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Experiment! Diversify!

There are many forms of poetry out there from the light Limerick to the Horatian Ode. Many poets find their “Voice” early in one style. It may be free verse or Haiku that is your usual mode, but if you try to break out of your rut, it will make you a better poet. Experiment with different forms than you are used to. If your favorite form is an unstructured one such as free verse, try your hand at a highly structured form such as the Limerick or Sonnet. If you usually work within the strict parameters of one of the more disciplined forms, try a looser form to complement your work. Ideally, you will sample and become proficient in many different forms.

In so doing, be gentle with yourself. A new form of poetry can be as demanding as learning to walk. It takes babies months of constant practice to get to where they can even take those first steps unaided, and mastering walking well takes a few years. So a new poetic form may take time to master. As we do not berate a baby for falling down, we should not berate ourselves for not producing a perfect Sonnet the first time we assay the form.

You may want to consider experimenting with lighter subjects or subjects you don’t care about deeply. Often on matters of importance, we want to express it perfectly. We can’t expect to do that the first time we tackle a new form. There was a soldier who was injured in the line of duty. He had once been a part of seven very close friends who had trained together. Four of his friends had died in various battles and actions. Two more died at the time he sustained his injuries. As a form of therapy to process his grief and his experiences as a soldier, he took up poetry while convalescing in the hospital. He wrote his poems in a foreign language, which didn’t slow him down. He started by just writing lists of words and phrases. Eventually, he tried his hand at a more complex form of poetry because he wanted to tell the story of his six friends. His first effort did not come out well. He put the poem aside and wrote others. These others were also story poems, and each one got better. By writing about things that were not as close to his heart, he was able to improve his skill in using other forms of poetry. In his case, he didn’t have time to perfect the one story poem, since he died of complications of the injuries he had sustained. But the other poems he wrote showed how he was growing in his skills as a poet and as a storyteller. He wasn’t ready to write the poem closest to his heart, but he produced many other very moving works in a form he was still mastering and in a language not his own.

Whatever your experience level or condition this side of death or dementia, if you are willing, you can still learn something new.

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