Poet and funny-man Joshua Seigal has shared with us his top poetry tips for young writers
I recently had a fantastic experience running an online poetry session with students at The British School, New Delhi. As part of the session, I was asked to provide a list of ‘top tips’ for poetry writing. I realised that, whilst I do indeed have many ideas, I had never before written them down in a list. With this in mind, I would like to share what I came up with. This is a very general list of my top poetry writing tips.
- Read widely
It is hard to be a writer if you are not a reader. Try to read all different types of poems, and discover something you like. Try to find a poem that makes you think ‘I could do something a bit like that’. A good place to start is my website www.joshuaseigal.co.uk
- Write about things you care about
If you care about the object of your writing, you are more likely to care about your writing itself, and your poem is more likely to come alive. There is no right or wrong way of doing this; it’s very personal. I write a lot about food, family, animals, school life and memories, because these are things I am interested in. I tend not to write very much about plants, say, because I am not particularly interested in them.
- Write how you speak
This varies from poet to poet, but personally I try not to say something in writing if it would sound unnatural to me if I spoke it. This means that the words I write in a poem are normally words I would use in everyday speech, and the rhythm and syntax tends to mirror that of my everyday speech too.
- Practice reading it aloud
With the above point in mind, read the poem out loud during the writing process. You don’t have to wait until you finish to discover what the poem sounds like. Does it sound how you think it should? Does it sound natural or unnatural to you?
- Begin at the end
Some of my poems are a bit like jokes, with a punchline or revelation at the end. Others are not jokey but do have a final moral or a message. Have a go at thinking about the message or idea you want to leave in the mind of the reader, and keep this in your mind when you start your poem.
- You don’t have to rhyme (all the time)!
Rhyming is very difficult, and often unnecessary. Other fantastic techniques include repetition, metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, alliteration and repetition. Did I mention the repetition?
Go over and over it. Check the verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs in turn - have you used the best ones for the job? I spend the majority of my writing time on the editing process; it might be a good idea for you to do this too.
- Try to make it look like a poem
Poems tend to appear different to stories when you glance at them on the page. Again, there is no right or wrong way of doing this, but very generally: poems have varied line lengths, whereas stories tend not to. Try to make your poem look like a poem. And with this in mind:
- Play with words and ideas
Poetry is very playful. I became attracted to it simply because I love words, and I think of poetry as playing with words. Inherent in the idea of play are concepts such as freedom of expression, and a lack of fixed rules. Nothing I’ve said in this list is a rule, they are only ideas. Perhaps the most important idea, I think, is simply to have fun with words.
Joshua shared with us some of his favourite poems from his new book, Yapping Away, an engaging, clever and thoughtful comedy collection of outrageously funny poems, check them out!