Can you remember the first time you were asked to write a poem for class? Chances are it was pretty early on in your educational career. We're introduced to poetry through nursery rhymes and phonetic songs, but it doesn't stop there (and for good reason!). Poetry is an expressive and accessible art that predates literacy itself-- did you know it's actually considered the oldest literary genre?! If you're not super familiar with writing poetry, it's easy to be intimidated by the recurring poetry units that teachers, professors, and instructors bring around. Especially since a lot of lessons on poetry tend to focus on the more cryptic and antiquated forms of classical poetry (we know sonnets seem confusing but they're actually really fun once you get the hang of them). Have no fear, though! You're perfectly capable of writing an awesome poem for class-- we're give to give you a little shove and boost that confidence!
- Interpreting Poems. The cool thing about poetry, and all other forms of art, is that it's open to interpretation. There are a million different ways for someone analyze a poem and because we all approach the work from our unique perspectives and life experiences, there's never a right or wrong interpretation. If you've ever sat in class listening to people talk about what they thought a poem was about and couldn't relate, no worries! It's best to come from a place of your own understanding: don't focus as much on being correct, but rather than being honest to yourself. How did the poem make you feel? Did it remind you of a situation you've been in? Can you relate or is it all gibberish? Be honest with yourself and your instructors-- unlike math, literary interpretation isn't so cut and dry. Sometimes it's less about the technicalities and more about what you've taken away from the experience.
- Review the Rubric. What's the assignment asking of you? Try creating bullet points of the outlined requirements in order to achieve a good grade. Maybe the assignment is about form and you have to stick to cinquains or haikus; maybe the prompt is topical, and you have to write about a specific event or person. Whatever the instructor's asking of you, identify it and abide by the rubric. Once you've satisfied those requirements, you've gained more creative freedom to expand your work. Remember, you want to get a good grade (duh!). If there's something else that you want to write about and you feel like it doesn't relate, then write two poems! Don't allow an assignment to stifle your artistic creativity, but rather think of a creative approach to make the assignment your own while satisfying your instructor's requests. Even professional writers have had to struggle between writing what they'd like personally and following a given guideline, so you're in great company!
- Seek inspiration. If you don't find yourself inspired by the topic given, try to find inspiration elsewhere: read some poetry, watch videos of people reciting slams, listen to music that encourages the emotional tone of your poem. It's never okay to plagiarize someone's work; however, it is a great compliment to the poet if you write a poem inspired by their work. Think of a poem, song, or rap verse that resonates with you and use that as a sort of model to create your own version. This would be considered writing a poem "after" another artist and the title should indicate as such. A fun exercise is to write your own version of Shakespeare's sonnets where you modernize the context of the piece.
- Give Yourself Enough Time. If you want to write a poem that you're proud of it's probably best to give yourself time to write and edit the poem over. We highly recommend that you read your poem in your head and aloud several times in order to get a good feel for the rhythm of your poetic voice. Give yourself time to write and then time after that to change your mind. Planning written assignments out ahead can allow you to make a first, second, or even third draft. There's nothing worse than rereading your work on the way to class and realizing you could have done a much more awesome job if you had an extra day. We've all been there! Thankfully poetry is more approachable than you may think.
- Write it Out. Before you approach your assignment, get your creative energy flowing by doing a free write. Free writing is exactly what it sounds like: write something that isn't constrained by the parameters of an assignment. Using poetic devices like metaphors, imagery, and alliteration can help you to get into practice as you find your poetic voice. Once you've gotten comfortable, you can begin the task at hand. Write with the door closed, but edit with the door open. When you write your work, outside of satisfying the requirements of course, don't think too consciously about the outside interpretation and what critiques your peers might make about your work. It's difficult enough tuning out your own voice inside of your head and letting your creativity flow without inviting the pressure of others to the party as well. You'll have a much easier time writing if you focus on articulating your own artistic interpretation first. Once you've written the poem, allow for editing with the door open. This means that although you didn't allow outside opinion to get in the way of the writing process, it becomes a crucial tool in editing and refnining your poem. Being open to the opinions and insight of others can help you to clarify your intentions and clean up your poem. You got this.