3 Obvious Mistakes New Poets Make

Written by Emily Harstone | September 8, 2016

This article is devoted to talking about and examining common mistakes new poets make. I should clarify the phrase “new poets” as used in this context. What I mean is poets new to publishing their work in literary journals.

I actually made these mistakes for the first decade I wrote poetry. I did not understand why they were mistakes. I didn’t understand why they frustrated editors and fellow writers. Now I do.

When you are used to reading poetry closely, every word counts, every line break counts, every capitalization counts, so any mistakes within the poem, distracts and throws the reader out of the poem. Whenever I guest edit a journal I try not to just dismiss poems containing these errors, but it can be hard not to. After all, these mistakes make it clear that the poet is not necessarily paying attention to detail. As a submitting poet you want to make it clear that details matter to you.

Capitalization at the Beginning of Every Line

If you read poems by Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, or other works by historic poets, the first letter of the first word on every line of the poem is capitalized. It was the way poems were written, historically.  However in the world of contemporary poetry, it is rarely done. Unfortunately, in the modern world of poetry capitalizing the first letter on the first word of every line usually means that your Word processor automatically capitalized those words for you.

When a poet or an editor gets used to reading poetry closely, everything in the poem is examined and taken into consideration. All of those automatically capitalized words are distracting, they don’t serve the poem, they are not something the poet intended to do, they are just there. Usually, their biggest function is to tell the poetry editor or reader that you are new to this, and did not notice.

The good news is that you can turn this function off easily. When you are in Word go to Tools and then to AutoCorrect Options. On the AutoCorrect tab deselect the Capitalize First Letter of Sentences check box and click OK.

Out of the three mistakes, this is the most distracting and the biggest tip off to established poets and editors that you are new to submitting.


Punctuation at the end of every line

Line breaks are difficult. Figuring out where to make line breaks can take me hours. It is not easy. But a lot of people just make the line breaks after punctuation like this:

I love roses,
tulips,
and you.

It is easy to spot in this example, but this problem is often hidden by longer lines. Many poets just don’t realize what they are doing. Also this is important to stress, sometimes the right place for a line break is after punctuation, just as long as you are not doing it on the end of every line. This article is a good starting place in terms of thinking about line breaks.

Sporadic Punctuation

So you can write a poem without any punctuation. That is not as accepted as writing poems with punctuation, but it is more accepted than writing a poem with sporadic punctuation. What do I mean by sporadic punctuation? I mean this:

All of the moons, beamed down on us
a cascade of light in the darkness

There is one comma but no periods in this example. Sporadic punctuation can be done many ways. Sometimes there is one period in a poem of twenty five lines. Sometimes the poet uses line breaks instead of commas, which only works if you are avoiding punctuation entirely.

Conclusion

The goal of this article is to help your writing get the best chance of publication. Even if you’ve made these mistakes in the past, as I have, they are all relatively easy to change. Editors are often quick to make judgments, casting aside poems because of the smallest errors. By avoiding these mistakes, you are giving your poetry the chance is deserves.