Ok Michaela, how about we look at two of the most important aspects of poetry. The elements that imo lift many beginners away from "beginner" poetry into something more advanced. These are:
Metaphor and imagery.
Before we start it would help to know that you know what I mean. Hopefully you know what a metaphor is, but do you know what I mean by "extended" or "maintained" metaphor?
And imagery - are you clear about what that means in poetic terms?
Why are these two tools so important, you ask. Well, maybe you don't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway. The answer lies in looking at a lot of the poetry posted here at PiP. What do you see?
You see what are sometimes called in a rather rude way - "diary entry poems". These are poems where the poet simply lists his or her personal concerns. It's like: a person has an experience (usually a bad one) and then simply vents about it in the form of what is meant to be a poem: "I did this, he cheated me, she broke my heart, I did that, I am hurt forever, my world has ended, I don't like fries anymore, I am sulking, God will save me, my soul is shattered into shards, I have rain in my eyes, my life is ruined and it's all his fault, the stars are falling for me, I'm in love with knives, I have a dental appointment at 3 pm, etc". All of those examples are about as interesting as the last one about the dental appointment to the average reader of poetry.
Sure if the writer is your friend or a relative, hearing about how her heart has been cracked by betrayal might elicit a good deal of sympathy and that is of course very fine and proper and nice, but it DOESN'T MAKE IT POETRY. What it makes it is an emotional outpouring which could just as easily have been called a letter or note as a poem.
Diary entry poems tend to centre around "I" and "me" and do characteristically employ metaphor and simile, but the metaphors and similes used are almost always those that have been used a zillion times before - souls shattering - hearts breaking - sandy beaches - sad moons - bright stars - bitter tears. Such trope is worse than useless - better not to use metaphor at all than waste words on these empty phrases.
Perhaps all the above sounds a little harsh to you, and I don't mean to say that it's terrible for beginner poets to write like this. It's not. Everyone has to start somewhere, and not worrying too much about WHAT you are saying allows you to concentrate on HOW you are saying it - to listen for sounds and develop tone.
However, there comes a point where if you want to be taken seriously as a poet, rather than as a person who can write emotional love and hate letters, then you have to start trying to write in a way that will interest a wider audience than simply your friends and relatives who know you personally.
That DOESN'T mean to say that you have to start writing about the meaning of life or important sounding themes like the correlation between the mind of God and the mind of man. It certainly doesn't mean that you have to stop writing about issues that concern you personally.
But let's face it - we are all human , and what concerns you personally probably concerns others - that's good news because it means you can have the best of both worlds. You can write about your close personal concerns AND appeal to others. The key is to do it in a way that engenders that wider appeal rather than by just listing.
So for example:
I break up with my girlfriend or boyfriend. Yet she or he won't leave me alone. She or he stalks me, needs me, won't leave me alone.
I could handle this scenario in this way:
Oh God, why do you do this to me
following me everywhere.
Don't you see we are through,
finished. Why do you treat me
like your kid, wanting to boss
me, control me, cling to my heart
strings and twist them.
Alternatively I could one day see as I was walking in the country a farmer carrying a baby lamb and the mother sheep following so close because she so desperately wants her lamb back. Following close even though it means being near the farmer and even though she walks near frightening traffic. From that image I could build a story which says a lot about a lot of things - including the relationship with the g/f or b/f, and also about other relationships. And the exciting thing is, that as you write poems using this sort of technique other connections may come to you which expand on or enhance the original theme, or take it off in an entirely different direction.
So before we start, try reading the two poems below and see what comes to mind as you reading.
On the face of it the poets are describing the act of undressing, and a story about a terrible flood. But is there more than that there?
Like slipping stitches
or unmaking a bed
or rain from tiles,
they come tumbling off:
green dress, pale stockings,
loose silk - like mown grass
or blown roses,
subsiding in little heaps
and holding for a while
a faint perfume - soap,
warm skin - linking
these soft replicas of self.
And why stop there?
Why not like an animal,
a seed, a fruit, go on
to shed old layers of moult,
snakeskin, seed-husk, pelt
or hard green-walnut coat,
till all the roughnesses
of knocking age
are lost and something
soft, unshelled, unstained
into open ground?
And perhaps in time
this slow undoing will arrive
at some imagined core,
some dense and green-white bud,
Yes. It will come,
that last let-fall of garment,
nerve, bright hair and bone -
the rest is earth,
casements of air,
close coverings of rain,
the casual sun.
The Year the Rice-Crop Failed
The year we married, rainy season lasted
so long the rice crop failed. People gave up
trying to stay dry; abandoned umbrellas
littered the streets like dead birds. One evening
that summer, a typhoon broke the waters
of the Imperial moat and sent orange carp flopping
through the streets around the train station,
under the feet of people trying to go home.
The stairs to the temple became impassable;
fish slid down them in a waterfall, heavy
and golden as yolks. That night, I woke you
when the walls of our home began to shake;
we held our breath while the earth tossed,
counted its pulse as though we could protect
what we'd thought would cradle us -
then the room went still and you moved away,
back into sleep like a slow swimmer,
your eyes and lips swollen tight with salt.
The next morning, a mackerel sky hung over Tokyo.
The newspaper confirmed the earthquake
started inside the sea. I watched you dress to leave,
herringbone suit, shirt white as winter, galoshes
that turned your shoes into small, slippery otters.
After you were gone, I heard hoarse and angry screams;
a flock of crows landed on the neighbor's roof,
dark messengers of Heaven. Did they come to reassure,
to tell me we'd be safe, that we would find
our places no matter how absurd it seemed,
like the fish sailing through the streets,
uncertain, but moving swiftly?