Compiled by Laura M. Thomas, Lead Judge
These are general comments, tips and suggestions from two of our second-round judges who helped out with the 2013 Junior Authors Poetry Contest. One judge is a poet. The other is literature professor and poetry editor.
Open stanzas up, play with placement on the page, consider the overall appearance of your poem.
Complete prose sentences with line breaks in them do not make interesting poems – experiment with how you put words together to form images. Think about the music of the poem. Read it out loud.
Try to avoid actually describing literary what you feel like. Saying “I am so hurt” is not really poetic. But an image (a metaphor, simile or other device) not only sounds more poetic, it usually does a better job representing what the feeling is actually like.
Imagery is essential to poetry – make it fresh and specific. Avoid clichés and abstract terms like love, happy, angry – show us what those emotions look like and be careful that you are not drowning your poem in metaphors and similes.
If you really want to write good poetry, it’s best to begin by looking outside yourself at things you can be objective about. Write about landscapes, cityscapes, things you can describe by comparing them to other things.
Try working with feelings that are a bit distant from your personal life. Some of the best “feeling” poems by young poets are about people who are just observed such as friends, girlfriends/boyfriends, grandparents, etc.
The weakness of many poems is a poor ending, an ending that does not go anywhere. Without a good ending, the poem seems static and can leave a sense of “so what?” You want to summarize, to get somewhere, to progress towards and ending.
If your search for a rhyming word causes you to lose your imagery or rhythm, it’s best not to rhyme.
Old fashioned language like “thy” or “thou” should only be used to recreate an old or nostalgic mood.
Poems are not song lyrics. They are meant to be read out loud, not sung. Read your poem out loud. You may discover the rhythms or the lineation needs some work before the poem is complete.
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