At Semantics, Clemson University's literary magazine, we see a lot of poetry. A lot of bad poetry. While I'm no expert on writing good poetry, I have picked up some tips on how not to.

  1. If you have a great idea, compensate for it by using terrible form. This one's pretty easy; either use blank verse in a completely unimaginative and chaotic fashion or pick a tired old form, like the Elizabethan sonnet, and apply it incorrectly. Better yet, write completely unstructured poetry that has no discernible form whatsoever.
  2. If you have good form -- that is, you really understand blank verse or can write haiku that brings Hirohito to tears -- compensate for it by sticking to boring or pointless ideas. Nobody likes a showoff, and the less people understand your poetry, the better it is.
  3. Make sure every line that doesn't end with a period, exclamation point, question mark, semicolon, or comma ends with an ellipsis. The ellipsis is an underestimated piece of punctuation, and you can never have enough. It helps indicate to your readers that the poem isn't over yet.
  4. On that note, be sure to use plenty of other punctuation. Every time you think a reader might pause, insert a comma. Rather than break thoughts into short sentences or phrases, use a semicolon. Remember that you can set off parenthetical comments with em dashes as well as parentheses.
  5. Speaking of parenthetical comments, make sure you have a plenty. You can never have too much of a good thing. Readers hate it when you leave them with something to wonder about.
  6. If you're not comfortable with punctuation, don't use any of it. In this case, make sure capitalization and line breaks don't give away where thought or phrase ends. If you're really experienced, try capitalizing random letters or writing in l33t.
  7. Stick with tried-and-true themes like how wonderful God is, how amazing reality is, how much you love some girl (or guy), how bitter you are that some girl (or guy) just left you, how meaningless reality is, of how you felt when your dog died. They may seem overdone, but trust me when I say that if it worked for Will, it'll work for you.
  8. Never write about things you've experienced. Real poets are naturally experts on everything. Writing about your experiences only suggests that you don't actually know everything and weakens your credibility.
  9. Every poorly-written poem must include references to other poets or dead white men, poorly-translated foreign text, and a quote from your favorite author. The less these things relate to your theme, the better.
  10. Never give your works a title. Untitled works are automatically better than ones with titles. If you feel you absolutely must entitle your poetry, make the title the same as the first or last line of your poem.
  11. Always write under a pseudonym. Nobody uses their real name anymore. Clever pseudonyms like l33td00d or Hernando Fernandez VII are particularly good. If your poem is ever published or even mentioned somewhere, make sure you tell everyone it's yours, so that you get the credit you deserve.
  12. Use clever tricks like making every word in a line begin with the same sound (alliteration) or making every line in a stanza end with a different word that rhymes with orange. Don't be consistent about it, though -- nobody likes it if you're predictable.

With these simple rules, you should be well on your way to writing plenty of bad poetry. Enjoy!