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How to Write Prose Poetry: Ten Tips To Tighten Your Poems

Updated on February 10, 2016

Poetic Mood

The Art of Poetry Writing: Ten Tips for Tighter Prose Poetry

Many an aspiring poet, in a vain attempt to produce cutting edge poetry, merely imitates its form, disguising his own bland prose by simply breaking it up into bite-sized chunks of nearly unpalatable verse. But a poem is not a matrix designed for filling up with words like so many peas in a pan. Indeed, writing poetry is the art of creating the most impact using the least amount of words. And as it's density dictates, a poem must be slowly savored and digested in order to fully satisfy the malnourished soul.


Ten Tips For Tighter Poetry:

  • Read published poets past and present. Emulate their techniques. Employ their habits.
  • Use vivid verbs. I guarantee higher quality writing, or I’ll double your refund of linking verbs. “To be’ or not to be?” If that is the question (when it comes to verbs) then a resounding,“NOT to be,” has to be my final answer.
  • Remember, ‘Redundant’ rhymes with ‘Repugnant.’ Don’t repeat yourself. Dare to delete yourself. A writer’s thesaurus should have more mileage than Marty McFly’s Delorean.
  • Fearlessly face that first abysmal draft, and lose anything that compromises or dilutes your intended meaning. If you wind up staring down at five measly words on the page, don’t despair. You've just mined the raw diamond from the dusty mind. Now cut it and polish it until it sparkles with linguistic clarity and shines with poetic brilliance.
  • Revise Ruthlessly. No respectable poem ever galloped to a photo finish without a few practice runs around the track. . Even Secretariat had a trainer. With poetry, economy is key. Less is more. Never compromise when you can revise and revise and revise.
  • Establish a theme. It’s your message to the world. Writing a poem with no inner theme is like buying a Rolex with no inner works. It’s a complete waste of time.
  • Employ poetic device. A poem devoid of imagery seems as naked and lifeless on the page as a cold cadaver stretched out on an autopsy table.
  • Strive to be unique. The human condition is universal and the pool of poetic subject matter and its accompanying sentiment has been waded through more than a New York puddle. A good poet knows how to blow fresh steam into an old theme.
  • Avoid clichés. Like literary weeds, you’ll be surprised how often and how easily they creep into your writing. Root them up and yank them out before they choke all those freshly planted poetic ponderings.
  • Grow a thicker skin. Embrace constructive criticism from a trusted source, and be skeptical of those offering nothing but praise. Either they know zilch about poetry, or they’re related to you by blood or marriage. In other words, don’t ask mom.

With these tips in mind, you'll be producing engaging pieces bulging with strong images and identifiable themes, not murky masses of meandering messes. Writing decent poetry is never easy, but the serious poet aspires to greater heights, seeking honest feedback in an effort to avoid artistic stagnation. A serious poet is never truly satisfied.

© 2010 susan beck

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    • Douglas Redant profile image

      Douglas Redant 

      4 months ago from Europe

      I agree with these. When I encounter poetry I also dislike it if it's too long and does not have a clear message or theme. Poetry should clear the water and make it clear as a magnifying glass, not dilute it. Thanks. :)

    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 

      9 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks for the help. All helpful.

    • profile image

      Shilo 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for the tips, they will help to make me a better poet

    • profile image

      Johna498 

      3 years ago

      I appreciate, cause I discovered just what I used to be looking for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye ecbckbekefac

    • Joseph Frankina profile image

      Joseph Frankina III 

      5 years ago from San Jose, CA

      Well said! So many people do not understand how difficult it really is to write poetry. You can't just throw some lines about how you are feeling one day, make sure they are in a ABAB rhyme scheme and be done!

      Along with all you have mentioned, I like to focus with my students on the importance of the many other devices aside from rhyme. Rhyme is fine, but it must be done for a reason-not because "poetry has to rhyme".

      I even wrote a hub on this very thing. So many devices are out there to use. I would like to see more of them used appropriately!

      Thanks for sharing this.

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      5 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Thanks, Pearl...it's always so nice when you drop by...Truthfully, I've been involved in other artistic pursuits of late and have not been writing at ALL. I feel like I'm dried up, I swear! I'll try to start a new piece soon. Keep in touch and I'll do the same. Your friend,

      Sue (Steele)

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      5 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      You are one of my favorite poets here. I have found your style to be most refreshing and has helped (the untrained) me to understand the limitations of structure that I could play with within my poetry. So, you see, I have valued your efforts and really appreciated your comments on my works.

      I find it sad that many excellent poets here get so little traffic, though I am sure it is because there is such a lack of appreciation of good poetry here, from those in management. I have never had a comment from them on any of my works, even though my own reading traffic has come from 189 different countries.. So sure, please do write.. yours are the words that will last in time... and in reality should be published and read by the world... take the compliment.. hint and all.. and just know that way downunder you are suitably respected! Take care my friend..

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      5 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      ok pearl, I can take a hint... maybe I should do a little more writing, huh?

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      6 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Well.... I'm not going to tell you anymore that I like your work... because I can visualize really well and have to say that I see a whole lot of 'edit!' 'edit!' cuts all over my pretty po-hummms!!! However constructively, I guess I should add that your first 10 tips were, shall we say.... not-so-bad, but unfortunately I was unable to find the next 11-20 tips within your hub, let alone understand the point you were making with them! How disappointing... perhaps the oversight can be remedied with a really good second hub on the subject, that interlocks perfectly with this one.... thank you for having allowed the opportunity to read your work and appreciate that window's view to your heart... you take care and stay happy, you hear!

      Oh btw... I really liked the economy of the great advice given here.. lol

    • Darrylmdavis profile image

      Darrylmdavis 

      6 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

      Useful hub! :-)

      One additional thing that I am always mindful of are speech and breathing in particular to how they relate to line and stanza breaks. I will often find myself mimming a draft to see where I breathe or otherwise pause. This helps to give the poem a natural feel of structure and can further help to refine line-to-line or stanza-to-stanza transitions. Without this, many prose poems flirt with seeming like a long ramble which risks losing, distracting or simply alienating the reader.

    • Fraser Soul profile image

      Mildred Lucille Fraser 

      7 years ago from Bloomfield, CT

      Thanks for all the useful tips on writing Prose poetry.

    • bogpan profile image

      Bozhidar Pangelov 

      7 years ago from Bulgaria Sofia

      I want to ask what is cliché? What is the understanding of a teacher or a more serious definition of that term. Every word is a cliché when used more than once - that makes you a little poetic text in the text.

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      7 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Hi notquite-

      No I don't think you're a troll, not at all. We're all entitled to our opinions and you and I will just have to agree to disagree. But I want to clarify one thing and that is, I don't think the first draft is unimportant. I agree it's the place where the seed of truth and raw emotion resides. I just don't think it's ready to be read until it has been thoroughly edited. In my opinion, the editing phase where the real writing occurs.

      You always say you love my poetry and I'm flattered and appreciative. But what you love is the product of much editing and hours of work. I don't write a poem in five minutes. I write it over days, sometimes weeks. One poem I wrote took me a year and I still didn't like it when it was finished (it's called "flick" if you want to read it sometime) Anyway, like you, people who read my poetry respond positively, so I figure I must be doing something right... right?

      Some years back (I won't say how many, lol) I graduated from Penn State with a degree in writing (of all the twisted ideas!) and took numerous poetry courses from professors who were published poets and who expressed similar sentiments. Anyway, I'm no expert and I never want to come off as cocky or arrogant, but as a high school English teacher, I can attest to the fact that when my own students take my advice, the quality of their poetry improves. They can see it for themselves and they're proud of the final product. It's the result, however, of much work and dedication on their part.

      I tell them it takes a thick skin to be a poet. Not to mention a day job. :)

    • notquitecorso profile image

      notquitecorso 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I'm sorry Steele I truly love your work. I enjoy many authors on this fine site, and you have been a diamond in rough for me...someone I honestly admire...That being said I sincerely disagree with half of your points. Points 1,3,4,5,7 in particular. I'm sorry for nitpicking but these points are fundamentally against everything I believe about prose poetry. Point 1: I honestly don't think a free and unique voice has ANYTHING to learn from past poetry...sure we all have influences but emulating and studying them will only result in a stunted p.o.v. and filter the TRUTH that you are trying to convey. Point 3: Using a thesaurus is the rhetorical equivalent of spellcheck...it corrects and pollutes what we are acutally trying to say , filtering it through an imperfect and impersonal lense. Point 4: Your first draft is the MOST important component in honest writing...it chases the source of your inspiration and is a true reflection of your thoughts, ideas, and musings on the matter...Allen Ginsberg always preached "first thought, best thought"...IMO, don't try to filter that which is true and natural. Point 4 and 5: Editing IMO is eschewing in what we 'think' we should write from what we actually wrote...chase that first impetus! Don't be afraid of where it ends up...Prose poetry is a portrait of the mind moving and should be edited as such...minimally. Finally point 7: I disagree that without rhetorical devices and imagery your poem is "not even qualified to be named as such". Prose poetry takes on a great many guises and beauty and truth will ALWAYS shine through no matter the rhetoric...I have read poems with little to no traditional 'merit' and found them to be the most honest and impactful poems to me. IMO the most important trait is honesty...too often we write how we think others should like us to...mistaking what we 'should' do for that which has always been in front of us...These are just my opinions on prose poetry (a deep love of mine). You are much more talented than me and I hope you do not think me a troll. I just wanted to give you my perspective. I love your work.

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      7 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      I hope I don't come off as a know it all. I'm just passionate about poetry and have been studying it and writing it for many years. Don't be so hard on yourself. We artists and poets must remain in a constant state of flux or we're in trouble. I believe the willingness to learn, to grow and to change is the mark of a true artist, which you obviously are. Here's to your poetic soul.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 

      7 years ago from Australia

      One day i'm going to try to write a real poem, with these tips in mind. Cheers

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for the valuable and useable tips. Bookmarked for future reference and to heolp my writing practice!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Sharen Hansen profile image

      Sharen Hansen 

      8 years ago

      I have printed this, thank you! I write occasionally,maybe this will help me!

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      8 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Nellieanna: I don't know how I missed commenting on your post but thanks for the kudos. I do agree that there are many aspiring poets who need a little advice and encouragement, but either don't receive it well or don't adhere to it. I think the biggest problem is that they don't read enough good poetry. Then again, many write it for the sake of working through problems or emotions and that is therapeutic, no matter what the outcome. Anyway, thanks for your warm and welcoming posts.

      and

      Pamela: I hope you do decide to take the plunge. It is one of my favorite pastimes and I would love to read any poem you're inclined to write. So c'mon...jump in!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      These are wonderful tips for writing poetry. I love the idea of writing poetry but felt I couldn't write well enough. These tips will give me a reference that I am bookmarking if I decide to take the plunge. Thanks.

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      8 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Thanks for reading, Ralwus, lol.

    • profile image

      ralwus 

      8 years ago

      Well, I don't know a thing about it. I just write what I feel. Great tips though for those who can read. I hope some will take the challenge. Charlie

    • SilentReed profile image

      SilentReed 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      these are valuable tips that a beginner could understand and appreciate. I will put these on my desk as reminders .thank you.

    • Steele Fields profile imageAUTHOR

      susan beck 

      8 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Thanks to everyone for supporting my hubs and for the kind words of encouragement. I have to admit I was a little nervous about writing a how-to essay for fear of how it would come off. But poetry is so dear to me that I couldn't help wanting to share what I've learned over the years with others who are similarly afflicted. Again, many thanks.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I KNEW I liked you. These are some very valuable tips from someone with both knowledge of the subject and insight into the soul of poetry.

      This one should be displayed on any aspiring poet's refrig door:

      "A good poet knows how to forge a new stream from an old theme."

      So much so-called "poetry" is trite and worn-out stuff or seems to be contrived or spit-out trying to make poetry.

      Thank you for all of this!! By the way, HubPages is lucky you've joined! I know I feel that I am!

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 

      8 years ago

      Thank you for an excellent list of things to remember. I will also be bookmarking this one. Rated UP!

    • saddlerider1 profile image

      saddlerider1 

      8 years ago

      Thank you Steele for these wonderful ten tips, I will bookmark them for further study. I know poetry is tried by many as well as myself. Often though, thoughts are rambled and obscured by redundancy. Some like rhyme to every second line, I find rhyme difficult for me.

      I use my visual senses as I begin to write and try to form my text around what I see and interpret.

      Thank you for this lesson and great tips. Much appreciated:0)

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