WestWard Quarterly, the Magazine of Family Reading Writer's Workbench

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Offbeat or Awkward Scansion: Scansion is the analysis of verse to show its meter, as if you were listening to music and tapping your foot to the beat. My first reading of a poem is to see if it scans correctly, whether the writer is writing in rhyme or free verse or just writing. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t take the time to read their own poems and see if they pass the scansion test, or if some of the lines are awkward.

“Well,” you may say, “I don’t write rhyming poems so why do I have to worry about scansion? I write free verse.” My reply is that any poem should have an inner rhythm, even if not written in formal rhyme structure. That’s what makes poetry — poetry.

There are some who promote “prose” poetry. Most, though not all, of the prose poetry that I’ve read reflects the pointless ramblings of the mind and doesn’t really say much beyond the mundane and common. In other words, if you’re going to write prose don’t call it a poem, and if you’re going to write a poem it must have something in it that speaks to the reader beyond what prose does.

Improper Rhyming: The second thing I notice is how well a poem sticks to its rhyme scheme. If the poem started as a rhymed poem — a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, etc. — it should stay true to that form and not change to another form halfway through, unless there is a good reason to do so.

A good reason would be to purposefully make a change in order to give emphasis. If not, and the poem changes only because you can’t find a word that rhymes, that shows! It's better to discard the word you can’t rhyme and find another that you can rhyme.

A change in rhyme scheme sends up a red flag to the editor that the writer didn’t do his or her homework. To the reader, it’s as though he’s walking at a nice smooth pace and then stubs his foot against a stone. It throws him off.

Overuse of Cliché: A cliché is a saying that almost everyone has heard too many times. It has no place in a poem — unless, again, it’s used with purpose, to emphasize something. Poetry at its best is fresh and imaginative, uses new ways to say things, brings out original and creative ideas. The overuse of clichés means the writer hasn’t given us a fresh perspective. We read the poem with a “ho-hum, I've heard that before” attitude.

Repetition: Once you’ve used a word in a poem, try to avoid using that same word again. Consult a thesaurus if you have trouble thinking of new and fresh words to convey exactly what you want to say. Of course, there is a time you might use a repeated word or phrase when you’re emphasizing a point or to give a haunting quality to a poem.

Happy Writing!