I’ve had a lot of experience with poetry. I began writing it as an emotional outlet around the age of 12 and yes, I have many of those poems still, not that they’re salable. I became more serious about the genre in my twenties and began taking university courses, earning a degree in Creative Writing, which covered the poem as one of three forms.
I’ve written hundreds of poems, published over a hundred and have as many unsold. I am an assistant poetry editor at Chizine, have edited a few books of poetry and have just finished some preliminary judging of the Rannu poetry competition. I’m still learning much about writing poetry and there are a few things that people should consider when writing and considering whether to submit their poem.
A hundred years ago, structured verse was common; it had a rhythm, it had end rhymes and it may have had internal rhyme, plus other styles such as assonance, consonance, alliteration, etc. The rigors of study for such forms is not equaled today. In fact, the fashion of end rhyming a poem has fallen mostly out of favor because people aren’t trained to do it well and therefore make horrible rhyming verse. There are editors, like Chizine’s, who won’t even look at it. From time to time we might but on average it won’t get very far and is a waste of the author’s time. Yes, we’re biased and with good cause. It’s often bad bad bad.
There are exceptions to rhyme and rhythm and that is if you are doing an older form of poetry that requires rhyming lines or a particular structure, such as haiku, villanelles, sonnets, roundels, etc. But they take practice in working the form and making good choices for rhymes. So overall, if you’re a new writer, don’t rhyme. There are many magazines that will not buy rhyming or formal verse of any kind.
There are then the many overused metaphors and clichés that we recommend you don’t use in a poem because it’s a surefire way to get rejected. Of the top of my head, here are a few: my heart drums, twinkling eyes, fluffy kittens, fit as a fiddle, the eye of the storm, the tip of my tongue, heart on your sleeve, mad as a hatter, heart of gold, and on and on. If you’ve heard it too often then it shouldn’t be in a poem. Sometimes a poet plays off of a metaphor or cliché and twists it to great effect. Individual words that are GRAND CONCEPTS can be a hard sell as they take a great deal of finesse to pull off. Sandra keeps very entertaining poetry submission guidelines at the Chizine site with the gothic poetry generator: http://www.deadlounge.com/poetry/created.html. If any of your poems sound vaguely like these ones, don’t submit them. They’re emo but they’re not necessarily good or unique. Think twice before you use words like love, death, heart, blood, tomb, womb, life, etc.
Last that I’m going to touch on today is theme. Some themes have been done to death (another cliche; indeed they can serve a purpose). If you’re going to write about love, death, nature or a host of perhaps less familiar topics then you need to be sure you’re doing it in a unique way. My life as a clam is likely to be more interesting than my life as a man, woman, vampire. I see poems like the ones I used to write and I realize how much they reflect the maturity of the writer. When I say maturity I don’t mean age but experience in writing. With a poem, before you submit, you should always read it aloud. It’ll help you catch a lot of things.
All of these “don’ts” are of course rules that can be broken but an artist works best by knowing the rules well first. It takes a deft hand and you can still run against an ingrained hatred or fear with editors. If we’ve seen too many death poems (and we see a lot at Chizine) we may already believe it’s going to be another one of those death poems, no matter how unbiased we try to be. Poems can take as long to write as a story. Check them for clichés and metaphors, overused themes and images, and for originality. And then when a poem sparkles and shines, by all means submit it to a magazine.