“A poem begins as

a lump in the throat,

a sense of wrong,

a homesickness,

a lovesickness.”

Robert Frost

‘Emotion’ derives from the Latin emovere, which means ‘to move’ or ‘move out’. The power of poetry lies in it’s ability to distill a moment in time and capture it’s emotion. If we have done our job, a good poem will allow the reader to experience this moment and it will cause them to ‘feel’.

As poets, we must strive to move the reader and provoke an emotional response.  Fortunately, there are a number of tools that we can employ to achieve this.

Write From a Place of Truth

Your poetry does not need to be autobiographical, but you should draw on your own experiences of the emotion that you are trying to create. When were you sad and how did you react? When were you happy and how did you respond? Understanding the emotion and the way it makes you feel can help steer your writing so that you can provoke others to respond in the same way.

Poetry can be cathartic because it allows us to experience our feelings in a safe way and it allows others to experience those feelings too. When we come from a place of truth, we allow the reader to experience their own truth as well. Although it can be frightening to be vulnerable, this is is also where true connection stems from.


One way that we can avoid the dreaded ‘telling’ is to employ our senses in our descriptions. What did the moment taste like? What did it feel like? What could you see and smell? Use concrete words in your work as opposed to vague concepts. Concrete words describe things people experience with their senses, such as “cold, house, turquoise”. Abstract words describe concepts or feelings, such as “liberty, happy, love”. Concrete words allow your reader to stand in the subject’s shoes and experience the moment you are creating.

Metaphors Before Similes

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two things. “She is the last bag of chips in the vending machine.” Similes employ ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare two different things. “She is like the last bag of chips in the vending machine.” In poetry, metaphors are much more effective at evoking emotion and creating clear and powerful images. Similes, on the other hand, can hinder the flow and rhythm of your poem.

Avoid Cliches and Over-Sentimentality

Cliches are cliches for a reason. They are overused terms that are unlikely to result in the emotional response that you are seeking. Similarly, over-sentimentality, or excessive emotion that is sickeningly sweet or desperately sad will not read as ‘real’. Instead of telling your reader that you spend every night crying into your pillow, show them what makes that thing sad (this also helps with show-not-tell).

Use an Active Voice in an Active Moment

The subject of your poem should do the action. Using an active voice, instead of a passive voice, draws the reader into the moment your poem is creating. This also includes using active verbs to create action and a sense of urgency.

Choose Your Grammar Wisely

Avoid gerunds (the -ing words) which can hinder the meter and flow of a poem, and adverbs (those pesky -ly words), which can also hinder the flow of your poem and can soften the clarity of your description.

Make. Every. Word. Count

On Instagram, we deal in micropoetry. This means that every word counts. Don’t just throw a word in there because you need one. If it doesn’t help you to achieve the desired emotional response, then you shouldn’t be using it.

Take the Reader on a Journey

Move your subject, and thus your reader, from one state to another. Create an ending that surprises, shocks or delights. Leave the door open so that the reader must ask themselves what they have just read and create their own meaning, or conclusions. Your work can take the reader on a journey, and it is this journey that will create an emotional response.

Revise. Revise. Revise.

We’ve said it before and we will say it again. Revise. Revise. Revise. If your writing is unclear or poorly written it will struggle to emote.


Sit quietly and think about the time that you were most happy. Now think about the following:

Where are you? What can you hear? What can you see? What can you smell? What sensations can you feel on your skin? What can you taste? What did you learn from the moment? Why was this moment important to you?

Now write a short piece about the moment. Concentrate on making your reader see and feel what it was like. By the end of the exercise you want to understand why this moment was worth remembering, and why it is worth experiencing for your reader.

RH2016Rayna Halloway ǀ @herheartshapedbox
Based in New Zealand, Rayna is an ever-optimist obsessed with all things poetry. She has aspirations of taking the spoken word world by storm, if only she could get over her stage fright!

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