Why do people write poetry? Some might believe writing poetry is only for lovers and poets, but that's not true. Writing poetry (like music!) can capture parts of the human experience in ways that prose can't.
Let's look at why you should try to write a little poetry today, especially if you don't consider yourself a poet.
One year as I set writing goals, my boss suggested that I take a poetry class. I laughed until I realized he was serious.
I have always written nonfiction—business books, blog posts about life lessons, writing I thought was practical. For a long time, I thought poetry was just for mysterious literary writers. But I was wrong.
There are real benefits to writing poetry like expanding your language skills and your ability to capture emotion with words: skills that will help you as a writer, no matter what genre you write in.
What Is Poetry?
I used to think poetry was one of two things. It was either the kind of writing famous poet and playwright Shakespeare wrote, which required following a formula and counting each syllable. Or, I thought of it as lines that ended with words that rhymed, like The Cat in the Hat.
I’ve come to find that poetry is more than syllables and rhyming. Poetry is actually defined by the OED as literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.
That means poetry can be almost anything. It simply needs to be writing that expresses feelings and ideas with style and rhythm. You can do that.
So then, why?
Why Do People Write Poetry?
Here are three reasons why you should take the risk and write some poetry.
1. To Deepen Your Understanding of Language
Poetry forces you to search the language for the perfect word. Instead of saying how someone “slowly walks through the door,” you might instead say they “enter casually.” In poetry, you must choose each word carefully, as it has to fit with the rhythm and style of the whole piece.
Writing poetry requires you to express a thought of feeling almost melodically, making the words on the page invisible. The only way we develop this style and skill is to practice.
Try and fail and succeed and keep writing.
Write poetry because it will force you to deepen your understanding of language and how you use it.
2. To Learn to Break the Rules
I often think that rules are in place to be broken. While our editor may disagree, I believe a sign of great writing is not just breaking the rules, but learning to create your own. That’s how rules are created in the first place.
In poetry, you are allowed to break more rules. You’re allowed to use grammar to create a rhythm, not just to separate dependent clauses. You are not bound to a certain length for poetry, either. Some poems can be as short as a few words, while others, like The Illiad, are hundreds of pages.
(This is not an excuse to not know the rules or to break all of the rules. They’re there for good reason. We need them. We also need to not take them so seriously if we want to become great writers.)
3. To Write Better Prose
The greatest reason to write poetry is because it will make all of your writing better. I promise you.
Poetry gives you a deeper understanding of the language and it allows you to see your writing differently. Poetry enables you to express yourself and your ideas better.
Take Shakespeare for example.
Shakespeare began his career as an actor and a playwright. In the middle of his career, in 1593 & 1594, the theaters were closed due to the plague. During that time, Shakespeare began to publish poetry.
After these two years, Shakespeare went back to writing plays again, but something had changed.
Previously, Shakespeare had written mainly comedies and histories. After taking the time to write poetry, he wrote dramas and tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. These later works are considered some of the finest works in the English language.
If you've never written poetry, it can seem like a daunting challenge. Don't be intimidated.
We too often limit ourselves in our writing. What we ought to do is press ourselves to become better writers, and we do that by writing what we're scared to write.
To write your own poem, start with these three steps:
1. Observe the world around you
This could be noticing something from your everyday life like the school bus driving through your neighborhood or the flutter of a bird's wing. It could be hearing a child laugh or watching a dog run circles or tasting a perfect cocktail.
Pay attention to the sensory experience, and begin to list the specific concrete details that embody that moment. Ask what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
2. Choose one image and use clear concrete details
You don't have to aim for formal poetry with a strict sense of form or syllables (unless you want to!). Play with trying to capture the image as faithfully as you can.
What do you see? Describe it specifically, using as concrete language as you can. What do you hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Lean into those sensory details.
You'll likely find yourself hunting for the right word to capture the moment—that's good! Use words that help the reader experience the moment with you.
3. Connect to something more
Once you have a clear image, consider what it reminds you of. Here, you can be more abstract– love, beauty, freedom, etc. What does the image seem to evoke about that ideal? Try to subtly make the connection.
For example, if I notice an ant crawling across the patio with a bright pink fleck of nail polish in its grip, it might make me wonder about what the ant is doing—is it building a home? Mistaking the polish for food? Either of those ideas is ripe for a poem: the scraps that make our homes beautiful or the dissatisfaction of trying to digest beauty.
Play with language and see what happens! Even if you don't like the poems you create, the practice of capturing imagery and emotion will make your own sentences stronger. Give it a try today!
Have you ever written poetry? Has it made you a better writer? Let me know in the comments below!
Take fifteen minutes to write a poem. It can be about anything you'd like. It can rhyme or not rhyme, follow a pattern or not.
Unleash your inner Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, & Emily Dickinson. When you're done, share your poem in the Pro Practice Workshop here, and leave feedback for a few other writers.