Poetry Writing: Are Your “Finished” High School Poems Okay for a College Writing Workshop?

Poems that you wrote in high school to celebrate a first love, work through a painful breakup, or say goodbye to friends at graduation may be of extreme personal value to you; but if such poems are historical artifacts — if you value them as definitive records of the way you felt at that time — they won’t work terribly well as submissions for college writing classes, since most professors will expect you to contribute in-progress poems for in-class writing workshop assignments.

high-school-poemsIf you are submitting something that you don’t plan to revise, it’s a good idea to let your instructor know. (That’s because your instructor will give a completely different kind of feedback on a text that you consider to be “finished,” as opposed to a work-in-progress.)

If the purpose of the assignment is to see how well you can revise a creative work, but you are more interested in preserving the wording you chose as you were living through those emotions, then you should probably submit something else.

Be Prepared to Analyze Own Your Poem

Your reader might be interested in knowing who some of the characters in the poem are, or what was happening in your life at the time.

But beyond these basic questions, how did the people or events in your life affect the theme you chose, or the way you wrote? What effect did you want the poem to have on your reader? Did you aim for an unusual rhythmic effect? Are you particularly proud of some words that carry double meanings? Are there any “in jokes,” pop culture references, or literary allusions that might not be apparent to all readers?

Putting Your Reader’s Needs First

Drawing on your own real-life experiences, such as winning the big game, bouncing back after an illness or injury, or dealing with the death of a loved one, are attractive choices for students who are looking for a “personal essay” topic.

But making rhymes out of a list of emotions you experienced (“It was exciting” “I’ve never been so scared in all my life” “I miss her so much”) is not the same thing as crafting a poem designed to generate emotional responses for your readers.

An effective poem (or short story) does not simply record or express the author’s feelings; rather, it generates feelings in the reader. (See “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell.”)

See also: Poetry Writing: Top 10 Tips.

Even poets who write extremely short poems must craft their verses carefully.

Poetry Involves More Than Rhyme!
I may have a nervous breakdown the next time I have to read a poem that rhymes “you” and “true” or “love” and “above,” or that sacrifices the rhythm and content of the poem in order to preserve the rhyme. For more, see Kara’s Poetry Writing: Top 10 Tips. –Jerz

26 May 2000 — originally submitted by Kara Ziehl, for Prof. Jerz’s “Technical Writing”
01 Aug 2000 — modified and posted by Jerz
14 Aug 2003 — trimmed and edited by Jerz
28 Feb 2016 — tweaked by Jerz