The 8 Signs You’ve Written A Good Poem

by | Dec 4, 2013 | Craft: Poetry, Poems, Creative Writing Craft and Techniques, Poems, Publish Poetry | 40 comments

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It can be difficult to know whether or not you’ve written a good poem. And while every reader is going to respond to a poem in his or her own way, there are signs that indicate a poem is solid, successful, and likely to be published.

1. You’ve tackled a big idea. Your poem grapples with an idea that is difficult, intriguing, exciting, disturbing, meaningful, compelling—you get the drift. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are writing about global war, or politics, or grand sociological theories. Even the smallest moments can convey big truths. And in your poem, you’re not afraid of digging deep.

2. You’re using the best form to convey your ideas. Poets have lots of options available to them: They can rhyme or not rhyme. They can follow a repeating rhythm or not. They can double space or not double space. They can choose a visual representation, or they can play it straight. The key is making the best choice to suit your verse, no matter what anyone else says. Read more: Poetry Turnoffs: Styles And Formatting That Make Editors Cringe.

3. You’re making perfect word choices. A good poem demonstrates excellent command of diction and syntax. Half measures won’t do. Imprecision won’t do. As a poet, you’ve worked hard to make the perfect choice for every single word of your poem.

4. You’re using powerful images. A good poem is a symptom of the author’s effort to make sense of the world. And often, ideas that can’t be expressed in prose can sometimes be expressed through strong images. A good poem often uses clear, memorable, concrete images to make a point.

5. You’ve cut out everything unessential. Is every single word, comma, and punctuation mark absolutely necessary to your poem—and not one single space wasted? Then you know you might be onto something. Read more: The Power Of Pruning: 5 Tips For Editing Poems Down To Size.

6. You are giving away neither too little nor too much. Sometimes the most beautiful poems have an elusive quality to them—they evoke ideas and emotions that can’t precisely be pinned down. A good poem is not going to spell out the author’s thesis in black and white. But it’s not necessarily going to purposefully obscure it either.

7. Your reader has a strong emotional reaction. After you read a poem aloud at an open mike night or share with a group of writers, you get a strong sense that your readers have had a genuine emotional reaction to your work. They’re not saying, “Oh, good job.” They’re saying: “This poem made me want to cry/laugh/sing/punch something, but in the best way possible.”

8. Your reader has a strong intellectual reaction. Some poems aren’t necessarily meant to elicit a strong and immediate emotional reaction. Instead, these poems mentally follow readers around for weeks—lingering and begging to be deciphered. Perhaps your poem doesn’t make people cry the instant they read it, but the underlying message endures.

How Do I Know I Wrote A Good Poem?

As we said in the beginning of this article, each reader has his or her own expectations for a poem. And there are certainly no rules about how a poem should be written.

If you are reading poetry regularly, if you are studying it diligently and passionately, and if you are applying what you have learned to your own craft, then there is a very good chance that you are writing good poems.

We hope that you are also submitting your poems for publication! If you need help submitting—or if you need help researching and targeting the best literary journals for your poetry—we hope you’ll contact Writer’s Relief. We’ve been helping poets get published with strong targeted submissions since 1994.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What’s the best emotional reaction you’ve received from someone reading or hearing one of your poems?

40 Comments

  1. Jason Ward

    Cracking voice, big tears, and a hug. I call that a victory.

    Reply
  2. Marvin Lurie

    Get’s hung on someone’s refrigerator. That’s validation.

    Reply
  3. Kimberly Ferguson

    Posting on Facebook,handing them out in town,mailing them to friends,and family,news stations,they love all ,show me love,all ages,all races,its ministers to those going through,impacting the world.They are grateful,and love my passion,and concerns for mankind!

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I’m a person who loves poetry. I know some people absolutely dislike it, but I like it. My younger sister, who is nine, is very good at it and her poetry always leaves people intrigued at what they just heard. If you believe it, I’ve learned from my sister in poetry! Writing has always been a passion of mine, since I can just pour out all of my feelings and feel very satisfied and content afterwards.

    Thank you for your great tips on signs that you’ve written a great poem!

    ~Pleased-That-You-Cared-To-Write-About-Poetry

    Reply
  5. Nate

    To anyone reading this, know that there is no “requirement” for a poem. There is no absolute standard that qualifies a poem. When you write from your heart, they’re your words. No one can take that away from you, and that is what makes your poem unique.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous II

    Regarding “there are certainly no rules about how a poem should be written”: actually quite a few poetic guides and rules exist to help the poet better express him or herself. Poetry, like ballet requires training and discipline. Good poetry like accomplished ballet looks easy and light. The strength and work it takes to achieve the subtle, soaring, and sublime can’t be dismissed.

    Reply
  7. glork

    Thank you Anonymous II- this crystallizes a significant point. What poetry is not is just writing a rush of words that a mood evoked. Great start for inspiration- but there is meter, rhythm, voice , diction, and most of all discipline.

    It is a craft, as well as an art and the skills required are demanding ones, indeed !

    Reply
  8. Angelina Bong

    Answering your question.
    I could vividly remember the reactions from my three different performances.
    1) South Korea – someone from the audience told me she almost cried. Another boy came up to me and said he felt like he was the character in the poem. When I look back, I felt that was one of the poems that was badly constructed but it touched the audience.
    2) South Africa – teary eyed audience.
    3) Botswana – a stranger came up to me after the performance and told me I had a big heart, she felt so inspired. Another shouted, ‘Excellent!’

    The best reaction was the stranger in Botswana.

    Reply
  9. Angelina Bong

    Oh and one more in Sarawak, few people came up to me to ask for a copy of the poem. These four poems were not my best writing in the intellectual sense but they resonate with people.

    Reply
  10. ZeroSet

    I have to agree and disagree with the posters who say you HAVE to have “studied”, practiced and have discipline to write something that qualifies as poetry and good poetry.

    Not true. Whatever I say is poetry is poetry to me. Whatever I say is good poetry is good poetry to me. No one can say that something is not a poem as an absolute fact. No one can say that something is not a good poem as an absolute fact.

    If someone considers poetry and a good poem only to come from some type of honed skill or craft, then absolutely, that is how it is defined for them. However, to even think of dictating that to the rest of the world is silly at best and highly arrogant at worst.

    Hard work? Study? Practice? Craft? Skill? Cadence? Rhythm? etc. whatever. I will never qualify art or artists in some formal institutional way. Then art becomes exclusive to the “learned” or the “studied” only. As if only they can truly make art or art that has any social, monetary or artistic value.

    Found art, art made on the spur, on a whim, from a sudden need to make it, by a person who never made any art before is often enough meaningful to many people for so many different reasons.

    The only criteria for me is how it makes me think and feel. If I connect with it on any level. I would never define what art is for anyone else. I would only compare reactions, discuss any topics the art inspires in me and others around me, say whether I like it or not for only myself… you get the picture. Pun intended…

    Reply
  11. ZeroSet

    For me people like glork are wrong. Poetry is, for me, whatever I say it is. There are no universal, set in stone rules for everyone about any form of art. Maybe for glork and people who think like glork, but not for me and, I imagine, many others as well.

    Poetry most certainly is someone writing a rush of words evoked from a mood they are experiencing. It may not be for some, and I respect that, but please, do not presume to make that true for me.

    I can only speak for myself when I state that there are absolutely no rules to define absolutely what art is. There are rules that define styles and techniques, to be sure. But there are no rules that can say factually that something is art and something else is not on a universal level.

    Reply
  12. oka ben

    I believe poetry is a personal journey of discovery. My early poems were really poor but I was proud of my efforts then. Over time, I’ve evolved and I believe I’m creating better verses than previously. For me the basics are the need to write and the creativity to meet the need. There are lots of unpublished poets out there with awesome stuff who’ve got no training.

    Reply
  13. Ted

    It brought back childhood memories

    Reply
  14. Khalie

    Two ladies came up and said they were glad their daughters heard what I wrote about body image.

    Reply
  15. Jane Doe

    I wrote a poem based on my friend’s experience on her progress on relationship(was rejected) and she said thank you for helping her to express what she couldn’t. I guess that’s an accomplishment? And I agree with zeroset about views on a poetry. I think whether it is good or bad, it depends on the individual’s experience. But it’s undeniable that studies and hard work come in play as well.

    Reply
  16. Seema

    When my friends read my poems, I got these comments:

    How could you express the emotions like this?
    You have a beautiful heart and a romantic one.
    You should never stop writing.

    Reply
  17. Rick Ashcraft

    I’ve written a poem. It is a very good poem, but I am terrified of trying to get it published. Every now and then I sit down with it and change a word, remove a comma, or even re-write a line that didn’t sound as good as the last time. The poem is about profound grief, but my grief is lessened every time I work on it. Maybe my reluctance to share it is because I don’t want to give it up. To me, at least, it is a brilliant, heartbreaking, perfect piece of work.

    Reply
  18. Oliver

    In class, we submitted our poetry anonymously and the teacher read them out. After mine was read out, the whole class was completely silent for a few moments. So I guess I hit the points 1, 4 and 7. Must’ve been a fluke though because I’ve never been able to write something as powerful as that. :’)

    Reply
  19. bill

    Good Poem? One that is moving for the reader, even if it is only thyself.
    “a good poem corrals the mind of the reader, but leaves the gate open” ~ WSP

    Reply
  20. feyisetan

    Have written a lot of poems on different topics (but didn’t publish) and anytime my friends read my poem, they appreciate it and tell me not to stop writing, there was a particular poem I wrote for my school (secondary school), everybody loved it, including my principal and some of my teachers, some of my senior also appreciate it by sending cards to me, and some buy me drinks. In fact, I really love writing.

    Reply
  21. Jerry Boetger

    I have written about 500 poems. I have been published all three times I have submitted my work. I am not a scholar and I don’t have any one style. I never really liked writing. I was off work with an injury and just wrote a poem and everyone liked it pretty soon I had a notebook full and they just kept coming. Some are happy some sad. I’m all over the map with what I write. I have been told numerous times I should publish a book of poems. I’m a construction worker who got a D in art in school. I don’t know what makes a good poem. For me it is one that someone likes. I have no style or training but I have poems hanging at a university. One in a well known doctor’s office. Three are in books and my most cherished work is in my granddaughter’s room on her wall. Does that make me an artist? I guess it depends on who you talk to. Thanks.

    Reply
  22. Stefanie

    Jerry Boetger i would love to be able to read your poems

    Reply
  23. Little Sparrow

    True Art is the effective manipulation of the material things in life,
    Art is Mortal Morontia, the intervening field between man the material and man the spiritual.
    Poetry is an attempt of the Poet to find Spiritual Values from the material realities of life.

    Reply
  24. Shivam singh rana

    Actually I write according to my mood, but now I want to take it long as my career depends on that only. So how can I just improve it. I hope you understand that I am in my teenage and I am of just sweet 19, so when I was just started it from past three years being honest towards my poem, it seems to looks so childish. So what I have to do?
    Please give me some suggestions.

    Reply
  25. Brian Miller

    Poems are people. The inscape of your imagination coming alive. Juxtaposing words in new ways to express your unique voice. Everyone is a story,unfinished. What’s yours?

    Reply
  26. Kamiel

    I really don’t understand “submitting for publication”. I publish my poetry on my website where it is available for *everyone* in the entire world. This idea leaves me awe-inspired. You can google a line of my poetry and it will lead you to my website. Try for example “the tiding ocean of geological time”

    Formal “publication” is merely about recognition, but recognition is what I get directly from my readers.

    Reply
  27. Erin Frary

    I love how you said to cut out anything unnecessary in your poetry. The beauty lies in simplicity and personal artistic impression. Thank you for the tips for writing a good poem!

    Reply
  28. Victoria Hunter

    I agree with all accept, knowing from response. I have seen much poorly written poetry, in which it is all talking and no show, and yet someone comes along and says “Wow, powerful, amazing!” I just saw a poem in a class I am in, actually have first 6 lines nothing but talking, nothing to experience from senses at all, and yet 4 peoples come along and said “wonderful poem! amazing”. Further into the persons poems, there was hardly any literary devices, even more talking. The poem even got fireworks from the teacher of the group. Yet my poem was actually pretty good with imagery (I am very educated in poetry) and there was shade thrown, (which I believe from some jealousy). Often people will applaud poems by people they know or that is family, regardless if it is any good. Only way to know is to show your work to a larger audience and not just those who already read your work, or within a click.

    Reply
  29. Victoria Hunter

    The reactions to my work is like this “Wow, unbelievable” and often the people return and reply again and pour their emotions out about it. I wrote a poem in a class room this week for the poetry course, I am in, that when I trimmed and finalized it, the teacher returned and said “wonderful, I love it.” and students said “just brilliant” and “LOVE LOVE” and my editing process was very swift. The teacher doesn’t usually return to see the final drafts, and she saw mine and had to comment. This happens on all my work. When someone reads at least two pieces of my work, they usually ask where can they buy the book. I keep telling people it is coming out soon. Lol. I am actually quite educated in poetry and have been published, and awarded.
    A line from one of my published poems “It is a path that never sleeps”

    Reply
  30. Victoria Hunter

    Nate. I disagree. all this talking and not showing in poetry, in horrible and is not what is taught in schools. Something need to be left as they are. Poetry being an art that SHOWS, is one of them. Often people who talk most in poetry and not show, they don’t know literary devices, and their excuse is, it’s art. I find that is a lazy excuse to avoid seeking education in poetry.

    Reply
  31. Eric DeVaughnn

    I have two favorite reactions that immediately come to mind: I was performing at a high school writing fair, and after my first couple of poems, I noticed about 8 people leaving. But by the end of my set, the audience was packed. When I spoke to the organizer, she told me the students had been so moved, they went to get bring people to see.

    The second moment was when I was about to perform an hour set for the poetry class at a senior center. Before it began, one woman told me she was anticipating a call and might miss my set, so she was considering buying a book of my poetry was any good. I performed one piece for her, which she enjoyed, then spent my entire set with her head down and preoccupied. Turns out, she was writing a poem about how she felt when I recited mine too her earlier.

    I put that one on my wall at home. Gotta love poetry…

    Reply
  32. Garrett Marshall

    Such cool answers!
    I wrote a haiku for my friend when he lost his mom. 4 years later at his wedding, he recited it to his bride. I cried like everyone else was, still oblivious as to why the haiku seemed so familiar. The biggest compliment was appreciating my own writing, unbiased. Hearing people speak about how beautiful it was without who wrote it made it all the sweeter

    Reply
  33. Garrett Marshall

    It’s always worth mentioning that poetry can be unique in using letters artistically:

    Phrank has Fobia, the fear of the letter eph. Phobia or Fobia , Phrank is my friend.

    Reply
  34. Thomas P. Foster

    I find fulfillment if I make the reader laugh, cry or get pissed off. This lets me know that my work is being seen.

    T.P. Foster

    Reply
  35. MONKALS Kalu

    Poetry is like a canvas, you can paint any picture with it. – Monkals Kalu.

    Reply
  36. GEORGE

    TO BE CALLED A GENIUS IN ANY FIELD OF WORK MUST HAVE INSPIRED KNOWLEDGE OF THE REASONINGS OF OTHERS. FOR INGENUITY IS A COMBINATION OF INNOVATIVE WISDOM AND PERFECT TASTE. A MARVELLOUSLY SURE INSTINCT FROM GOD OF A THING THAT WILL LOOK OR SOUND OR FEEL EXCELLENT.

    Reply
  37. Robert Dungey

    I publish my work on Facebook on my page Poems by the Crazy Man in the Caravan. They are there for all to see and read.I can get a good indication from the comments people leave. I wont ever get rich from writing but I get satisfaction from making people smile. It seems to be working so far.

    Reply
  38. rachel frampton

    My dad would like to write Puerto Rican poetry because he’s thinking of giving him to his Puerto Rican girlfriend. Well, I agree with you that a great poem will demonstrate an excellent command of diction and syntax. It’s also a good thing you’ve mentioned here the importance of adding humour in it.

    Reply

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