The Top 5 Mistakes New Poets Make

1. Rhyming. Everyone thinks they have to rhyme when writing a poem, but the best poets of the last century broke from that form ages ago.

2. Using archaic language. Forget the thee’s and thou’s and couldest’s, etc. Again, another era.

3. Thinking too hard. New poets tend to want to shove the poem into a certain form – usually the sonnet. Poems should not be forced; they should flow from the poet in an unconcious splendor. Time enough later for editing.

4. Forgetting to use your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel (both physically and emotionally). I have several wonderful exercises for this one.

5. Writing about lost love. For some reason, everyone who first approaches poetry wants to pour out their hearts about love gone wrong. A HUGE no-no for the new poet.


About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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8 Responses to The Top 5 Mistakes New Poets Make

  1. Now I’m confused–The title of your piece is “Top 5 Mistakes New Poets Make.” Got it. So I’m going to see mistakes, I think.
    The first mistake is “No rhyming.” That’s a mistake, so I’m supposed to rhyme, right? But then you say that I don’t need to rhyme. The other four work the same way. Shouldn’t this be called “Five Tips for New Poets?” or am I missing the point entirely? The tips are solid, I just don’t know if it’s tips or mistakes.

    • karenzo says:

      You are absolutely right on the mark with that comment, Quinn! I have gone in and changed the text to match the title. Thanks for pointing out my blunder. 🙂 Kaz

  2. Nathan H. says:

    I remember getting blasted on some of these points by a college professor in a writing class.

    It was so vicious, it was the last poem I ever wrote.

    • karenzo says:

      Ah! I am sorry you had that experience, Nathan! Your professor was wrong to be vicious about it. The mistakes I mention are very common among beginners; people just need training. Don’t give up on writing poetry!

  3. Nathan H. says:

    Don’t give up on writing poetry!

    hahaha…I think that boat has sailed. The prof probably did a service to all of society by his harsh words.

    I do think that with all skills, however, that most people learn by imitation and then move off creatively from there. So if a new writer wants to mimic Shakespearean sonnets its not the end of the world, as they progress they will move away from that.

    I liken it to a newbie guitarist who learns AC/DC songs. They learn how to play chords and might get efficient on the instrument, but if they want people to actually listen to them then they got to get some better tunes.

  4. Chris says:

    These are good tips. However, I wouldn’t suggest that rhymes are to be avoided like the plague; a well-placed assonance or suggested rhyme (even, god forbid, an *actual* rhyme!) can be extremely effective even in ‘free’ verse. You’re right, however, in saying that many new poets overuse such effects or make contrived attempts to stick to a rhyme scheme when none at all would be more effective.

    Another thought: I sometimes find that form can, paradoxically, be liberating. The trick is forcing yourself to say what you really want to say in the most direct way possible. One of Jack Kerouac’s maxims on prose writing is: ‘Dont (sic) think of words when you stop but to see picture better.’ I think poets could learn from this too!

    • karenzo says:

      Very good points, Chris. I do agree that rhyme can be used very effectively. I am constantly driven crazy however by students who think that a poem is only a poem if it rhymes! arrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh……..

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