What Makes Good Poetry Essay

  • frankie

    Really, Rocky? A friend sent you that poem?

  • JET

    I don’t think poetry has qualities of “goodness” or “badness” – those words are imprecise, and this is poetry we’re talking about, after all, so precision is important. Rather, poetry can be “effective” or “not effective”. Ultimately, poetry is a form of communication; it tries to create a unique and strong bond, beyond ordinary communication, a sort of communion between the poet and the reader. I say “communion” as a word that simultaneously represent the bond and the significance of the shared message – I believe both qualities are necessary – and by significance I mean something that touches the reader deeply, even if the poem’s message is otherwise seemingly superficial.

    The question of what makes that potential communion effective or not effective is a relevant and important question to people considering writing poetry. Also, as a reader of poetry, I would rather focus my limited time on writers who other readers generally find accessible, rather than on writers who most others find inaccessible. A poem which only creates a communion with a tiny percentage of readers (say 1%) is ineffective compared to the same poem re-worked so that it creates that communion with a much larger percentage of readers (say 75%). Both writers and readers of poetry should be aware of this concept and care about it. The most effective poetry has a quality of universality, meaning it has a reasonably strong chance of appealing to almost any reader.

    Kathryn comments that she believes ego should be removed from poems – there are poems where doing that can make the poem more effective, and there are poems where doing that can make the poem less effective. There are some wonderful poems where the ego of the writer is front and center. The secret is to know when one technique works best, and when the other works best.

    Victoria Hunter offers some useful tips of techniques which are often found in effective poems, but once again, there’s always exceptions, a time and a place in a poem which demands the opposite of the normal techniques. Thus, a skilled amateur can begin to discern features which commonly appear in effective poems, but a master poet also knows exactly when to break those rules.

  • Victoria hunter

    A bad poem is one that isn’t written in natural speech, in which the person is trying to speak like they in a Tyler perry play or Shakespeare play. A bad poem is one that doesn’t show insight into a sight, but just skims the surface of most of the images in the poems. A bad poem is one with force rhyme and is loaded with abstracts and too many adjectives. A bad poem is one that switches subjets in the poem and subject are not connected to bring the theme closer to the reader senses. Poets will write bad poems simply because they know the basic things to avoid, so they don’t write bad poetry, and they don’t know somethings that they must do to create great poetry. Poets always write pass the point in which they’ve emptied their mind on the theme. Also many poets don’t know how a poem begins, and each stanza should, so they just try to mimic the sound and volume of voice of famous poets. I love it when I get from a reader, a comment that is just Wow or let me digest this, or they say I’m in awe. Then come back and write a letter expressing how the poem affecting them. I know then I dove deep into the pleasure of my theme in my poem, so deep that I drowned my readers senses in it.

    Poets forget that images have many layers, the first layer is often easier to discover and can be very literal and abstract.

    Poets often forget that poetry is almost the truth of ourselves, whispered to ourselves in secret. I l’ve nothing I say to myself in my mind, unwritten.

    All this I know and much more, and I never went to college for years in poetry. I took a few courses and taught myself through learning books. I was a fast learner in poetry, and came very natural to me. I have always written the way Jack Kerauc, says to, before I knew who he was. I find him to be one of the best teachers in writing, in his articles.

    I am a poetry coach. My first student fell in love with poetry and said after taking my beginning poetry lessons, he would of paid me a couple of hundred. He was that impressed. He will be my advanced poetry to mastee poetry writing student in august. I have a girl from India, who after taking my free beginning advanced lessons have asked me if I could critique all her work. She is very sad that the course is over.

    If you are looking for an affordable poetry coach please contact me at Writer Victoria Hunter on Facebook

  • Nikhil

    I am hurt. I hurt myself. I make commitments, i dont fulfill. Those are commitments made to me. I need discipline, i need to live in the moment. I get angry, because of me. I often wonder, what is life. I waste a lot of time, wondering. I aim excellence, i aim perfection. I know its a long term process. I am optimistic. I am energetic, i am lazy. I hate that. I evaluate humans, behaviour, and then judge. I feel, aimless. There’s no goal. Maybe there’s none. For everyone. Or there’s just one. For everyone. Sometimes i wonder…

  • Darth Figpucker

    So, what if the poetry is meant to be bad, horrific, grotesque, offensive, etc.??? If the evil or ill-intent shines through, is it still considered bad poetry? Or is that just well-written disgusting poetry? Hmmm… Quite a conundrum we’ve constructed here.

    Perhaps you might not even classify it as poetry, but just childish and demented ramblings. Where are the lines drawn. Oh, I’m so confused. How will I sleep at night until my works are placed in their appropriate box???

  • frederick

    A good poem usually has a good idea or unique observation at its centre. The form of the poem is not important, but the words are everything and must be vivid and suggestive in the mind.
    A bad poem is the opposite. It has a cliched and over-used idea and lacks any insight. The words might try hard to be profound but just come across as being pretentious.
    That’s what I think, but of course, like music, one person’s idea of a ‘good poem’ differs from another person’s idea.
    For example, Wordsworth, who is rated as one of the great poets, leaves me indifferent.

  • Luke Johnson

    @ David

    I wouldn’t call the poem bad, but underdeveloped. Underdeveloped work is like a spine without the skinned wrapping. All he/she needs to do is delve back into the piece, examine it, remember it, feel it, form it, and re-mold it.

    In fact the concept is rather interesting – this notion of displacement from oneself – the ego & the self. Very Freudian. I would encourage the author to give a second go around. Stab the best words and lines to act as a template to the piece.

    I would re-use “Thoughts scatter/ from a centre/ that cannot hold.” Very honest and fluid, yes intelligent and it gives me the image of a centre – a place of coping – that jelly feeling too, when I read “scatter” and “cannot hold.” A jelly heart-? Paranoia? Lost and in love?

  • David

    @Rocky – Bad and somewhat borrowed. Compare the middle of your ‘friend’s’ poem and the 3rd line in this poem by Yeats.

    The Second Coming
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;………

  • Bob

    Enjoyed the article, as it mostly nailed the beast to the wall. Poetry, in my definition is “the emotional content of literature.” As such, it is an
    art form, and in any art, no such judgement can be made regarding “good or bad” as did the honorable Prof. Seamus Cooney proceed to do amateurishly. One can only say they liked it or didn’t like it. Period.
    Beyond that it is up to the reader to like or dislike, but not assign labels.

    Looked up the good professor, couldn’t find anything he’d written. Without a public body of work, there is zero credentials to back up his opinions.


  • Bob

    Enjoyed the article, as it mostly nailed the beast to the wall. Poetry, in my definition is “the emotional content of literature.” As such, it is an
    art form, and in any art, no such judgement can be made regarding “good or bad” as did the honorable Prof. Seamus Cooney proceeded to do amateurishly. One can only say they liked it or didn’t like it. Period.
    Beyond that it is up to the reader to like or dislike, but not assign labels.

    Looked up the good professor, couldn’t find anything he’d written. Without a public body of work, there is zero credentials to back up his opinions.


  • Jenny wilson

    I have read poems that a are gibbrish, and just don’t make any sense at all, I believe a poem should make sense and that it should reveal the meaning before it ends. i also think a poem is very interesting if it is spine-tingling,but you have to really read it several times to get its meaning, or even be challenging like a puzzle, that you just really like alot but can’t quite figure out its meaning, but truely, I have read so-called poems that are just words thrown together,sota like the poem submitted here in the comments, it sounds like just crazy words, sorry, but it does to me.

  • Chiccreekgirl

    Thank you for your lovely post. It is one of the best I have read while browsing for similar posts. I like your style of putting the good ideas.

    To me, yes, poetry demands so much of precision and delicacy both in writing it and reading it that it can only be digested at leisure. And it takes great skill and art of detachment, wisdom and patience to make the feeling relevant to someone else.

    Good poem, to me, is one that has a fresh view, imaginative painting of a view/event/picture. With some kind of insight that is universal and even metaphysical. A good poem would bring out the out-of-the-box attitude, delivering it in the most effective and imaginative manner possible( both language wise and idea-wise). Like a venture into how imaginative can one allow oneself to be. (Excuse me, I am being Romantic here?)

    Sadly for me though I still sometimes, to use Kathryn’s nicely put expression, ‘egoize.’ But I guess it is not that bad, if there is no self-indulging lamentations, and if we can show detachment- consider The Raven y E.A.Poe and so many others..

    Bad poetry, is just maybe unpolished and not yet refined drafts of what could be a good poem. But yes, the question of how far editing can kill the energy in it is another debate I think….. (puzzled.)

  • david jon

    hi,as far as i am concerned poetry is for one person and that person is the person that wrote it and to be honest that is where it should be left. I have tried many times to read poetry which has been sent to newspapers and to magazines but it is to much like hard work to bother because it is generally absolute tripe. Poetry belongs with latin,forgotten,and should stay there. There are a few con-merchants around as well who offer to publish ones poems if they come up to the mark. In this case the mark is if you are prepared to pay for the thrill of seeing your rubbish in print and people constantly fall for it. I even pointed this fact out to one guy and he was still adamant that the quality of his work was “good”. I am sorry but it was absolutely terrible,”ignorance is bliss”,cheers,david

  • Rocky

    A friend sent this poem asking me whether it is good or bad. Please comment:

    Lost, again

    For the nth time
    I am losing control
    My head reels
    Thoughts scatter
    From a centre
    That cannot hold
    Like desperate sperms
    Swimming both ways
    From the ovum
    Missing the goal
    Every time they come close
    To die unborn.

  • RDB

    Bad poetry does exist. Meaning can be found in literally anything, if a person tries hard enough to find it. Just because you can find meaning in something does not make it “good”. Art cannot be completely opinion based (on a grand scale). If it could, we’d all be rich and famous because our mothers found something moving in our macaroni art from 1995.


    The word, “hella”, is under consideration to come into formal existence. Where are the protesters when you need them?

  • Kathryn

    Sigh! Oh, the devil in the digits!

    Qualitative, of course, not quantitative.


  • Kathryn

    “Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brushfire. It’s the crack cocaine of the literary world.”
    Thursday Next, in Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels

    AmaT, I agree that poetry, like anything else, is to a degree personal–meaning, a matter of taste. But. . .would you hesitate to condemn a badly written novel, just because there might be someone (other than the author and his/er mother) who enjoyed it? I’ve read a lot of good poetry that I personally found tedious; but I’ve also read a fair amount of bad poetry, and there absolutely is an observable quantitative difference.

    T.S. Eliot, in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” observed that

    “. . .the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates. . .”

    To me, that is to a significant degree the litmus test of good writing, particularly of good poetry. If I can detect the human who suffered, it isn’t good art, it’s egoizing.

  • Chandrashekara

    I would most humbly submit:
    Poetry is personal, no doubt, but good poetry should be universal.
    I am reminded of the grading of cardamom- Grade AGEB (Alleppy Green Extra Bold) is the best cardamom that fetches the best appreciation; the others are graded lesser, but nevertheless in terms of flavour or frgrance they are equal to AGEB. Similarly all poetry is good (to somebody at least), but the best are those that convey a universal message (truth?).

  • Deborah H

    I know I don’t like Vogon poetry!

  • AmaT

    I think your conclusion here is correct:

    “A successful poem doesn’t have to rhyme or scan or have a certain pattern of lines. It does need to paint a picture with carefully chosen words. It should have a point that a reader unknown to the poet can respond to.”

    Aside from that, I hesitate to judge any poem as being”bad.” Poetry is personal and if we succeed in reaching that point of response in our readers, even just one reader, then we have successfully shared that personal part of us with another.

    Prof. Cooney’s definition “simply weak and ineffectual and lacking in interest” merely points out what might be uninteresting to him, failing to reach something deep within himself.

  • Maeve

    Thanks, I knew that!

  • Cecily

    Re “consensus of opinion”? Is there any other sort of consensus?

    Apart from that, I think it’s an interesting post on a tricky and, as you say, subjective topic.

  • Despite what your grade-school teacher might have told you, poetry isn’t all hearts and flowers, especially not when you have to analyze a poem in an essay. When you delve into the realm of poetry, you’re much more likely to stumble into madness and decay, especially if you are reading Edgar Allen Poe or Charles Bukowski!


    Okay, I’m exaggerating (a little). Poetry can be fun. And full of puns. Like this one.

    Regardless, don’t lose your head just yet–I have some tips on how to analyze a poem in a way that doesn’t bring doom and gloom to your grades.

    Choosing a Poem to Analyze

    The vast majority of the time, your instructor will tell you which poem to analyze. However, on the off chance that you have to choose a poem yourself, choosing the right poem can make learning how to analyze a poem much, much easier.

    When you are choosing a poem, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Do you like the poem?
    • Do you have notes from class that could help you start your essay?
    • Do you understand the language in the poem?
    • Could you summarize the poem in your own words?
    • Are there resources online that you could use to understand the poem better?
    • Does the poem have obvious literary elements (rhyme, meter, metaphor, etc.)?

    If you answered “yes” to many of those questions, then the poem you have will likely work great for your analysis.

    What Is a Poetry Analysis?

    Before you can really start writing your analysis, you need to know what your instructor expects of you. A poem analysis is much like any other literary analysis, but it caters more specifically to poems. For instance, since poems are typically short, the analyses are also often short. Few instructors will make you write a poetry analysis for more than about 3-5 pages. Whew!

    However, the shorter length doesn’t let you off the hook. With your poetry analysis, you need to focus on two main aspects of the poem you choose: theme and the literary elements that proves that theme. Your thesis statement needs to contain both of those aspects, and you’ll spend your body paragraphs discussing examples of the literary elements and how they relate back to the theme.

    Now, let’s get into more detail.

    Summarizing and Paraphrasing a Poem

    Learning how to analyze a poem gets a lot simpler when you start by summarizing or paraphrasing the poem and figuring out what the heck the poet is even talking about. I’m going to use “Desert Places” by Robert Frost to help you understand what I mean.

    (And, no, I will not use “The Road Not Taken”! Frost did write other poems, people!)

    Here’s “Desert Places” in case you aren’t familiar with it:

    Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
    In a field I looked into going past,
    And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
    But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

    The woods around it have it – it is theirs.
    All animals are smothered in their lairs.
    I am too absent-spirited to count;
    The loneliness includes me unawares.

    And lonely as it is, that loneliness
    Will be more lonely ere it will be less –
    A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
    WIth no expression, nothing to express.

    They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
    Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
    I have it in me so much nearer home
    To scare myself with my own desert places. (Frost)

    MLA Citation

    Frost, Robert, and Robert Hunter. “Desert Places.” Poemhunter.com. Web. 30 June 2015.

    If I’m to summarize this poem, I might write something like the following:

    The narrator walked past a snow-covered field in the late evening and felt insignificant next to the forests and the hibernating animals. The narrator becomes lonely and expects to become lonelier. As the narrator looks up at the stars, he or she realizes that nothing could feel as empty as he or she feels inside.

    Note that you would not use the above summary in an essay. However, putting a poem in your own words can really help you understand the feeling of the poem and what the author is trying to convey.

    If you wanted to go further in depth with your understanding, you could paraphrase the poem, which basically means rewriting every line in your own words rather than condensing the information.

    Choosing a Theme to Write about

    Once you understand what the poem is trying to say, you need to come up with a theme. A theme is a central idea in a poem. In “Desert Places,” Frost talks a lot about loneliness, and since the narrator in the poem is alone, I can say that loneliness and isolation are main ideas or themes in the poem.

    When you are searching for a theme in your poem, look for concepts or notions that seem to pop up several times. Think about the feeling the poem might be trying to convey. That will often lead you straight to the theme.

    If you can’t think of a theme, you can either talk to your instructor about it or look online to see what scholars say about the themes in the poem. Resources such as Sparknotes.com can also help you get on the right track.

    Choosing a Literary Device or Element

    To complete your essay topic, you need to choose one or more literary elements the poem uses to point toward the theme you chose. Here are some examples of literary devices you could be looking for:

    • Rhyme
    • Meter
    • Metaphor
    • Simile
    • Setting
    • Allegory
    • Alliteration
    • Caesura
    • Enjambment
    • Hyperbole
    • Satire

    There are many more literary devices to choose from; see a longer list here. I would suggest choosing one or two devices for most essays. Make sure that you can relate them back to the theme you chose.

    If I were to write a poetic analysis of “Desert Places” specifically on the topic of loneliness and isolation, I would choose rhyme as one of my literary devices.

    Rather than a traditional a/a/b/b or a/b/a/b rhyme scheme for his quatrains (stanzas with four lines), Frost chose an a/a/b/a rhyme scheme. Since one of the words in each stanza does not rhyme with anything, it could be said that the poet has isolated one word in each stanza, which demonstrates the loneliness the speaker talks about in the content of the poem.

    (Wow! Right?)

    Mark where the literary device occurs in the poem and keep those notes for later. You can use them as examples for when you start writing your analysis.

    Writing Your Thesis Statement

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: having a good thesis statement means that the rest of your paper will be a breeze. Essentially, a good thesis statement becomes a one-sentence outline of your paper.

    Here’s what my thesis statement for my “Desert Places” analysis might look like:

    In “Desert Places,” Robert Frost uses an unusual rhyme scheme, specifically an a/a/b/a rhyme scheme, to demonstrate the narrator’s isolation and loneliness.

    This would be a great thesis statement for a short poetry analysis (1-2 pages). For a longer poetry analysis (3-5 pages), you might want to choose two or three literary devices that explicate your theme.

    When you write your thesis, you might find this template helpful:

    In [poem’s name], [poet] employs [literary devices] to demonstrate [theme].

    Here, it is important that you are specific. In my example, I made sure to specify how the rhyme scheme was unusual rather than just leaving it at that. Make sure you do the same.

    For more help building out a winning thesis statement, see Kibin’s thesis statement builder!

    Analyzing a Poem in Body Paragraphs

    Though writing your introduction and thesis statement is certainly half the battle, you need to win your audience over with your supporting body paragraphs. Think about it this way: your head wouldn’t do you much good without all the organs and systems that comprise your body.

    (Didn’t think you were going to get an anatomy lesson in a poetry post, did you?)

    As you write your body paragraphs, adhere to the following guidelines:

    • Keep your paragraphs to about half a page doubled spaced (shorter paragraphs improve readability).
    • Start your paragraph with your topic sentence, which should relate to everything you are going to say in the paragraph (think of it as the paragraph’s thesis statement).
    • Use only one piece of evidence per paragraph, either a quote or a paraphrased example from the text.
    • Always end a paragraph in your own words and make sure to include analysis (why the evidence supports your thesis statement) at the end of each paragraph.

    By following those guidelines, you’ll set yourself up for an essay that knocks your instructor’s socks off.

    A Few More Tips on How to Analyze a Poem

    Though you have learned how to analyze a poem, I haven’t really mentioned how you can sound smart doing it. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should go crazy and throw in a bunch of fancy synonyms (see How to Become a Better Writer: Don’t Use Words that Sound Smart). What it does mean is using vocabulary that is appropriate for poems.

    I already gave you a list of literary terms and their definitions, which should catapult you to greatness in your analysis already, but here are some important tidbits to remember when you write a poetic analysis:

    • Don’t assume that the poet and the speaker/narrator in the poem are the same person. Instead, refer to the person in the poem as “he or she” or just “the speaker” or “the narrator.”
    • Don’t use words like “obviously” or “clearly” in your poetic analysis. If it were so obvious, you wouldn’t have to write an essay about it.
    • Don’t spend time summarizing the poem in your essay. Assume your reader has already read the poem.
    • Don’t worry too much about working through the poem line by line or in order. Use the evidence that best supports your claim in the order that makes sense for your argument.
    • Don’t forget to cite your poem according to MLA formatting. Any quote you use should have an in-text citation.

    Check out these examples of poetic analyses written by students like you for more inspiration and ideas.

    Make Sure Your Paper Is Polished before You Turn It in!

    If you are still stuck or nervous about writing your analysis, that’s okay. Sometimes, just getting something out on paper will give you the courage you need to keep going and revise what you’ve written to fit the above-mentioned guidelines.

    As you’re revising, I highly recommend reading your analysis out loud. Doing so will help you find awkward or confusing areas so you can pinpoint what still needs work. You can also get a friend, family member, or professional editor to look your paper over. At Kibin, our editors are ready to polish your essay at any time of day or night.

    Whether you need some advice on what you’ve written so far or want our talented editors to polish your essay into analytic gold, our editing services can help you!

    Now that you know how to analyze a poem, put your skills to the test on your own essay!

    Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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