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Writing And Revising The Perfect Poem
By Charles Ghigna
February, 2007, 11:50

Poetry is a joyful experience of awareness and discovery as you pen the words.
Expression: A Free Flow

The most important first step in writing a good poem is to let yourself go to write freely, to let the inspiration of the idea carry you into the poem without any technical concerns. Let that first fresh burst of inspiration write itself out without regard to spelling, punctuation, grammar, or any other structural considerations. Those details can come later when you have let the poem cool off and have time to come back with fresh eyes to revise your first draft.

Remember: Poems are not like essays and articles. They are not expository forms of writing. They are creative writing. They are original by nature. They do not require an outline.

Revision: A Fresh Look

After your initial burst of inspiration has cooled off and your poem has started taking shape, you might want to ask yourself a few of these questions to help begin your first revision:

  • Have I presented my idea in an original, interesting manner?
  • Is my diction (i.e. the language, individual words) fresh, new, exciting, and evocative?
  • Do my figures of speech sound natural and appeal to the five senses?
  • Do my images all relate well to each other and to the central idea of the poem? Have I avoided using mixed metaphor?
  • Are my devices of melody (i.e. rhythm, meter, rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration, sibilance, and onomatopoeia) effective?
  • What is the central theme of my poem? Is the mood of my poem consistent with its theme? Is my idea best presented as a narrative, lyrical, or didactic poem?
  • Are my line breaks, stanza breaks, and overall structure right for this poem? Which verse form best fits the main idea of my poem? Should I use traditional verse form or should I use blank verse or free verse? If my poem seems be suited for one of the traditional verse forms, which one should I use: couplets, tercets, quatrains, ballad stanzas, sonnet, villanelle, etc.?
  • Does my poem contain a dramatic tension?
  • Have I omitted all the unnecessary words and phrases from my poem? Is my poem understandable and clear? Is the voice of my poem consistent? Is it free from clichés?
  • Is my title effective? Does it offer a key to my poem?

What's important in asking these questions is not that you can answer, "Yes, I got it right the first time." What's important is objectively evaluating your first draft in these technical areas so you can know where to concentrate your revision efforts.

Inspiration: A Different Road Home

Need a jump start on some new inspiration? Try surrounding yourself with some new stimulation. Change is good. The Muse loves change. Turn off the TV. Go to a live play or concert or attend a local sporting event. Hang out at a new coffee shop. Meet new people. Take a different road home. Listen to some new music. Find a new radio station. Check out a new book of poetry. Look through an old photo album. Light some candles. Take a warm bath. Soak in your thoughts. Write randomly. Bathe in your own stream of consciousness. Start with an image, a mood, a feeling. Let it tell you where it wants to go. A poem can be a narrative or simply an original description of that mood, image, or feeling.

Writing is talking on paper. Let your words speak in a whisper. Think of someone special. Pretend you are telling them a wonderful secret. You are. It's called a poem.

Now go have some fun. Poem-making is not a chore. It's magic. Let it happen. Poem-making is a process of awareness and discovery, discovering something you didn't know you knew until you wrote it. If it surprises you, it will surprise someone else. If there are no surprises, hit delete and move on to your next burst of inspiration. You have lots of poems inside of you just waiting to come out. Let them.
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Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) is the author of more than thirty books of poetry for children and adults. His poems also appear in a variety of magazines from the New Yorker and Harper's to Cricket and Highlights for Children. For more information, please visit

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