Poetry: Exploration and Experience

By Mary Diane Hausman

Are you ready to abandon your poems? Before you toss your newest poem away, revisit it using some exercises that have proven helpful to poets who are feeling “stuck.” If you explore some of these ideas, you may be steps closer to placing your poetry in a well-known literary journal.

You can make submissions on your own, or hire some help. Every poem, on average, must be submitted to 100 markets before it is accepted. For poets, these numbers are sad, but true. Even the best poems must cover a lot of territory before they appear on the printed page. A reputable author’s submission service may offer you more time to write while they take care of the submissions. Remember that a good submission service screens potential writers for quality work. They don’t take everyone.

When writing poetry, a poet considers language. They also consider form, and may even consider audience. But that is not all. Though form serves as a vehicle or container, and audience can help drive a poem; and while it is language that gives voice to poetry, it is basically the root of the poet — the poet’s experience — that gives voice to the voice. Even when poetry does not reflect the poet’s direct experience, it is still filtered through her or his eyes. Both poem and poet are inextricably connected; one cannot exist without the other. The material from which the poet culls the poem is that which has been sown, tilled, pulled, dumped, dredged, fermented, stored, and often kept hidden all the poet’s life. If the poet feels brave enough, or even if she is terrified beyond belief, she will excavate this treasure and use it to lay a foundation. Foundation laid, the poet then uses language to form the structure, build the ramparts which hold the poem together. Having built the poem with the blood and bone and truth of her, the poet thus offers a monument that withstands even the critic’s wind. Or, at least the storm of self-doubt.

Following are some simple ideas for exploring poetry and using your own experience to create a poem. If you’d like in-depth technical information on form and poetry structure, there is a brief list of recommended books at the end of this article.

  • Practice using your voice by writing a poem about a life experience, a memory, a desire, or a belief.
  • Write a poem about your name. You may do this in either a positive or negative light — whatever is meaningful to you. You may even pick a name you like and write a poem about that name, making it your own.
  • Select a poem written by someone else; write your version of the poem.
  • Select two poems by different poets which contain the same theme. Write a couple of paragraphs comparing the poems.
  • In your own words explain what you think makes a “good” poem.
  • Pick a topic you dislike and write a poem about it.
  • Try writing song lyrics. Compare your lyrics to a poem you’ve written.
  • Read some material on different structures of poetry (iambic pentameter, rhyme, sonnet, etc.). Write a poem with the same theme in each specific structure. Pick at least three different structures.
  • Write a poem explaining poetic rhythm.
  • Explore and write examples of lyric and narrative poetry.

Some books on poetry worth owning:

Exploring the ideas listed above may help open new doors for your writing. In addition to your poems being well crafted, they must be submitted regularly and extensively. Beat the odds with strong writing COMBINED with a powerful and tenacious submission strategy. •

© 2005 Mary Diane Hausman. All rights reserved.