If you’ve had some experience with writing poetry, then you probably know this already. In fact, you probably do it instinctively every time that you write a poem. Not to mention that you’ll probably be annoyed that I’ve wasted your time by stating the obvious too.
But, if you’re new to writing poetry, there is a very simple test you can do to see if your poetry is any good or not.
Read your poem aloud.
Yes, it’s really that simple. It doesn’t matter whether you read it loudly and theatrically or whether you whisper it to yourself – just make sure that you read it aloud. This is important because, when you read your poem aloud, you’ll be able to tell very quickly whether your poem is finished or whether it needs more editing. Even if you don’t know all of the theory of poetry (and I only know some of it), you can tell a lot about your poem’s structure and rhythm just be listening to yourself read it out loud or listening to someone else read it to you.
If your poem flows from the page and every word moves seamlessly into the next one, then that’s usually a good sign that your poem is finished. However, if you have to hesitate a lot when you’re reading it or a few of the lines are awkward to read out loud (even if they can be read quickly when you’re reading it normally) – then this is a sign that your poem needs a more editing. But, don’t worry, this isn’t as daunting as it might sound.
For starters, you’ll probably find that you might automatically drop the occasional unnecessary word when you’re reading your poem out loud. Or you might automatically rephrase a line of your poem slightly. You might abbreviate a longer word or use the original word instead of an abbreviation. By reading your poem out loud reasonably quickly, you’ll probably find a few things which need editing without even realising it.
This is especially important with rhyming poetry, since rhythm is a lot more important than it is in many other styles of poetry and the only way to tell whether your rhyming poem has the right rhythm or not is to hear it a few times. Yes, there’s a lot of theory behind this (eg: stressed and unstressed syllables, different types of rhyme schemes, half-rhymes, assonance etc…) but it all basically boils down to whether your poem sounds good when you read it out loud.
If you’re getting into poetry as your main form of creativity (as opposed to something you do occasionally for fun and/or catharsis), then it’s worth learning all of this theory
Reading your poetry aloud is also important because this is how poetry was originally meant to be experienced. Chances are, if people like your poetry, they might ask you to read it to them or they might even read it aloud themselves. Poetry, like music, is something which is meant to be heard rather than read. Plus, reading your poetry aloud is just … well… fun (especially if it rhymes).
If you’re not sure what the “right” way to read poetry aloud is (and it varies from poem to poem, but it should be obvious in a well-written poem) – then just go on Youtube and watch a few videos of poetry readings until you get a general sense of how to read poetry aloud in a dramatic way.
If you’re unsure where to start, it might be worth looking for videos of:
-Simon Armitage (he’s probably been the most prominent influence on my own poetry)
-Benjamin Zephaniah (both his humourous and serious poetry are really good)
-Edgar Allen Poe (yes, it’ll obviously be other people reading his poems though)
-Rozz Williams (yes, he was a musician but his spoken word pieces are very poetic)
-Carol Anne Duffy (I studied some of her poems when I was at school – but I’ve just found one of her recent poems on Youtube – Finally! A poet laureate who isn’t afraid to be seriously cynical about the Government!)
-Suzanne Vega (yes, she’s a musician, but her lyrics are very poetic and “Tom’s Diner” is basically a spoken word piece).
Just don’t take any pointers on poetry reading from this guy though…
Anyway, I hope this was useful 🙂