Writing anything creative takes more than just the ability to string together words — it requires finesse, time, and a well-used thesaurus.

Poems come in all varieties, and markers are used to seeing everything from the most simplistic rhyming quatrain to complex pieces that wouldn’t strike the everyday reader as poems at all.

If you want to get the A, you’re going to need to pull out the skills of a professional writer.

An A-grade poem uses exposition economically. Instead of explaining every detail or spelling out each scene and the emotions it triggers, a well-received poem gives hints.

Sure, sometimes certain events have to be explained, but the greats know how to show the reader a scene without telling them exactly what they’re seeing. Showing vs. telling is a technique used in all forms of upper-level creative writing.

A poem deserving of an A should be engaging, with an original voice and point of view. The reader should have the sense that the author discovered something while writing the poem, and that ability to discover something with the author will pull the reader farther into the poem and make them feel more attached to it.

The reader needs to be able to relate to the poem and feel a deep connection to what the author is describing, even if they’ve never experienced it before.

In order to accomplish this, you have to really focus on constructing your sentences and lines in a way that is both coherent and interesting. Many poets achieve this by using melodic poetry — that is, they write their poems in such a way that they have a rhythm and melody, not unlike lyrics.

This rhythm can tie a poem together, but beginner poets should understand that rhythm does not mean structure.

Structural poems focus on having accents and rhymes in the same places; they have patterns. Rhythmic poems have a beat throughout that can sometimes change depending on the intensity of emotions the poet wants the reader to experience.

A true A+ poem must be complex, and there should be multiple interpretations possible. If the only thing your professor can get from your poem is that you went to the zoo, you’re doing something wrong.

You need to link it to something else, whether in your life or another’s, to give the poem depth. It doesn’t have to be an intense link, but there should be something else there to make the reader pause. You want them to be thinking about your poem long after they read it.

Finally, it is important to remember that a great poem isn’t necessarily separated line-by-line. Some of the most popular poems are actually prose poems, which are structured much like a flash fiction piece or short story.

They are set in paragraphs, not lines, and they can utilize the same jump-cut techniques found in filming.

Creating a true work of art is difficult and time-consuming. Don’t expect to have an A+ piece without plenty of thought, practice, and rewriting.

Writing poetry is a craft, and should be treated as such.

One last piece of advice?

Remember your audience. You aren’t writing for a friend or your classmates — you’re writing for your professor.

Revise, revise, revise, take your time, think it through, and you’ll get the A.

Categories: Poetry

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.