Density and Intensity

Poems are compressed.

Journalism lays out the facts.

Legal writing includes pages of caveats and exceptions in order to rule out misinterpretation and ambiguity.

Subjectivity and ambiguity are the creative writer’s stock in trade, and this is never more true than with poetry.

The poet has to mean more than what is literally said.

In all creative writing dialogue has to do more then one thing at a time, and action has to connote more than mere movement.

This is much more so in poetry, and this is why image is better than abstraction.

Think of it as ‘more-than-one-thing-at-a-time.’

Density in writing evokes intensity in feeling.

In physics no two things can occupy the same space at the same time.

In poetry it happens all the time.

This is why word choice is crucial.

A concrete noun will do more than a vague noun coupled with an adjective.

A strong verb will do more than a weak verb coupled with an adverb.

Think back to your lists. Where are the strong and weak words?

Cut vague verbiage, and craft vivid phrases that resonate.

Take a look at this poem, Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Look at the word choices: tasted; desire; destruction; perish; suffice.

None of these words need any modifiers (adjectives or adverbs).

Examples (by Carissa Neff)

Beauty creeps out the window
Wearing nothing but taut bare skin.
Leaving a trail of wrinkles behind her.


Hunger yells in the hallway,
Draped in cymbals;
He stomps and shouts, “Hear me now!”

‘Beauty’ is an abstraction, but as soon as we get to the next word, the verb creeps, we no longer have any doubt about the nature of this particular ‘beauty.’

Poetic Voice:

A persona is a mask adopted by the author, which may be a public manifestation of the author’s self, a partial version of the self, or something (or someone) quite fictional or mythological.

Adopting a persona is a great way to add double meaning, or to imply more than is actually written, and this is more so in poetry than in any other kind of writing.

You might have come across the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ in a novel. Think of the True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieska. The story is narrated from he point of view of the wolf, and right from the first line we establish that the wolf is dishonest, hence for the rest of the story we know that everything has to be taken with a grain of salt.

The unreliable narrator might not be right for most poetry, but what can you say in your opening line that reveals your world view––your attitude.

This attitude will underscore the rest of the poem and connote hidden meanings.

Look at this excerpt from Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath:

Out fo the ash
I rise with my red hair.
And I eat men like air.

Attitude, right?

Or this one: The Grad Student Rap by Adam J. Ruben.

I am a free-pen thief and a free-food eater.
You should see the size of my curriculum vita.
Among grad students, I’m the baddest dude.
My classmates like me—
Yeah, we’ve been peer reviewed.


I’m a grad student
In a community of scholars.
I’m a grad student.
I make dozens of dollars!

Try this link:

Her Kind

Anne Sexton, 1928 – 1974

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Pick a poetic line from one of the exercises you have done.
Allow it have a temper tantrum.