Writing Advice and Poets' Pet Peeves
Kelsey Donner & Sara Krauss, UR Writing Consultants
(printable version here)

Advice from Faculty and Professional Poets

The following is a list of poetry tips suggested by poet and University of Richmond Intro to Creative Writing Professor Tarfia Faizullah, poet and Lycoming College Professor Sascha Feinstein, and poet and University of Richmond '09 Alum Caitlyn Paley.

Don't be afraid to free write. Free writing helps you realize new ideas and thoughts to incorporate in your poem that you may never have thought of before. It allows you to write more freely.

Write about something you care about. If you feel strongly about something, or if a person, event, place, etc. means a lot to you, write a series of poems about it. It will help you get in the habit of writing, and will ease the flow of your ideas while you are writing. Poet Dr. Sascha Feinstein suggests reading Yusef Komunyakaa's Magic City and David Wojahn's Mystery Train for inspiration.

Don't be afraid to fail. As UR alum and poet Caitlyn Paley says, "every poem gets you closer to the kind of poems you were meant to write. Poetry is a process that requires patience, careful attention, and a sense of humor. It's worth it."

Poets' Pet Peeves

It's a fact that every professor, poet, or person has their own pet peeves, or annoyances in others' writings as well as their own. It is in a writer's best interest to talk with their professor before the first assignment and ask about their personal pet peeves so they are able to avoid making those simple mistakes. It can get a little tedious and overwhelming to learn everyone's different pet peeves, but it will eventually reflect in your work.

Q: What are your pet peeves when reading beginners' poetry?

Dr. Sascha Feinstein: Poet

We can start with mechanical errors--because, with mechanic errors, there is no start. Especially now that we're living a texting world, proper grammar and presentation often seem arbitrary to young writers. I try to explain to students that mechanical mistakes are just like scratches on a CD: When I encounter them, the poem's over, finished. If you can't trust the writer as a writer, how can you become emotionally involved in the poem? I've grown to dislike the phrase “I can relate to that,” although it inspires some valuable discussion. What students really mean is, “I've personally experienced something like that”—and yet personal experience should never be the yardstick for someone else's artistic success. In other words, we should be able to “relate to” poems about different ethnicities, gender, ages, history, and so on.

Professor Tarfia Faizullah: University of Richmond Faculty, Poet

  • poems without any emotional resonance or nuanced ideas cliche and mediocre metaphors a lack of clarity vagueness
  • too much abstraction
Caitlyn Paley: University of Richmond Alum '09, Poet

Beginners sometimes forget they are writing for an audience outside of themselves. A poem has to open up in order to matter to readers. A successful poem resonates with others, a feat which is achieved by constantly asking "what is at stake?" Beginners should also keep in mind the function of the line and think hard about where each line and stanza should break. Techniques like rhyme, repetition, and alliteration are best used in moderation.

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