There is a bit of conflict in the world of poetry over whether it is better to write free verse or standard poetic forms. Since I write it all, I have an opinion on this. I don't get the argument. Write what works for you.
Here are some guidelines based on my personal experience and preferences:
- I hate long poems. They tend to wander about and accomplish little, leaving me to wish that I could get that part of my life back. I don't care if you are the next Longfellow or Tennyson, edit the hell out of your work. They lived in a time when long poems were far more acceptable. Their poetry was not in competition with television, video games, and the Internet. Be concise and direct.
- I love free verse. For many years that is all I wrote. It was my basic training in writing poetry-- like calisthenics to build my writing muscles. After I won a poetry contest with a free verse poem I started down a poetry rabbit hole that took me in diverse directions.
- I love standard poetry forms. Obviously I didn't start out that way. After I won that first contest I joined the Poetry Society of Colorado. Every year they sponsored a large number of contests on a variety of subjects and/or forms. This caused me to challenge myself to start writing more of the forms I knew and learn those that I did not.
- Forcing myself out of my comfort zone to work in unfamiliar ways and pushing to write them well enough to win contests was some of the best writing training I could have found -- not just for poetry but for everything. I learned to say what I meant concisely, to fit size limitations and to stay completely on topic. I learned to edit heavily. I learned that, given enough time and effort, I could write anything.
- I discovered new things about myself through writing poetry this way -- that I have a talent for writing cowboy poetry, that the best poem I ever wrote was in a very difficult form so facing the difficult engendered excellence, and that I am WAY more competitive than I ever thought I was.
- I love words. I love the way they fit together and the way they can ebb and flow. I love the way I can use them to reach into the hearts souls of the people around me. Learn to play with them fitting and refitting them. Make lists of words that go together. Make a list of colors and remember to reach as far as you can and add amber and amethyst and the like to your list.
- Don't be obtuse. Poetry is not meant to be vague and loaded with mysterious meanings that would take a college professor to interpret. Much of the poetry that seems that way was written at different times in history when meanings and metaphors differed from what we know today.
- Push yourself to try new things. Dabble in Haiku. Play with a Limerick. Try a Senyru, a Tanka, or a Sonnet.
- Learn to recognize when you are over-writing. You can't put in every detail, but you can brig the reader to the point where they will fill in the details tor themselves. It is okay if they fill it in wrong. It is their half of the reader/writer partnership. I wrote a poem (free verse) about my father leaving me when I was a child and likening the shock to losing my innocence. The finished poem sounds like it is about being raped. I have never changed a word. It works as is. I learned that when I was having trouble writing I was usually over writing. I would step back, find the core of the subject, and start again. The results were usually spot on. This works with prose as well.
- Have passion for what you are writing.
- Never give up. Never give in.