The best way to learn to write modern poetry is to read modern poets. Start by reading Scottish poets like Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Robert Crawford and Liz Lochhead.  Go a bit further back in time to study Norman MacCaig, Edwin Morgan and George Mackay Brown.

The best known Irish poets of our time are Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley. Read the work of Simon Armitage and Tony Harrison who are both English.

Poetry is often referred to as, ’emotion remembered in tranquillity.’ Therefore what you write as a first draft is your stream of consciousness. You then have to set it aside and work on how you will set it out. Would it be best with stanzas or as a longer continuous poem? Are the words you have used suitable for the images? If not, make use of a thesaurus, either online or in book form, to find a more appropriate equivalent. Are you going to write in a formal form or simply in free verse?

The poet is a subtle observer of life and nature. When you are out and about look how light and shadows make different patterns.  Listen to conversations on buses and note how different age groups express themselves. Do some people watching and see how they react in certain situations.

Some points to note:

  • Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme and the worst kind of poetry is where the writer has twisted the sentence or meaning to force a rhyme. 
  • Beware of using archaic words like thou and o’er. We have entered the 21st century and this is not our language.  Language is constantly evolving.
  • Modern poetry is much more subtle with internal rhymes within a line, half rhymes and run-on lines where the sentence does not finish at the end of each line. Alliteration is another tool used by the modern poet.

There are lots of resources to help you with technique and different forms.

Visit the Scottish Poetry Library at the bottom of the Royal Mile.  You can borrow books on how to write. Suggested texts include:

  • 52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life: A Poem for Every Week of the Year by Ruth Padel
  • The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry
  • Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form by Philip Hobsbaum
  • Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is a book with exercises to try.
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver which is a guide to understanding and writing poetry.

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