How to ruin an almost good poem

For over a decade I have chaired the poetry division in a well-run writing competition for poets and writers, and each year I’ve noticed similar mistakes in poems that almost placed. Having learned from this recurring cycle of flaws and errors, I thought you’d welcome the following list of things to avoid – not as you write, but as you revise.

• Expressing excessive enthusiasm for a topic or using saccharine phrases and words such as tears, heart, share, cry, and dear ole something or other

• Making incredible statements or spouting opinions with nothing to substantiate the facts

• Stating the obvious

• Flatly stating something in lines that sermonize or do not hum true

• Giving unasked-for advice in a bombastic tone, laying on guilt trips that drive people away, or just generally venting and spewing

• Putting down a person or a group or, worse, bad-mouthing God!

• Using punctuation like chicken pox

• Using fonts, colors, or patterns that turn an editor’s eyes into disco balls

• Talking to yourself without even a nod to your readers

• Saying nothing fresh, insightful, imaginative, interesting, or new

• Using clichés that were imaginative and new a long time ago

• Using crude words, vulgar language, or other device for shock value

• Emphasizing thoughts or phrases that do not warrant flashing headlines or rhyming endlines

• Getting locked into endline rhymes so strongly that the syntax suffers or the rhyming words aren’t worth the emphasis – for instance, rhyming “the” and “me”

• Compressing too much by omitting articles and other business words that help people communicate and make sense, or, more likely…

• Going on and on….

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler has 3 books of poetry, Outside Eden and Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, published by Kelsay Books in 2014 and, in 2012, Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press with an e-book version released in 2014.



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