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Every time I try to write a poem I find myself incredibly stuck. It feels to me like poetry has so many different aspects- meter, structure, rhyming, lingual aesthetics (not to mention semantics), all crammed into a tightly confined structure (yes I know poetry can be very free style, but I'm interested in well structured, rhyming poetry)- that I can't possibly "optimize" them all simultaneously. It's like I can't achieve a satisfactory quality in one aspect without completely messing up the others: if I write a line that sounds nice, it'll be completely out of meter and will not rhyme with the rest, and I can't make it rhyme without giving up on that nice word I want to use, and if I try to fix the meter without changing the heart of the line then it will most likely stop making sense... It's just an endless struggle.

Do you experience these problems when writing structured poetry? If so, how do you handle them? What would you recommend that I do to start getting over this problem?

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2 Answers 2

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1) Stop fixing everything at once.

Write your first round to get it on paper.

On your second round, pick one thing to fix: sharpen your rhymes, for example.

Next round, work on the meter.

Let it sit for a day. Come back with fresher eyes and work on word choice.

2) Kill your darlings.

Editing oneself is one of the hardest parts of writing. What this phrase means is that you have to be willing to let go of the perfectly-turned phrase, the elegantly metered couplet, if it doesn't fit the particular poem it's in. Put it in a slush file and start the line over. Rewrite the entire poem if you can't extract the line that's blocking you.

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The best advice I can give you on this can be summed up in one word: practice. The more poetry you write, the easier it becomes. Of course, "easy" is a relative term, because it really never is truly easy. In spite of that, you will start to find that some of it starts to become more natural. I have written almost 1000 poems, published six volumes of poetry and two anthologies, and I'm still learning.

There are a couple of different things you can do to help yourself improve. First and foremost, give up on being perfect. Allow yourself to focus on one thing or the other, rhyme or meter, and disregard the other. As you become more consistent with one, you can start to add the other.

Another thing you can do is to look into different kinds of poems and try writing them. Try a haiku instead of a nicely metered ballad. Try some free verse before going after that sonnet. Allow yourself to make mistakes and be sloppy. You may not always like everything you do, but each new poem is another opportunity to learn.

I admire and respect your desire to "get it right", but you can still find beauty in just getting it done!

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I think sometimes it can also help to have someone else suggest edits. Even when such suggestions are not be directly useful, they may help to clarify via contrast the sound and sense that one is seeking and/or to disrupt one's thinking and one's commitment to what has already been written. (I provided this last aid once, and it seems credible that it might have more general application.) –  Paul A. Clayton May 24 '13 at 23:00

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