So You Want to Be a Poet

Teens D.C.

So You Want to Be a Poet

Selam gives advice to aspiring poets

Dear Poet,

I am so excited that you are interested in poetry. I promise you that this will be such a rewarding journey of self-discovery and beautiful creativity. A little about my journey, I’ve always loved writing but when I was younger I struggled with poetry. It frustrated me because I could never find a rhyme or come up with the right words. So I gave up on it and just journaled and did free writing (no structure or rules). 

One day I saw my high school’s poetry club do a spoken word performance and something lit up in me. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Their voices moved me and their words resonated in a deep place and so I asked to join. I have now performed at open mics, poetry slams, a couple of big stages and even had my poems published online.

I say all this to tell you that if I (who used to hate poetry) can do it so can you. I’m going to give you three pieces of advice to take with you and if you have any specific questions you can contact me on Instagram @dclibraryteens and I will be more than happy to respond.

  1. It is essential that when you sit down to write, remember that your story, your voice, matters. Passion is a magnet and it will be the key to reaching your audience, so start there. Take the time to reflect on where you’ve come from, where you’re at, and where you are headed. 
  2. Poetry is about making the biggest impact with the fewest words. So be concise with your diction. You can practice this by writing without stopping and then going back and marking out words that aren’t necessary and remember you are the judge of what’s necessary, not grammatics that you learned in school. It’s better to have less fluff and make every word you use be intentional and serve a purpose. You can spend a whole poem describing one moment, feeling, or thing so don’t pressure yourself into fitting every thought and idea into one poem. 
  3. Poetry is not about a right answer but a deep question. It is diverse and can encompass whatever you want it to.  Don’t feel like you have to fit into a certain type of poet, just write about what you love, what makes you angry, how you feel, what you want to change. There is no end to what you can write about and don’t ever think what is important to you is too small or too big. 

You will get better with practice. So never stop writing, keep your eyes open because the world has endless inspiration. You will find yourself growing and evolving as a poet when you notice the little things that people dismiss or overlook. And when you feel stuck, remember why you started writing in the first place. Tap into that space that made you feel empowered and if that doesn’t seem to work, write about you feeling stuck. The beauty of poetry is that it allows you to witness anything and unravel a story. It’s as messy and chaotic as your experience so don’t limit a piece’s potential by forcing it into a box. I hope this has helped and if you ever want to share your poems or want feedback, I'd be more than happy to help. 

Finally, if you are looking for some books and poets to jumpstart your inspiration here is a shortlist of my favorites. 

  1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 
  2. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds 
  3. Maya Angelou
  4. Audre Lorde 
  5. Reyna Biddy