How to Spruce Up a Flat Poem

by Elle Vue

Have you ever loved the idea and general gusto of a poem but felt it fell flat or seemed cliche? Here are some tips on how to add in some metaphors, symbolism, and philosophy into a poem to give it more life!

Brainstorm for a new idea to weave in

This could be Plato’s ideas about happiness, Circe’s symbolism of transformation, the comparison of a heart to a tasty apple, whatever you want!

The point here is to add an extra layer to your poem, making it more interesting for the reader.

  • Read philosophy
    • Aristotle’s theories on friendships
    • Descartes’ ideas on soul & body
    • Nietzsche’s nihilism & thirst for life
  • Pick a specific story within literature
    • Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: A story of friendships and betrayal
    • Athena’s representation of wisdom and wrath in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
    • Beowulf sacrificing himself to slay a dragon & save his village
  • Look to nature
    • The sun: airy light or scorching fire
    • Flowers: Blooming, rebirth, dainty, love, their origin stories
      • Example: Poppy flowers sprang from the blood of Adonis according to Ovid’s Venus and Adonis
    • Trees: Strong, old, unwavering, wisdom
    • Water: Purity, rebirth, flow of life
  • Art
    • Fashion:
      • Gothic eyeliner, fishnet gloves, combat boots
      • Cottage dresses, wooden clogs, strawberry lips
      • Dusty books, wool sweaters, oxford shoes
    • Paintings:
      • Renaissance art: Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci
      • 19/20th century art such as Picasso, Monet, Salvador Dali
      • Modern art such as John Currin or Zeng Fanzhi
  • Music
    • Classical music: Alberto Iglesias, Philip Glass, Dario Marianelli
    • 80s music: Joy Division, New Order, The Who
    • Other oldies (misc. decades): Don McLean, Billie Holiday, Van Morrison
    • Jazz: Stan Getz, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie
    • Current: Billie Eilish, Lonely Benson, The Strokes
  • Example
    • I read the Odyssey and felt inspired by Sirens

What to do once you’ve picked a topic

  • Write down every image, word, or idea that comes to mind when you think of the topic you’ve chosen
    • Do this step without any research so that you can make sure your poem isn’t “too smart” for your readers
    • Example: Sirens
      • Beautiful voices
      • Fishnets
      • Birds
      • Mermaids
      • Odysseus
      • Death and consumption
      • Deathly love
      • Rock ocean
  • After writing what you know off the top of your head, research for facts
    • Only include the researched items if they can be easily understood or if there’s room to explain them
    • Example: Sirens
      • Demeter gave handmaids the body of birds to help her search for Persephone when Hades took her
      • Some people believe sirens die if a man hears them but does not come to them
      • Sometimes known as the Muses of the underworld because of their deathly beautiful voices

Weave in the new found metaphor, allusion, symbol, etc.

Only change places that seem natural to change, do not try to force the metaphor, symbol, allusion, etc. into places that it does not fit.

  • Find verbs to replace with ones pertaining to your idea or metaphor
    • Example: Sirens
      • Replace kiss with consume
      • Replace calling or beckoning with luring
      • Replace walking/moving with sailing, swimming, or flying
  • Find adjectives that can be replaced with adjectives pertaining to your idea or metaphor
    • Example: Sirens
      • Replace t-shirt with mesh shirt
      • Engulfing arms with oceanic abyss
  • Change places where you tell into places where you show
    • Example: Sirens
      • Change “you would’ve done anything to make sure you were the only guy who got to touch me” to “you consumed me whole”
      • Change the idea of someone’s false words into the well known metaphor of “flimsy falsettos”
My original poem:

If I had the opportunity to kiss you again I would say, “No, I can’t. My love for you was a hollow scream and I do not have a hollow soul. I didn’t know any better back then, I didn’t understand that if you loved me back you would’ve done anything to make sure that you were the only guy who got to touch me. I didn’t want anyone else near you. I loved you with my heart on my sleeve and there will always be a place for you in my heart. But no, I can’t kiss you one last time, I’d spiral down into your arms. I’ve moved on and I know you have. I hope for the best for both of us

The finished product:

   If I had the opportunity to kiss you again I would say, “No, I can’t. My love for you was a hollow scream and I do not have a hollow soul. My mesh t-shirt was meant to show you my bleeding heart, not satiate the luring consumption you desired.  I didn’t know any better back then, I didn’t understand that if you loved me back you wouldn’t consume me whole in flimsy falsettos. But no, I can’t kiss you one last time, I’d spiral completely into your oceanic abyss again. I’ve opened the sail of my ship to take me with the wind, or at least I’m trying to.”

Siren Call by Elle Vue

I hope this finds everyone well and happy writing! –Elle Vue

Published by ellevue

My name is Elle Vue, I am 23 years old, and I have a BA in English Writing from Loyola University New Orleans. In my free time I am an avid reader of 16th & 19th century literature, Greek classics, 1920s novels, and all philosophy. I also enjoy ballet, French, fashion, and painting (though I am not a great painter).

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