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Advice for Novice Poets... by Matt Alton



Start with a simple descriptive piece about an image that captures your imagination. It's springtime (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) so go outside into some wild place and look all around you. Use all five senses to really experience the world. Pick something out. Don't try to make it "poetic" at this point. Just write down some descriptive lines...i.e., Old grey shattered tree with moss and young flowers growing in its hollow trunk.


Next, write down what the images you describe might symbolize -- in this example, maybe death giving life to the living, renewal, some such. The cycle of life. Next, write down how you feel about all of it. This is how you want to help the reader feel. You are conveying an image and evoking an emotion. Keep it simple and direct.

Then, once you have these materials, go home to your scrivening cave and invent a ritual that you will use every day to write poetry. Sit in your comfy chair and pour a glass of wine (or root beer if you're a youngster) or pack a pipe. Light incense. Whatever you like. Sharpen your pencil (always use pencil), practice zazen, anything that helps you become calm and focused. Do it every day in the same way. Repetition is essential. Look at your notes and try to figure out how they might go together. A visually descriptive line followed by a sad line followed a lovely and hopeful one. Some such. Once you've got a structure you can start searching for better adjectives and nouns. This is where you really get to start being "poetic." Make something that seems like a poem to you.


Next, get people to read it and give you some honest feedback. Did it work? Did they like it? Was it confusing? Collect some critiques and see how you feel about them. Use them for whatever purpose they can serve. Rinse and repeat.


Oh, and read my book. Heheh. See what I did there?

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