Below is a list that I compiled with students in my poetry class.
Obviously there are great poems that include elements on this list; however, these are words, phrases, rhyme-patterns, metaphors, etc that I've found are overused by writers new to poetry, and the use of these elements or words can and, most often do, result in one-dimensional, cliché poetry.
- centre justification
- capping first letter of every line
- overly dramatic or overused words such as tears, soul, quivering, being, yearning, pain, existence
- hearts/heartbroken/hearts beating/bleeding hearts
- love poems (I love my parents, my boyfriend, my grandparents)
- poems about homeless people (unless you’ve been homeless)
- excessive use of abstract words like hope, joy, love, alienation, loneliness
- predictable hard end-rhymes, sing-songy rhymes
- referring to the sky as inky
- using the description blue-black
- using different font sizes or types
- cliché phrases or dead metaphors as in “cherry red lips” or “out like a light” or her "sea blue eyes"
- references to stars in the sky
- excessive use of adjectives
- excessive use of “ing” words – climbing, falling, pumping, yearning, glinting
- using sound effects: crunch, crunch, crunch
- antiquated language – thou or shall or wanton
- avoid vast generalizations or general language
- pat poems - poems that are closed because the poet directly explains the theme of the poem to reader or the metaphor is so obvious that the poem becomes one-dimensional
- trick poems - poems that trick the reader to thinking that he or she is reading a poem about a person and then we find out that the subject of the poem is really a dog or bird
One of the most effective ways to learn how to write contemporary, publishable literary poetry is to read poetry that was published, in say, that last ten or twenty years.
This is the hard part because there's a lot of stuff out there that you won't like.
But go to your local bookstore or library and start pulling books off the shelves. Read a few lines from each poet and ask yourself--what draws you in, what makes you stop reading?
Buy the books of the poets you like and read them over and over. Underline favourite passages and try to figure out what these writers are doing that has had such an impact on you.
Then go back and look at your own poems from the point of view of a reader.
How-to books are okay for learning the elements of poetry, but your teachers should be other poets.
Ed. Kathryn Mockler was the featured reader at the November 2012 London Open Mic Poetry Night. She has an MFA in creative writing from UBC, has been published in many journals, has two collections in print, has had her work screened several times on television and screened at a number of festivals. Currently she teaches creative writing at UWO and co-edits the UWO online journal ‘The Rusty Toque” at www.therustytoque.com.