Basic Rules for Great Poetry

While poetry is most often seen as a ‘free-flow’ or emotional exercise, poetry has a long standing history of rigid form. (Shakespeare anyone?)

And while using a free write exercise for poetry has its place, there is something to be said for using a healthy balance of emotion and form to create a spectacular poem.

To find a good balance for your poetry, try some of the following suggestions:

1. Figure out your form: Whether you chose to write a sestina or a free verse poem, sometimes choosing a form can help get your creative juices flowing. And remember–you can always modify the form after you write the poem, or even while the poem is being written.

2. Line Breaks: No matter what form you’re using for your poem, well placed line breaks are key to the way that your poem comes across to readers. Use shorter line breaks to make your poem have a faster pace, and longer ones to make your poem read more slowly. Be sure that you read your poem out loud after you’ve written it to make sure that you change any lines that may appear to break in awkward places.

3. Grammar; it’s not just for essays: A problem that we sometimes see here at Superstition Review is poetry that lacks (or sometimes overuses) grammar. Remember, in a poem, a comma still acts as a small pause, just like a period signifies the end of a sentence. Therefore, a free verse poem that is written without using periods is like one large run on sentence (not to say that this can’t be done, it can: but it’s hard to pull off successfully). So when it comes to grammar, tread carefully.

4. Imagery: Using images that help your readers ‘see’ and really understand what you are trying to say in your poem is important because it makes the poem more real to them.  Images are concrete pieces of an intangible expression that allow poetry to be shared by people everywhere. While imagery can sometimes represent emotions or deeper themes, a poem without any imagery stands to lose the interest of its audience and come off as paltry at best.

5. Remember your audience: While it’s sometimes easy to write poetry for the pleasure of releasing ideas or emotions, if you plan to publish a poem you need to make sure that it will be understood by your audience. That means using very little ‘inside knowledge’ (meaning, something that only you understand) or rambling on without any purpose or in a way that is confusing to your reader.

If you have any questions regarding our submission guidelines at Superstition Review, feel free to visit our Submissions Page or e-mail us with additional questions.

Editing Poems

PlathWhen people think of the editing process, they often think that poetry is excluded. There seems to be a stereotype that poems are a one-step process: that you either write a great poem or you don’t. That’s actually not the case–many poems that are considered great by the literary community are the product of diligent editing.

To use a more contemporary example, let’s look at Sylvia Plath: while she didn’t edit her poems quite as much as her contemporaries, a book wholly dedicated to her original work has recently been released. (Though in all fairness, some of those original poems were released in 1981 Collected Poems by Ted Hughes). One book that shows Plath’s true intention for her poems is Ariel: The Restored Edition.The Restored Edition

While the original Ariel was published by Ted Hughes in 1968, Hughes re-arranged the order of Plath’s poems and took away 12 of the poems that Plath intended to be included in Ariel, replacing them with different poems that Plath didn’t set aside for publication in her manuscript of Ariel. But according to Publishers Weekly, Ariel: The Restored Edition “restores the 12 missing poems, drops the 12 added ones, and prints the manuscript in Plath’s own order, followed by a facsimile of the typescript Plath left.”

But what does all of that have to do with Superstition Review? Well, because we’re a literary magazine, we not only receive poetry that has already been through multiple edits, but we also edit poetry that we receive if we feel that we want to publish a particular poem that needs some minor changes before it’s ready for print.

But you don’t need to be an editor or part of a magazine staff to edit poetry. Whether you’re a writer or someone who may be curious about the editing and publishing industry, the ability to enhance a poem is an important asset. While reading and being exposed to many different forms of poetry will be key to helping you recognize what should and should not be in a poem, there are some basic rules to make sure that any poem is on its way to being ready for publication.

Check back tomorrow to find out some basic rules for making a poem the best that it can be!