Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn began on September 22nd. August, in my corner of the pond, was a stretch of heat and humidity that makes this change of season very welcome.
This week, I thought it might be interesting to write poems about the end of summer. To get you started, here are some examples:
"A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball" by Christopher Merrill
"End of Summer" by Stanley Kunitz
"Three Songs at the End of Summer" by Jane Kenyon
"End of Summer" by James Richardson
Try free writing for a while and see where you go.
Then, go through what you’ve written and select any ideas, phrases, and emotions that seem connected. Let your own words and feelings guide you as you work these into the first draft of a poem.
As you continue to work on your poem, think about your obvious meaning and the deeper intentionality of the poem. What's your "up front" meaning? What deeper meaning have you written into the piece? Think of tone and mood as well.
Keep the following in mind as you edit, and fine tune:
1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)
4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).
5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.
6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.
7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”
8. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.
9. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.
10. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)