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Let's Not Write Bad Poetry
Copyright©2004 by Nathan Harms

Good poetry conquers the word. Good poetry subdues the word, brings it into servitude and then commands it to achieve what words alone could never do. This is what poetry, at its best, accomplishes.

Bad poetry abuses the word. Bad poetry chains the word and drags it by the neck, yelping, through public streets. Bad poetry compels us to turn away, ashamed for its author—and agonizing over the suffering word.

Writers who create bad poetry are rarely aware of their offense. It is as if the act of writing poetry negates common sense and respect for language. Rhyming poets sometimes believe the English language can be twisted, convoluted and stood on its head, all for the purpose of rhythm and rhyme.

Other poets believe that poetry comes as an inspiration. "I didn't have to change a thing—it came to me just as it is." This makes very bad poetry. When we write bad poetry in the name of Christ, we're bringing a sort of disgrace on the Kingdom. Let's not write bad poetry. Let's work at our craft and study to show ourselves approved.

Imagine a friend called you just as you were leaving the house to go buy groceries. Would you say to your friend,

"With the telephone, you I'll call,
  when my groceries, I have bought all?"

Of course not. You would say, "I'll call you when I 've bought all of my groceries." Can you see what is wrong with the rhyming couplet above?

Below are some samples of bad poetry I gathered from the Internet in June and July, 2002.

So, I'll just keep on trying
And when heaven I have won
After all else
Has been said and done . . .

What's wrong with this? Plenty. It has no meter at all. But take a look at line two, where the usual word order has been reversed.

I have a friend whom I have never met;
A friend whose name is John;
I have never shaken hands with him,
Nor his countenance gazed upon.

"Nor his countenance gazed upon?" Try to stay away from words like "countenance," when "face" will suffice. Syntax is messed up in this example too.

Men say they want a better deal,
and so on strike they go,
but what a deal we've given God
to whom all things we owe.

"and so they go on strike" is the usual phrasing.

Brooks and deep wells
are established by His Hand,
so is your soul,
which He restored and did mend.
He is your Father.......
you cannot comprehend.

"did mend?" This is one of the most common and egregious crimes against language—the forced insertion of "did" or "do." ("To the Pastor I did go.") In this case, the poet avoided "mended," the correct usage of the language, probably to make an easier rhyme.

Almost without exception, the cause of poetic violence against language is sheer laziness and sloth of the poet.

Did you find this article helpful or instructive? Please write and let me know.