No-nonsense advice for uncertain poets!

If you’ve visited my Plethora of Quora Poetry page


you’ll know that, from time to time, I like to respond to poetic questions or challenges in kind.

However sometimes the question is specifically directed towards the writing of poetry, presumably in the hope that the person asking will receive guidance to writing their own.

I’m happy to oblige.

How long is a rhyming couplet?

‘How long is a rhyming couplet?’
is a very strange question to ask,
(I wonder if the person who posted it
was given this homework task?)

For the length of a rhyming couplet
is an imprecise, flexible thing
That changes according to  purpose
– as does a piece of string.

How do you write a poem that is split into two parts?

Before you write, think about your two parts:

    • Time based: then I saw the world (eg as a child) now (an adult); before/after X happened

    • Two different points of view – eg he said/she said, or hunter/animal trophy head on the wall, teacher/student

    • Two places : either a physical contrast or a mood (eg everyday environment Vs holiday escape)

    • Opposites: eg winter / summer, left/right politically, rich / poor

    • Reflection/mirror image — contrasts reality Vs fantasy or distortion or what we think we see in the water/mirror

Or perhaps go back and look at an earlier poem and realise that it wasn’t finished after all and you want to add a second part, updating your feelings/perception?

What are some tips for writing a poem that starts with the line: “The Sun Is Shining”?

    • Do not have the second line end with dining, whining or mining 

What are some tips for writing a poem at night?

1  Use a light.

2  Do not write in bed next to your spouse (see 1)

3  Any paper failing to land in the waste paper basket should be put into said basket before you retire and not left for said spouse to clear in the morning.

What are the steps to writing an epic poem about your life?

    • Live an epic life. Slay a dragon. Go on a quest. (Taking the #47 bus to the library to find the Weirdstone of Brisingamen does not count)

    • Survive the above and have the scars on heart and limb to show for it

    • Read the poems that others write about your epic life. Only write to correct their blatant falsehoods and exaggerations which were designed to magnify your schievements, or to rectify omissions of those whose valour and tenacity enabled your success.

  • If no one else deems you the worthy subject of an epic poem, do not contemplate commencing, for there is nothing so painful to the ear as the sound of the self blown epic trumpet.

If you were a writer, and someone pointed a gun at you and said “You are to write for me now and you will only write stories about the shape of my nose for the rest of your life, and I’ll pay you, or I’ll shoot you now” what would you do?

  • I’d say what an honour, and draft an agreement for him to sign, specifying in particular the sum to be paid, the duration (for life) and the ‘write or be shot’ clause.  I would then ask him to turn profile in order that I might study the shape of his nose and, reassuring him that I was a dedicated professional writer, I would step up to him holding my ruler, in order that I might take an accurate measurement of the distance from his bridge to his nostrils, and once in position, I’d stab him in the eye with my metal ruler with the maximum force I was capable of.

When you haven’t got a clue

how to start a poem, you

will struggle to be effective

writing one about a detective.

In this case (pun intended) I’d

recommend that you first decide

what’s the crime and who’s the victim

(and how your villain killed or tricked him?)

Like the detective, you can later

identify the perpetrator

and thus reveal, after much suspense

who really did it, to your audience.

Make it catchy? Doesn’t Detective Dylan

always catch the duplicitous villain?

And as for ‘the meaning hidden behind it’?

Let your reader-detectives search to find it!    13/11/23

What is the perfect length for a poem?

Like a length of string,
Dutifully cut — i hope the sImile’s clear —
to wrap and tie a parcel tightly,
So a poem is a thing
Beautifully wrapped around an idea:
Too long and it is sesquipedalianically unsightly,
too short’s pointless.
If the poem’s not knotted, but left undone,
Better it should not have even begun.

What is the definition of a Zorba poem?

  • A Greek poem consisting of two feet, where one foot is repeatedly crossed over the other foot, while the lines are sung?

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