Things to Look For in Poetry

by krstaten

The last thing I want to do here is paint myself as some sort of poetry expert. I’m still learning, and I have a LOT to learn.

In a discussion recently with a poet friend, we were talking about specific facets of poetry to get and leave feedback on. I think both giving and receiving feedback are great ways to improve your own writing techniques–in fact, in my experience, I both learn more about writing and get more excited about writing when I am leaving feedback on other peoples’ writing that is specific and detailed.

So what kind of features am I looking for?

TONE

  • Vocabulary – use of unique words that fit the mood of the poem; word arrangement and placement; combining words with similar connotations, or with vastly different connotations, to create new and unexpected meanings.
  • Sound – percussive, cacophonous, alliterative, hissing, soft, harsh/abrasive; when read aloud, the use of the phonemes within the poem to create sounds that match the meanings.
  • Flow – word placement, punctuation, and sound can change the flow from jerking/halting to rolling to rhythmic to stream-of-consciousness.

CONTENT

  • Imagery – What does it evoke? Peace, beauty, anger, fear? Certain colors and moods? Does the imagery contribute to any specific emotion or concept?
  • Symbolism – Cliche or original? Thought-provoking?

SUBTLETIES

  • Techniques used – alliteration, rhyme, repetition, parallelism, enjambment, etc; how each contributes to tone and content
  • Line breaks – contribute to overall meaning; direct eye flow; create emphasis, tension, and resolution
  • Visual – Does shape of the poem direct the eye? Create pauses and breaks that contribute meaning, not just with line breaks but within the line?

I realize this is by no means a comprehensive list. The list of techniques alone could’ve been the length of this whole post, if I’d wanted it to be. And not every poem will have all of these pieces, nor are all of them necessarily appropriate in every poem.

Above all, I’ve found that keeping a close eye on these facets of poetry in other peoples’ writing has made me more aware of them in my own. And again, I’ve got a lot to learn. A LOT. I’d love go hear any other facets of poetry that I’ve missed here, both in terms of writing and of giving critique, if readers can think of any; I’m sure there are plenty.

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