Poetry Writing Tips Explained: Tip One

A poem with Love in the title (or Destiny, Hate, or other HUGE themes) already has two strikes against it (and I like love poems).

One reason that people write poetry is because they have strong emotions that they want to release. That is a great reason to write! The problem is that a strong theme like love or hate has already had millions of poems written about it. Millions, in this case, is not an exaggeration. If you attempt to write a poem explaining love or another major emotion or theme, your will be walking a well-traveled path. It will be hard to distinguish yourself from what has come before you.

Robert Frost made the road less traveled a lasting metaphor, and in this case it applies perfectly to poetry. There is no reason not to write about love and hate and destiny. These fundamental human themes will stretch on long after we are gone. The key is to develop the theme in a way that has never been written before. This may sound daunting, but it is actually quite simple.

When you write poetry about a major theme, the roots of the poem should be in your experience. Tell your story. Love may be a difficult title for a poem, but The Way She Looked at Me Last Friday could easily be the title of a love poem I would want to read. The theme remains the same, but the path is more distinct.

I rarely set out to write a poem about a particular subject. I write what comes to me without planning. This is not the only way to write a poem. Many poets know exactly what they want to write about before they put anything on the page. My method, however, means that I almost never start with a title. Picking the title is generally my final task. In this way, I feel like I have a much better grasp on what the poem is about and how I want the title to reflect that.

To me, the title of a poem is like the door to a room. It is the first impression that you get, even before entering. It influences whatever comes after. Still, a large and forbidding door can lead to a comfortable room and a beautiful door can lead to a dungeon. Titles are the same way. A title can provide reinforcement or contrast. For an example, let me take the most overused poem in the history of poetry.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you

Now go back and read the poem, but imagine it had one of the following titles:

To My Love

Things I Never Wanted to Say

The Last Thing She Read

Code Talker

Each different title transforms the poem. Yes, the poem still stinks, but the meaning of the words must now be considered in their new context. The poem’s attitude and theme change under the influence of the title. This is why a major theme should not be the focus of your title. If we stick with the metaphor of a title being like a door, then the title Love is a sixty-foot high shocking pink door covered in roses. It is going to be hard to create a room that can match a door like that.

In the end though, the choice of title is up to you. Charles Bukowski used Love in the title of a poem, but the full title, Love is a Dog from Hell, certainly knocked the roses off the door. If you think your poem lives up to the name, call it whatever you want.

3 thoughts on “Poetry Writing Tips Explained: Tip One

  1. this is really helpful. I’ve been writing for a while but I never really did very good. my friends say that they are great but I know they aren’t any good. but I think that might change soon

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