Updated November 2023
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. Learn more about our services and submit your writing sample to our Review Board today!
Each writer has unique needs and goals. We will help you navigate traditional roads to publishing or provide expert guidance on the path to self-publishing from an experienced team of strategists.