Writing for Yourself or an Audience

Writing poetry is an art form unlike anything else. The form requires no special equipment, other than paper and a pen and the barrier to entry is low, requiring the ability to write words on a page. The distinction between poetry written for your own purposes and poetry written to share is however significant.

I enjoy words, whether I’m reading a great article or a good book. The well-crafted phrase can appear in a non-fiction book as readily as in a novel or story. When words line up to capture a memorable experience or define with exactness the sense of how it feels to be there, that’s when the magic of writing happens.

As I’ve been exploring loss following the break up of a relationship I’ve discovered the power of poetry to address huge emotional weight at an angle. This serves its own purpose and becomes almost therapeutic. I wrote more about this here.

As a self-caring mechanism, there is no need to communicate what you experience to anyone else. It is sufficient to put words to your experience, using the device of form or metaphor to uncouple the direct experience of pain from what you write.

You could leave the writing there. It will serve as a memorial of your experience. 


The decision to consider sharing what you have written opens a further door. Interestingly, I have found taking this next step provides a further mechanism for handling tough subjects. This happens as a byproduct of evolving your writing. If the words you’ve written are to be understood by someone else as representing your experience, you have to consider several technical aspects.


1. Removal of abstractions

You might understand what you mean by your selection of imagery or description, but if its not in someway ‘verifiable’ by an external reader, you cannot communicate what you are feeling.

2. Orientate the reader

You may have jumped straight into a bath of warm sadness in your poem. For you it is always clear why you are sad. For the reader, you have to supply stage directions. This enables the reader to understand where we are in the poem and enable the reader to begin to see from your perspective.


3. Control of language

In your poem you are free to say what you want, however you want to say it. But to move the reader, you can’t howl your pain at them and expect for them to undeestand. To share what lies behind the pain (or other emotional payload) is to choose to control what’s there. To find words which are the exact fit to the experience but are at the same time are able to take the reader beyond the words themselves. Beyond the words is where all good poetry resides.


4. Sonic and visual qualities

Poetry is not a list of words in any order. To move beyond prose and into poetry, the words must go beyond what’s stated and invoke the experience itself. As Don Paterson has written:

Prose evokes; the well-chosen word describes the thing. But poetry invokes; the memorable word conjures its subject from the air.

Don Paterson, Poem Lyric, Sign, Metre Tweet

The soundscape of a poem and/or its look on the page can help with invocation.

These and other technical methods help make a poem a poem which can be understood by the reader and may help the reader to feel what you are trying to describe.

By engaging your critical processes and investigating what you’ve written to identify if you are communicating to the reader is the start of a process.


By engaging your critical processes and investigating what you’ve written to identify if you are communicating to the reader is the start of a process.


The process deepens your engagement with the topic at hand. It may take you somewhere unexpected. It may lead to frustration. The outcome may be a better poem. It may help you to understand ‘what’s there’ with more clarity.

The process is useful for all these reasons.

The mystery of poetry is that the reader may feel something you did not intend. Even if this happens you will have accomplished a poem that works. You have triggered a thought or feeling in the reader.

You may find you emerge wiser and clearer about you own life as a result.

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