The freshness of January is beginning to filter out with the rearing of February’s chilly-weathered days. As we writers sit, bundled in sweaters and scarves and rubbing our hands together for warmth, we know one thing is quickly coming toward us: the dreaded cliché love poems of Valentine’s Day. February is often a time where poignant prose can begin to slip into a gooey, gushy wreck of words. It is understandable for writers to feel the need to put their emotions on paper, but before we begin giving our poems away, we must make sure that they truly evoke what we intend, and we are not just simply writing things we have heard millions of times before.
I have found that a key to writing poetry is to not force your words. Poetry shouldn’t be regarded as something extremely strenuous—your words should flow naturally. Often times when I write a poem, I will begin simply by writing without thinking. This often leads to messy line breaks and confusing phrases, but those can always be cleaned up during editing. The most important thing to think about is getting out what you have to say. Each poem must have a clear intent. Otherwise, you will turn readers away because they will have nothing to connect or hold on to.
In my own poetry class, my teacher had us find lists of cliché words and then write a poem using every single cliché word in a non-cliché way. We used words such as “dreams,” “wishes,” and “shadows”—all words which are commonly associated with the same feelings in poetry. Dreams and wishes are associated with hope; shadows are associated with looming fear. This is an excellent exercise to try out when fighting against clichés. The exercise makes you turn words on their heads and examine the ways you are using them. The more aware you are of the words you use, the less likely you are to use them in typical ways. Inventiveness is always honored in poetry.
The main goal is to keep writing. When you write often and consume as much poetry as possible, your writing will automatically improve. Following these tips will surely prepare you with plenty of pieces to be able to show-off—whether it be to your Valentine, or if you hold off on sharing your work until April, when National Poetry Month will be rolling around.
-Raegen Carpenter, Poetry Editor