyone's poetry unless they ask me to, lest my good intentions get the better of me again.) TY again to all my followers!


Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 5 years ago from United States

northweststarr I liked you Hub. You candor as well. Poetry is a whole different animal for each person that reads and writes it. I like poetry as there are no real concrete rules to it. Confining it to specific rules takes the freeness from it. I do like the poetry of yester year that followed rules but I also like the freeness of poetry where you just put down words that express the thought going through your mind. Great Hub!


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Um... poetry doesn't have rules... but GOOD poetry does. Especially form poetry. Obviously every poet has different beliefs and attitudes towards their work, and if you're only writing for yourself, I'd agree that you can write anything you want that has meaning to you. If you're opening yourself up to public criticism and all you can write is "Roses are red, violets are blue" you should be able to take the censure that will fall upon you. After all, nothing's really free except horseflies and hubris. lol


Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 5 years ago from United States

Aparently I hit a nerve...I apologize if anything I said offended you. I happen to think you can find "GOOD" poetry as you call it that doesn't follow distinct rules that has been published and sells well. I apreciate your response to my comment norweststarr.


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

Northwest Starr: (1) I like your comments on generalized poetry (which seems to be a crux of yours), but (2) I don't personally care much for either the "before" or "after" examples of your writing here, an odd odyssey indeed. By comparison, the item on your profile page, I Wish for Mountains, seems polished and professional, with potential, at least, for universal appeal.

(3) Re. appraisal permission, I would consider it an honor anytime you applied your formidable skills to as critical an appraisal as possible to any one of my poems or other writings, even to hurt my feelings if necessary, if you can (we can never learn too much about ourselves). It won't affect my "objectivity" about your work in the least, though it might inform my comments.


wayseeker profile image

wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado

Identifying good poetry...now there's a moving target. I think what makes it so challenging is that each poem creates its own rules. From my own perspective, I feel that any well-written poem follows some kind of "rules", though those rules are sometimes hard to see and can often fall far outside of the "traditional" rules many of us remember seeing in classical poetry. "Rules" simply means a consistency of pattern (something poets often establish and then break, even within the same poem). Writing with no patterns at all is not poetry--it's just words.

The trick to writing traditional "form" poems well is to follow the form while creating something that feels fresh and original. The challenge to writing "free" poems well is to embrace freshness and originality while establishing a sense of purpose and direction that the reader can understand and follow.

Some fascinating points of discussion here, Max, Naomi, and Star.

Keep writing!


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Wayseeker said it much better and less offensively than me... (Thank you for that)Naomi, I apologize for my initial knee-jerk reaction and hope I didn't offend you. I am a little blunt sometimes. Max thanks for your nice comment about "I Wish For Mountains," I think it's a fairly good example of a sonnet. Perhaps you prefer form poetry? Are you someone who has a need for order? Or is it just the content of the poem you don't care for? If you had a strong reaction to it at all, I've done my job. TY for appraisal permission! (I'm going to remind you of that) Seeker... I think you are now my favorite person aside from my immediate family. Any time you wanna clean up my messes when I put my foot in my mouth, feel free!!!


Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 5 years ago from United States

Northweststar I have to admit I felt my toes getting crunched a bit and should be capable of hearing a little of that especially from a lady who writes beautiful poetry as you have here and mine pales

In comparison and I too am a very outspoken gal so no hard feelings and I look forward to learning from you! Wayseeker thank you for explaining so well!


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

Northwest Starr, the good discussion here made me look past the judgments in your introductory comments, re-read the poetry, out-loud this time, and reach some new conclusions. Pls bear with me.

(1) "A Stirring Inside Me" is beautiful, quiet, elegant, both personal and universal. I apologize for my earlier flippant dismissal of it, esp. embarrassing bec. I sped-read past the fact it was your baby shower (not A baby shower). Pls publish this item separately, if possible, asap so it can get the attention and credit it deserves. This one will put you "in the book."

In my opinion, these others don't belong on the same page with "A Stirring Inside Me." (2-3) more ordinary, with some nice personal moments, but yes, good for Hallmark on a bad day.

(4) Such graphic physical images get public attention, all right, as Diogones proved long ago. The sub-realistic imagery in "An Odd Odyssey" might, as you imply, be funnier to a lot of people at a 13-year-old level than to people at other levels more likely to understand the point -- if they can only wade through the imagery to get to it. But not an un-useful exercise in poetry writing; I do agree with you on that.

Continue on, you have very great potential as a writer.


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Naomi, glad we could iron things out, not here (contrary to public opinion) to be offensive to everyone! Max, darn it, now I really have to get to reading your work when I get a moment. No, I will not publish "A Stirring Inside Me" seperately. It's fluff. (Decent fluff, but still fluff.)I'm starting to get the idea that you have no idea what you're talking about... As for "putting me in the book," which book were you referring to exactly? "Chicken Soup For The Soul?" God I hope not.


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

My poetry has nothing to do with it. It's no exemplar for you or anyone else's writing, just some recent rambles, I'm not a poet, never claimed to be, just play with it sometimes to amuse myself and a few friends I happen to have. You, on the other hand, are or I think could be a serious poet, but theory can defeat anyone in any line of work.


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

What do you think that means exactly? "a serious poet" I think that may have been a compliment, but it was such a backhanded one that I'm unsure how I wanna feel about it... (think I'm going to go with amused);)Maxi Have-licks, you can count me among one of the few friends you have, albeit seems more like verbal sparring. I can respect you as a philosopher if not a poet.

For the record: I am as serious as the Loch Ness Monster, Bush's unfailingly political correctness, and Cancer.(I'm just trying to be as random as you accuse me of being.) So, that is to say... A whole lot of not serious coating with a crunchy little serious center. Like peanut M&Ms or those little soap things you find in the urinals of nicer restaraunts' mens rooms. (Don't ask me how I know that.)

Also For the Record: "theory can defeat anyone in any line of work" is a very nonspecific statement. If you're trying to insult me in some way or another, please be more clear. That was a bit like wiggling your fingers on the sides of your head and yelling, "Nyah, Nyah."


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

No, I don't "waste time" insulting people. Is that what you're used to getting? "Nyah, nyah" is for White Soc fans (purists who think winning is everything); I'm a Cubbie (everything else in life is worthwhile too!).

Yes, you're right, I do have fewer friends than I would like (spent too much time roaming, and in the library), so TY for signing up for verbal sparring duty (what other kind is there?)

I don't mean "A Stirring Inside Me" doesn't need editing. Virtually all writers, and all writings, need serious editing to go in "the book" (aka any anthology of good current writing). Otherwise it would be more of a "wasteland" out there than it is.


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Maxi? Do I need to start a forum for this discussion? Cause I will...


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

Still too new to know yet what a forum is, how it works. I guess it's time I learned. But Maxi?! Who gave you permission . . . Aw forget it, coming from you, I like it, in a strange sort of way.


Matthew Weese profile image

Matthew Weese 5 years ago from Auburn

There is no voice inside my poetry,

The voice is in my head,

Some times I wish that I could stop it,

It rants and raves, ...My dread!!!!!


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Ooo, soo you're a dread head? lol


tom hellert profile image

tom hellert 5 years ago from home

NWS,

Poetry is like a greased pig for me-I know what it is I dont understand why it is what it is but I still dont seriously want to touch it. I gotta say your poetry was nice not just because i am a big fan of sharks and you mentioned one...

please note i am if nothing else i am honest and forthright,

Btw there is a picture of a pretty pregnant girl on the page - not to pry but are you expecting- I have 3....18,12,9 girl boy boy

TH


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

I have been lured back to hubpages by your good comments... sorry to everyone for being out the last few months. A new baby is extremely exhausting. He is now 5 months old and perhaps I can write again...

tom, poetry is not for touching. It's for tasting and hearing. The feel of the syllables being shaped in your mouth and the sounds of consanance and sussenance caressing the right hemisphere of your brain and then working their way to the left so that you can revel in the sheer audacity and cleverness of the phrasing...

I like sharks too.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 5 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hi, northweststarr, GREAT READ! Very well-written and masterfully-presented. Voted up and all the way. You have such an amazing talent. I admire that. My poems are strictly abstract/prose...two are on hubs, " . . .one evening at dusk," and "a Final Glimpse," if youd like to check them out. YOU may not like my poetry and I dont publish it that often for I am very insecure about rejection. But I will go and let you work. I am very proud to have met someone as genuine and creative as you are. And I am HONORED to follow you. Sincerely, Kenneth Avery from a rural town, Hamilton, in northwest Alabama that looks like Mayberry, the sweet little town on the Andy Griffith Show. Peace to you. And keep in touch!


tom hellert profile image

tom hellert 5 years ago from home

Q,

a baby- 6 months it gets easier once they sleep through the night your brains slowly return...

take good naps whil you can...

TH


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

To Northwest Star: I see you have returned.

Apparently I missed the recent news

your D-N-A had been unleashed upon

the world anew (comingled in this case,

of course, with that of your male mate), and now

a baby male, a son, belongs to you,

the most important person in his life,

whomever he or you might later meet.

Whatever might transpire between you two,

the agony and ecstasy now yours

will enter soon enough the wider world

where we await the person from your care.

I send congratulations, and good luck!

Max Havlick, Villa Park, in Illinois.


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

Maxi, Thanks... I think.

Don't worry. He takes after his father.

(You think you're so clever... and you might be.)

Thanks tom! Trying for good sleep. Define good.

Kenneth. Will check out a hub or two. Flatterer. Contrary to popular opinion, not all poets are narcissitic idiots. (Actually maybe we are, judging by the big grin on my face.)

You all rock! Will try to devote more time soon!


tom hellert profile image

tom hellert 5 years ago from home

NW,

A good sleep is supposedly 8 hours-

in that case- i have only had a good nigts rest maybe 3-6 timessince I got out of the hospital... So for me-a good night sleep is 5-6 hours at best....

TH


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

... That's about right. 5-6 hours uninterrupted would seem like a luxury to me right now... Or maybe just a night sleeping in my own bed and not on the couch.

I can't remember what sex was like... Oh, wait, that's what gets me into these messes...

--Starr


tom hellert profile image

tom hellert 5 years ago from home

NWS,

Sex- I'll tell you monday my wife n i have it scheduled for tomorrow....LOL-

funny to say that LOLLOL funnier cuz its true

HA

TH

sorry TMI


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 5 years ago from Washington State Author

See my new pic? Last night was date night!

BooYeah!

;)


tom hellert profile image

tom hellert 5 years ago from home

NW,

hubba hubba- date night i gotta try that ... maybe soon... my wife and i have lunch out together allot...

TH


Max Havlick profile image

Max Havlick 5 years ago from Villa Park, Illinois

Stay in line, Hellert!

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