Welcome to one of our favorite holidays of the year: Bad Poetry Day. August 18 brings with it the license and the freedom to let those terrible sonnets fly.
Sure, many of us remember our high school days when just about any drama would send us scurrying to the page to dash off a few lines. However, the resulting text is not exactly what we mean by bad poetry. Even those stanzas, penned when we were young, were important to us. They may not have had the literary brilliance that age and experience brings, but they were full of real emotion.
In the context of Bad Poetry Day, bad poetry means boring poetry. It means penning dull lines about uninteresting topics. Perhaps the best way to learn about a “bad” poem is to explore some important elements of a “good” poem.
Structure: Most beginning poets get this element wrong right away. How do you properly break up your lines and stanzas? Is it all random? Do you just make a break whenever you are tired of a block of text? Well, if you want a bad poem, then the answer is yes. It’s true that lines and stanzas lend shape to the poem, but they also suggest meaning. Generally, they help guide the audience in reading, or reciting, the poem correctly.
Something to say: How many articles or poems have you read that don’t seem to have any point? What is the author’s purpose for writing the piece? Nothing loses an audience quicker than an obvious lack direction. There is plenty of idle chatter out there, so make sure that what you write is relevant to your audience.
Clarity: Being succinct and clear is important in any communication. This is just as true with poetry as it is prose. If you muddle the reader’s head with images that are bizarre or meaningless, how can you expect them to understand what you are trying to say?
Mood: The overall mood of a poem can shift, even in great poetry. However, if the mood is all over the place, then the poem begins to sound like a cacophony of different emotions. It’s important to know which feelings you are trying to evoke in your reader. Keep the mood clear, and only shift it when it becomes necessary to make your point.
Obtuse layers: Bad poetry is often impenetrable poetry. Shrouding your poem in thick, heavy symbolism forces your readers to work too hard to understand your meaning. For the most part, good poetry should be more like an apple than an onion. Your readers want to take a juicy bite, rather than sit around all day peeling layers.
Clichés: Another mistake made by beginning poets is the use of clichés. They make a poem heavy and dull as lead. One of the greatest joys of poetry is the chance to say something in a new way. It’s the perfect place to break out those fresh metaphors. When you start writing in clichés, it becomes clear as glass that you have not really given the poem much thought.
Rhyme: All poems contain lines that rhyme, right? Absolutely not. In fact, with the appearance of free verse poetry, rhyme became an option rather than a rule. Anything goes in poetry, now. However, it’s important to be familiar with the traditional rules of poetry before you begin to break them. Rhymes are not random. It’s not a good idea to sit around with a dictionary just to get a good rhyme in your poem. It creates far more problems than it solves.
There you have it, a few guidelines of some of the elements of good poetry. Feel free to break them all and write a truly bad poem. We can’t wait to read those awful lines. Have fun!