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.