Tag Archives: poetry techniques

HOW TO EDIT YOUR OWN POETRY

I think I’m quite good at spotting what works and doesn’t work in other people’s poems, but I’m hopeless when trying to assess my own. To that end, I put this checklist together. It really helped me when self-editing my poetry collection: ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’. Hopefully, it will help some of you too.

The main trick was to pretend that I didn’t write the poem I was editing and to imagine myself as an impartial reader in order to gain a critical perspective.

I also used the questions below to analyse some of my favourite poems alongside my own:

  1. Is the first line attention-grabbing? Does it need to be, or is a subtle approach more effective?
  2. How strong is the voice? Does it feel like someone is talking directly to the reader?
  3. Would the poem be stronger if some parts were cut/expanded?
  4. Are there any little words that could usefully be cut: e.g. that, the, a, was, just, really. Some editors call these ‘sticky’ words.
  5. Are any words or images repeated? If so, is it done for a reason?
  6. Does the poem have a beat and/or some form of musicality?
  7. Is there a rhyme scheme? Is it there for a reason or just for convention? Is it satisfying? Is it consistent?
  8. Is there a theme/central question that is explored in an unusual/interesting way?
  9. Does the poem wrestle with a problem? Does it ask questions? Does it try to make sense of the world in some way?
  10. Are there dynamics such as a shift in mood or pace? Are some parts more dramatic than others? Does the poem build to a climax?
  11. Is there an effective structure? Is the text set out well on the page? If there is enjambment (run on lines) do these work well – is the last word on each line strong enough?
  12. How does my use of punctuation and capital letters compare with other contemporary poems? Does using capital letters at the start of each line make my poems feel old-fashioned? (In the end I used standard punctuation although I changed my mind lots of times as I was editing).
  13. Are there strong sensory images to help immerse the reader in the world of my poem?
  14. Does it feel original? What sets it apart from similar poems?
  15. Are interesting sounds created by the letters, e.g. onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance.
  16. Are there any engaging oxymorons like ‘shouted whispers’ or ‘hot fire’ to interest the reader?
  17. Are there any effective metaphors and/or similes? Are they fresh and precise or awkward/cliched?
  18. Are the nouns specific? For example, is ‘sycamore’ used rather than ‘tree’. Would using more specific nouns improve or detract from the general effectiveness?
  19. Are the verbs strong? E.g. ‘slurped’ rather than ‘ate’. Would stronger/more specific verbs improve the poem?
  20. Would the poem be stronger with fewer adjectives, e.g. beautiful, multi-coloured, huge.
  21. Are there any adverbs that need cutting, e.g. ‘slowly’, ‘carefully’, ‘grumpily?’
  22. Is there a lot going on? Is it confusing? Would a narrower focus improve it?
  23. Does the end provide an effective, satisfactory resolution?
  24. Will readers will remember this poem next week? Or next year?Why/Why not?

Once I’d worked through these, I spent a lot of time reading my work out loud and looking at it in three different formats: on my mobile phone, on a printed page and on my laptop .

I also used software to read out my work on the computer. The latest version of Word has this function, and I also downloaded and used the free version of ‘Natural Reader’.

Lastly, I used ‘Pro Writing Aid’ to check the grammar. Here’s the link.

Once the poems were as good as I could make them, I asked two trusted friends to read through them and suggest other edits. I was really lucky to have two people that were willing to be critical. (Thanks Declan and Ian – I’m so grateful for all your hard work).

So… this is how I approached my edits. Has anyone else got any tips? I’d love to hear them.

Or maybe you don’t edit your poems. Some people seem to get it right the first time. I wish I did.

Maybe it’ll be easier with my next collection. I haven’t started one yet but, if this one does well, I’d like to do a follow up at some point.

If you’d like to buy a copy of ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’, it’s available on Amazon for £7.99 as a paperback, £3.99 as an ebook and (if you’re on Kindle Unlimited), it’s free!

Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09J3QT5HF

the language of poetry

Even though I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, I’ve never felt very confident about using similes, metaphors and other poetic techniques. When using metaphors and similes in particular, I find it hard to avoid cliché and make them flow naturally with the rest of the poem.

Thankfully at the time of writing Thirty Angry Ghosts, I was reading and discussing at least one poem a week with other members of Suffolk Writers Group. These included some beautiful, inspirational work by Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Barrrett Browning, Louis McNeice and William Wordsworth.

As is the case with someone who learns a foreign language, the more poetry I read, the more the language of poetry got into my blood. After a while, metaphors and similes began to seep out into my own writing fairly naturally. It is only now, looking back, that I can see how many different techniques I used.

Here are some examples

Some of these I used consciously and some just came out naturally. If you are using these resources for educational purposes, you might like to note down which techniques these quotations use and (if you have time) how they bring out the themes and meanings in the poems whilst (hopefully) adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Repetition
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm
  • Alliteration
  • Consonance (like alliteration but the repeated consonants can appear anywhere in the word, not just at the start).

I have written a completed table below this one. Of course, your answers may differ from mine, especially the ‘Effect’ column. Poetry affects everyone differently after all.

Poem and QuotationPoetry TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’  
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’      
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’    
Abu Bakr II ‘we reveled in the salty spray’    
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’  
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’    
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’    
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’  
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’    
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’    
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’    
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’    
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’      

My Version – Don’t worry if yours is completely different. I just thought you might like to compare the two.

Like I said, I wasn’t totally conscious of all these things when I was writing. When I was editing, however, I worked hard to bring the techniques to the fore.

Poem and QuotationPoetic TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  PersonificationThis makes the flame seem like a conscious being which adds to the sense that it is wicked and dangerous after having taken on a life of its own.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’AlliterationI think the ‘m’ sound resembles someone calling for their mother but who is weakened or gagged. It is a mixture of a soothing sound and the sound of someone having restless sleep.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’Consonance and AlliterationThe ‘r’ and the ‘t’ sounds are intended to echo the sound of the rocks being rubbed against each other as well as hitting each other.
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’  MetaphorThis is a metaphor for love, taking the familiar, pleasant image of ‘silken locks’ and making her hair seem like a dangerous net or spider’s web.
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    MetaphorThe use of the knife metaphor adds to the sense of danger and fear.
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’  Metaphor and ConsonantsThe repeated ‘d’ sound and the repeated ‘u’ sound (assonance) echoes the sound of a drum.   This metaphor shows that Boudicca feels powerful, strong and no longer human.    
Abu Bakr II   ‘we reveled in the salty spray’AlliterationThe repeated ‘s’ sound echoes the sound of the waves hitting the deck.
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’Personification and alliterationThe repeated ‘w’ sound echoes the sound of the wind.
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’  PersonificationThe personification of the trees adds to the sense of Abu Bakr’s power in that even nature wants to praise him. This echoes the earlier phrase ‘the sun shone down a celebration’.  
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’  Metaphor    This emphasises how powerful her words were.
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ sounds are reminiscent of someone tutting which emphasises how stupid she thinks the men were.
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’  MetaphorThese images show how powerful she was but yet demonstrate how she was a symbol of hope, harmony and natural innocence as opposed to the violent cruelty of the men.
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’  SimileThis simile emphasises Henry’s distaste for women if they are unable to please him.
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’  Repetition and RhythmThe rhythm and repetition emphasise his outrage.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’  Alliteration, Rhythm and MetaphorThe repeated ‘s’ sounds are supposed to be reminiscent of the sounds of a river. The water metaphor demonstrates the power and soothing quality of the songs whilst the rhythm is meant to echo the music itself.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’  Rhyme, Rhythm, AlliterationThese are real, traditional Suffolk folk songs which I researched on the internet. I had a lot to choose from and I was pleased to find the half-rhyme with ‘fiddle’ and ‘bottle’ because, together with the alliteration and rhythm, it makes the stanza sound a bit like a song.
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’  OnomatopoeiaThe word ‘snip’ imitates the sound of a pair of scissors.
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’  AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ is supposed to echo the sound of the earth moving.
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’  Metaphor and AlliterationAgain the repetition of ‘s’ is supposed to echo the sound of moving earth. The metaphor of comparing knucklebones to bulbs growing is meant to be nightmarish but yet hint at the environmental theme in that life can come from death and vice versa.
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’    Alliteration, Repetition and RhythmThe alliteration, rhythm and repetition of ‘and’ is supposed to be reminiscent of verses from the Old Testament which ties in with the overtones of Judgement Day. It is also supposed to sound a bit like a spell or an incantation. As such, I am trying to make the reader question whether Mary’s actions are just and fair or whether they are cruel and inspired by revenge.