It is easy to fall into the habit of writing how one feels (especially when writing poetry). Focusing on how you feel will give your work a childishness that you did not intend and make it difficult to show instead of tell.
Personally my crappiest poems have been born when I was trying to write how I felt; especially if I used words such as ‘feel’ ‘like’ ‘want’ ‘I’ (‘I’ is actually the biggest culprit of the lot!). I hate ‘I’ poems. Let me drop an example for you:
Your hands are squeezing
But it’s ok
It’s not you behind that mask
The man I love is unaware
He is killing me
The man I love is not there
And when you wake
And you see my body
Lying at your feet
And you consider
Ending your life
Know that I loved you
Even as my breath left
I forgave you
This is a poem that should not see the light of day. But I still like the idea behind, behind it.
Using your five senses when you are writing helps to give your work depth without too much hard work involved.
Sight: Focus on what you can see and if your poem is more fantasy that reality, focus on what you can imagine seeing. For this poem, I know that the persona (I will use ‘persona’ to distance myself from the poem a little which allows me to be more critical) is in a room, a small room. Perhaps the room is dim – the curtains are drawn but there is a low lit yellow lamp.
The man is in front of the woman. He is a foot and a half taller than she is. So she has to look up. His skin is dark but she is more engrossed with his eyes. His eyes are what she will try to engage with as she pleads for her life. So I will spend some time imagining what his eyes look like and describing them.
Smell: What can you smell? Have you ever had someone walk past you and the way they smell brings back memories of your mother, or a man you once loved? Or you walk into a place and the smell drags memories of your childhood into your consciousness. A smell is a powerful sense and a great one to make use of when writing.
The persona in my poem will smell weed. A strong, bitter, dank smell that forces its way into her system.
Sound: For my poem, silence is going to be central. The two individuals are not speaking. But maybe she can hear the sound of cars outside. Or music from the church next door wafting in.
Touch: Her hands are gripped around his wrists. She can feel his hands squeezing. Note here, that the feel being referred to is how she feels on the outside and not on the inside. Goosebumps, shivers, are potent reflections of fear, excitement etc and better than saying I am afraid.
Taste: Taste, I think, is the most forgotten of the senses when it comes to writing (unless one is in the habit of writing recipe books). But taste can be fun to play around it and it will give your work a whole other dimension.
It is good to praise the Lord
In here, it reeks of your cologne and that bitter,
dank, herb you light up and smoke,
your eyes - a pit of manure laced with
red, your heavy, life-worn hands
around my neck.
In here, broken sounds like bleating
your eyes – decaying roots
my hands grip your wrists, not quite grip
the last breath, threatens to escape
- tastes like weed, sour and saccharine
- tastes like our tear-drenched kisses.
praise the Lord
In here, my puppet-like body,
one leg at a 90 degree angle, the other
at your feet.
Your eyes – can’t quite believe.
Let me know what you think of the second poem as compared to the first. Which do you prefer?