Some time back I posted a list of dos and don’ts for writing poetry. This week, I’m going to revisit that list with the specific intention of enhancing the poems you write for this prompt. You’ll find the list under “Tips.”
1. Reflect for a few moments on a difficult decision or choice you’ve had to make.
2. What were the implications of the decision you made? What happened as a result? What didn’t happened? Was your decision a good one or not?
3. Now, here’s the challenge: write a poem about what might have happened had you made a different decision or choice. In other words, explore the possibilities of what you didn’t opt to do.
4. After you’ve drafted your poem, take a look at the tips below. One by one, apply each to your poem and make appropriate edits.
Don’t: End with a moral.
Don’t: Close with an “I’m going to tell you what this poem is about” ending.
Don’t: Go with an expected outcome (especially in a narrative poem). Shake up your readers’ expectations.
Don’t: Use up all the air in your poem on the last couple of lines—leave the reader room to breathe.
Don’t: Undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.
Don’t: Conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).
Don’t: Close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.
Do: Link the end of the poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.
Do: Write beyond the last line, then go back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.
Do: Use more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines (think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).
Do: Try (minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very well.
Do: Resist the urge to apologize (or to even suggest apology).
Do: Leave your reader something to reflect upon.
Do: Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.
Do: Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.