Five Deadly Sins

Five of the most destructive mistakes in poetry

The following are five of the most destructive mistakes in poetry. These errors will do enough harm to your verse that no amount of formal perfection will counteract.

Punch Lines

You start strong with a first line both subtle and striking; however, in an effort to create closure you write an obvious, heavy-handed finale. You have robbed the reader of the satisfaction of successfully completing a puzzle. Ideally, the poet gives all the necessary pieces of information to readers but does not assemble them; the poet leaves that pleasure to readers. Instead of ending with predictable summaries of your poetic message, lead your readers to draw their own conclusions; create closure but don’t spell out all of the meaning.


You cannot wait to write a poem with which your readers easily identify; it flows from you effortlessly, full of comfortingly familiar phrases and imagery. It only takes five minutes to write. Due to haste—demonstrated by clichés—you wrote a poem which looks and sounds like countless others, and due to its run-of-the-mill quality, neither editors nor readers take it seriously. If you use any cliché phrases or images in your poetry, you may want to reconsider your choices.

Sacrificed Meaning for Rhyme

You decide a certain rhyme scheme best achieves your poetic goals; however, you have trouble thinking of rhyming words. Instead of reworking the problem area—the type of rhyme—you choose words simply because they rhyme, disregarding meaning. Consider different rhymes that can maintain the pattern and create a unified work that doesn’t sacrifice the message.

Antiquated Language 

In an effort to appear learned and serious, many poets use thee, thy, and thine in lieu of you, your, and yours, or add -eth and -th to the ends of verbs such as knoweth and desireth. They liberally sprinkle in prepositions such as wherefore, whence, and whither despite the fact most people are unfamiliar with these words’ meanings. Eliminate antiquated language from your work that detracts from your message and diminishes style.

Made Up Words

You risk all by inventing a word. Perhaps you think it adds a valuable sound device, mystifies and intrigues readers, or readers intuitively grasp its meaning. Perhaps you cannot think of a word that rhymes with purple so you coin slurple. Editors and readers expect poets to be at ease with words—to have the right word at their disposal. An invented word implies hastiness on the poet’s part, making up a word instead of taking the time to find the precise one.