Saturday, April 27, 2019

Prompt #337 – Maximum Effect

I hope you all had a great National Poetry Month and that you found time to read and/or write some poems.

For this prompt, I though it might be nice to review a few ideas regarding what a poem needs for maximum effect.

A poem needs:

1. to be fresh and to have a dynamic sense of language;

2. to have a strong emotional center;

3. to engage readers, to be accessible;

4. to require every one of its words—no more, no less;

5. to avoid clichés, abstractions, preachiness and sentimentality;

6. to steer clear of abstractions (to show, not tell), clichés, and sentimentality;

7. to be clear even when complex;

8. to create an integrated whole of meaning, language, and form;

9. to startle, to connect even the unseen dots, to reveal;

 10. to employ craft effectively and attend to the mechanics of verse while using the head as much as the heart;

 11. to have more than a single subject (the obvious, yes, but at least one other suggested and inherent);

 12. to “speak” with the ownership of the poet who owns both the poem and its contents, its emotional center, and its voice (the page may be silent, but readers must hear the poet’s voice).

13. to avoid the passive voice and to avoid “ing” endings wherever you can;

14. to limit use of adjectives;

15. to avoid prepositional phrases when you can;

16. to remove articles (a, an, the) as much as possible;

17. to create images that are unique and memorable;

18.  to avoid overstatement and too many details;

19. to point toward something bigger than the body of the poem.

20. to show form and format (syntax, line breaks, and stanzaic arrangements).


1. For those of you who wrote during April, take a look at some of your new poems and pick one that hasn’t quite worked for you, one that needs “fixing.” For those of you who didn’t write last month, select any previously-written poem.

2. Using the checklist above, examine your poem analytically and see if it meets the criteria. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why not and work on it line-by-line to make improvements.

3. Don’t be afraid to stir things up and to take some risks.

4. After you’ve made some revisions, check the new version of your poem against the original and see if you’ve improved it.