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Poetry can be intimidating at first because it pushes you to see language from a new perspective, says Bryant's Eric Paul. He notes that it emphasizes language in a more experiential way and challenges the idea that language is solely functional for communication.
April is National Poetry Month: Become a poetry pro with these 7 tips
Apr 11, 2024, by Emma Bartlett
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Eric Paul admits he didn’t care for poetry right away. The History, Literature, and the Arts lecturer who teaches “Poetry Writing Workshop” and “Introduction to Arts and Creative Industries” became enamored with the genre when a high school teacher introduced him to confessional poetry and the work of Anne Sexton and Charles Bukowski.

“Before senior year, I had a very similar perspective on poetry that a lot of my students have,” says Paul. “They come in and think it's this niche thing that rhymes, is metered, and is very specific.”

On the contrary, Paul says: Poetry is extremely diverse with a variety of genres and philosophies that allow people to look at the works in different ways. In many ways, poetry is like music.

“At first, poetry can be intimidating because it pushes you to see language from a new perspective,” says Paul, who recently had poems published in The Ocean State Review and The Greensboro Review. “Poetry emphasizes language in a more experiential way and challenges the idea that language is solely functional for communication."

With April being National Poetry Month, Paul shares seven tips you can use when embarking on your own poetic journey:

1. Find your form

When Paul teaches new poets, he starts by diving into free verse and prose poems, which are two forms that dominate contemporary poetry. Free verse poems have no rhyme scheme or fixed metrical pattern and often use sound, imagery, and other literary devices; prose poems are written like a narrative but have poetic qualities like rhythms, imagery, and compactness. Test one of these forms or venture out and attempt a haiku, sonnet, or acrostic poem.

2. Locate poets you connect with

Paul notes that his students have an easier time connecting with contemporary poets’ work since the topics are more relevant. Much of contemporary poetry is first-person and tends to be confessional, discussing topics such as mental health or current social issues. Paul suggests exploring contemporary poetry — which will be from the past several decades — and taking a dive into the classic works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats, and William Shakespeare.

3. Jot down daily observations

Staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to hit can be cumbersome (and doesn’t always work), which is why many beginner poets find poetry prompts useful. Google prompts or invest in a poetry workbook to get the ideas flowing.

Paul also suggests tuning in to everyday life and keeping a journal — written or spoken — of daily observations: “There's so much to learn about ourselves and what drives us to write when we dive into our everyday experiences,” he says.

4. Lean into syntax and narrative

Syntax and narrative are two vital parts of any poem. Paul says syntax deals with the construction of each line of a poem and how powerful it is in terms of effectiveness, clarity, and enjoyment. Meanwhile, narrative involves understanding how you tell a story and why something is important to that story.

To learn more about these aspects of writing, he suggests reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Art of Syntax, Mark Doty’s Art of Description, and James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line.

5. Draw upon the experiential

Imagery is the most powerful tool for conveying feelings, according to Paul, since it creates a sense of experience for the reader.

“We learn best by experience and whatever is being communicated in the poem is going to have more impact and be more powerful if it's created in an experiential way,” Paul says. “It’s a way to make the narrative come to life; it becomes tactile, sensory, and immersive.”

6. Review your work

After writing your poem, Paul notes that you should take time to review your work. He says William Carlos Williams once likened poems to tiny machines — a concept he finds insightful when it comes to editing.

“I view each line as a component of this machine. It's essential to weed out or rewrite lines that disrupt the machine's effectiveness while emphasizing those that keep it running smoothly,” Paul says.

7. Seek other writers’ opinions

When you're learning to write poetry, workshopping is invaluable, says Paul.

“There's something about creating a piece and then sharing it with 10 people and seeing how 10 people view this piece that you created, for better or worse,” Paul says, noting that the only way to improve is to workshop and keep writing.

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