Friday, 4 December 2009

Changing the Course of a Poem

There is no one way to write poetry; no one way to choose the right words.

Sometimes you will choose words to fill in and to finish a poem that already has a set mood and a set structure. At other times, a word choice, especially early on, may determine where the poem leads. For example, look at the difference between choosing the word "inn" versus choosing the word "tavern" in the third line of these poem snippets.

I'm telling you a fine joke
About a girl and a bloke
They met in a tavern
Then fell into a cavern

I'm telling you a fine joke
About a girl and a bloke
They met at a roadside inn
Bet on darts, to see who'd win

You can see that, particularly in rhyming poetry, the word you choose can change the whole direction of the poem. Will the above poem be congratulating the dart competitor or wandering into caves?

So, if you have the idea for your poem pretty clear from the get go, you will be picking your words to make sure that the poem ends up telling the story that you intended. Otherwise, if you just have an inkling of what you want to say, or in fact, how you want to start (but no clue how you want to finish), then just start writing and play with the words. You may have a topic:

--I want to write about friendship between a man and a woman.

Or you may have a few exact words (excerpted from The Bride Wore White )

The bride wore white
the groom a kilt

From here, you'll be going for the sound, the feeling, the mood, the meter, line by line. Have fun selecting the words. You can tentatively choose words for one line of your poem and then see how that word plays out in rest of the verse. Does it make sense? Can you complete the verse or are other words just not happening. The word "orange" isn't the only word that has few or no pairings. If you get stuck, then you can leave your poem rest for a while and take a look at it later; or you can find a synonym that does work.

So don't get too frustrated. The words you choose may just lead you to write a different poem than you thought. And it may be a better poem than the one that you set out to write!

Mindy Makuta. Her poetry may be enjoyed at To find books, audio books and other educational media, please explore Mindy and her husband own a small resort, Stone Mountain Lodge and Cabins, in Lyons, Colorado where they host outdoor weddings and family reunions.

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