How To Write Terrible Poetry

The writing world is a frustrating place full of presumptuous bookworms, grammatically-correct literaries, and metaphor-happy English professors. We writers could really use a break.

As such, I initiated the first Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. …And was disappointed.

Either I am horrible at giving directions, or my readership is too uptight to give their verse the cringe it can take. Since I know the fault could never lie with the talented people with extremely good taste who come to my site, I have decided some How-To will help.

Let’s take a verse and carry it through the different levels of quality. You may recognize this stanza, though only the truly educated appreciate it for its depth, meter, and metaphor.

So, as fast as I could, I went after my net.
And I said, “With my net
I can get them I bet.
I bet, with my net,
I can get those Things yet!”

Excellent

A poem at this level fulfills its purpose, awakens a response in the reader, its imagery evokes memory and such, and it has meter. Even if the meter is a rambling sort that makes one think the writer was drunk and singing backwards at the time, it works. For some reason, we can still follow it and end up smiling at the end instead of clawing the walls.

Dr. Suess’ poem is at this level, primarily because it was written to educate young readers and not bore them in process. The man takes it an extra notch up by having a repeated word (I) to begin each line and a rhyme that not only appears at the end of each line (net/net/bet/net/yet) but also finds its way midway as well (get/bet/get).

Good

I would deem a poem ‘Good’ if it has no complaint against it except for ‘a little something’ that doesn’t bump it up to first place in a competition. Like its Excellent brother(s); it has purpose, meter, flow, imagery, etc.

Let’s take our example and make it only Good:

So, as fast as I could, I picked up my net.
I said, “With my net,
I can catch them as pets.
I think, with my net,
Those Things I will get!”

Bad

Most people do not even realize they are reading Bad poetry. They circle the poem around the internet, or their pupils recite it in front of the class as a work of memorization. The people with any literary feeling left to them, in process, sit through these readings with the look of a person enduring a tooth extraction with blunt instruments.

Ready for this?

‘Twas the day before school
When I picked up my net.
I stood on a stool,
So I didn’t get wet.
Then I said, “I will get them; no sweat.”

Terrible

In my introduction to The Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest, I said “the worst poetry you can write.” Later, I noted, “I want to cringe. I want to scrub my eyes and go lick something to clear my artistic palate.”

Maybe the poet tries too hard. Maybe he or she is way too fond of adjectives, especially the same adjective. Most likely, the person writes a meter of poetry with the beat of a broken, molding drum he or she found half-price at his or her grandmother’s aunt’s secondhand flea market.

I am so very sorry, Mr. Geisel, to have to do this.

I saw them, the Things with the waving blue wet.
Theyr danced like the sunrise but then they ruined the set
Of our house
Of
Our
Pet. A fish
In a pot, all alone.
And what to our wandering eyes should we get?
My anger, like fire; my passion whet
With confusion.
My net.

I hope he doesn’t come after me in the hereafter.

More importantly, class, I hope you have all learned something. With the skills of atrocious poetry, go forth and re-enter the latest contest. Have fun, get messy, and don’t actually apply any of these lessons to legitimate works.

Basic Rules of Composition, AKA How to Not Suck at Writing

Where do you start a story? How do you explain a situation? Describe a person? Paint the landscape ’round the subject?

Some authors allude to a running away of characters once they are formed. “They write themselves!” Those writers explain. Most others warn of much more work than that.

Whatever way you wish to describe the process, one thing is certain: you have got to make whatever you write interesting.

And so, I present to you a brief tutorial of How to Jazz Up a Paragraph of a Story.

Sample Paragraph (Warning: really boring):
Sam is a man. Sam owns a dog. The dog is a golden retriever. Sam and his dog went on a walk to the park. They walked around the park. They came back home.

1. Redundancy.
For the love of Sam, use different words. That is the point of a thesaurus. Besides replacing overused terms like “Sam” with “He” or “The man,” this also means you need to not always begin the sentences the same. Try putting the action first, like, After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

2. Descriptions.
Sam is not just a man. Sam has a height, a weight, blood pressure, blood type, interests, hair color, bad habits, and a golden retriever. Speaking of, Sam’s dog probably has a name.
Instead of Sam is a man, try Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens did not fit one’s usual description of a man.

3. Show, not Tell.
If we wanted Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane, we’d pick those up and read them to Kindergartners. Your audience is not likely to be such a young crowd. Therefore, you need to think about the situation your character is in and describe events and landscapes and such.
I often imagine myself watching what I want to describe. I start to feel the wind sifting the hairs of my arms as the grass waves in a soft shush of sound near my feet.
See?
So, try Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park.

4. Be Specific.
This option is a bit of icing on the cake.
Being specific means that an author needs to write something the reader can relate to very personally.
Let’s take Sam, since we’ve brought him this far. Instead of just a park or a golden retriever, name them. Or, if you don’t really want to, have something happen at the park or have Sam be thinking about a troubling event many people think about.

5. As a Grammar Fiend, Please Fix Spelling and Grammar, Too.
That’s fairly self-explanatory. You have tools, and a few annoying friends who love to correct people’s mistakes.

And now, Class, let’s re-write our paragraph using what we’ve learned:

Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens didn’t fit one’s usual description of a man. Sam’s dog didn’t mind. Of course, golden retrievers didn’t usually mind much of anything, particularly when they were walking outside on a fine day. Sam stretched one long leg in front of another as he and Captain strolled down the sidewalk. A slight breeze ruffled Captain’s fine coat, distracting Sam from moody considerations of Sylvie. Sylvie didn’t exist out here; she was back in the dark apartment, behind the door he’d slammed after grabbing the dog leash. Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park. Friendly passersby said, “Hello,” and “How are you?” to the handsome dog and his owner. They couldn’t stay long, however, and Sam knew it. After walking around the park, the pair returned home.