The Four Fundamentals of Poetry

Are you an aspiring poet? Someone who wants to cause hearts to bleed at the blade of their literary sword? But you’ve been writing poems and for some reason they’re just not hitting home. There’s something missing in their very depths?

Today I want to dive into the four fundamentals of creating poetry. It seems as though poetry is some unknown art, an unspoken melody that some people can create, and others only strive to. But today, we’re doing much more than striving. We’re actually learning how to create poetry that breaks people’s hearts. 

Find an emotion

This might seem rudimentary and easy, but trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds, because poetry requires not only an emotion, but a raw honesty and vulnerability that is hard to offer. As humans, we shun the concept of being weak, and while we crave the idea of others being vulnerable and “real” with us, we still try to keep a wall between us and the persona we try to maintain. 

In poetry, there are no personas. There are no images that we try to uphold. There’s only us, our words, and the honest emotions that pulse in our veins. 

Find that emotion. My best works are written when those emotions overwhelm me. But I’ve also realized that having a reactive approach to poetry isn’t always healthy or realistic. So when I need to write a poem, and yet lack the overwhelming emotion, I search for the last emotion I felt, and I summon it back to me. 

You don’t have to stick with just one emotion, maybe it’s a tangle of multiple emotions, like in my poem. 

Visions pass before my eyes
Secrets twinkle under fairy lights
As we all pass away
I just wanna live another day
I just want you to sit there and say
That you’ll help me from fading away.
Clear drinks clink in harmony
As I sit and try to dream
Of what it’s like to pass away.
I just wanna hear you say
I just wanna stop and make life pay
Because it’s just all fading away.
Money’s empty, you found a nickel
Maybe it’s hopeless or maybe it’s fickle
Last I checked both fade away.
I just wanna last another day.
I just wanna look up and lay
Because it’s all fading away. 

Weave together the emotions, as I did with jealousy, apathy, and loneliness in the poem. Find your emotion, and create it for whoever’s going to read your poem. 

Paint a picture

Emily Dickinson is well known for her iconic word pictures in her poetry. (For example, “Hope is a thing with feathers.”) Good poetry doesn’t only make you feel, it makes you see something that isn’t there. A comparison you would never have imagined otherwise. 

Once you’ve found your emotion, think of what makes you feel that. Some poets resort more often to nature, others resort to interpersonal connections, while others resort to describing wars and pain. Find what creates your emotion, and paint it. 

For example, in this poem from my poetry book, Fifteen, I use different word pictures to paint stress, and the releasing of it. 

Gentle, the raindrops wash away my tears,
The warmth quiets my fears.
Heat loosens my muscles, easing my pain
Washing away the assumptions on my name.
Grief, pain, fears, anxiety, depression,
Water washes away their deepening impression.
Humid air fills my lungs,
Letting go of the trouble that to everyone belongs.
My heart beat slows, letting in peace
The tangled web of thoughts cease.
Lavender scent soothes and fills my nose
Bringing gentle thoughts that help me repose.
Rough and warm, the towel dries,
Wiping away thousands of lies.
My mind is a liar and it continues to deceive,
But tonight the thoughts are quiet and leave.
Fluffy socks kiss my raw feet,
My bed sinks as I take a seat.

There’s a saying in writing that you have to show and not tell, and nowhere is it more important than in poetry. Search the world around you for pictures and emotions, and then add them to your poetry. 

Edit your creation

For some reason, when I first started poetry, I thought it was a one try type of thing. You either got it first shot, or you didn’t get it at all. There was no going back to fix your work, because that was cheating. Listen, in all art, editing is allowed. It’s not cheating, it’s actually an art in and of itself, being able to discern what is valuable and what still needs work. 

Allow yourself to edit your work, and allow yourself to show it to others. An isolated artist is never going to grow, because their only critic is themselves. And how can you learn from yourself if you’re the one creating?

Edit. Allow your work to change, to grow as you allow yourself to grow in your art. 

Build the puzzle

Poetry is a puzzle, a puzzle of words that need to be built in the reader’s mind. And I find it the most fun to build the puzzle for others to rediscover. In writing, you’re taught to chart the different major events of the book, the acts and their climaxes. In poetry, you have something of the same thing. 

The major moments, the places where the dagger is plunged into your reader’s heart. Or the places where the emotions shift, the swell of the meter bringing them in a totally different direction than you first expected. 

Work hard to build your puzzle. Of course, each puzzle will look different, especially depending on the style of your poetry, but remember that as you write. 

You’re painting the puzzle and cutting the pieces. Make sure to do it in a way where someone else can piece it back together. 

And there’s the four fundamentals of poetry! If you’re a poet, who is your greatest inspiration? And if you’re just a poetry reader, which poetry book do you want to read next?

6 thoughts on “The Four Fundamentals of Poetry

  1. Jaya Avendel says:

    I so love that finding the emotion is one of the biggest fundamentals of poetry here! After the emotion is discovered, imagery becomes a conduit for that emotion, followed by the amazing polish of a good round of edits. Definitely essential. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stuart Danker says:

    While I write in various genres, I’ve never really gotten around to poetry, and it feels like a totally different world despite still being writing. Am always open to learn more, so thanks to your post for shedding some light on this!

    Liked by 1 person

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