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Poetry is fundamentally an artistic form of communication. Or one could say it is a communicative art, although it could be argued that prostitution can be a communicative art. At least, I think that’s the word the CDC uses. Anyway, the point is to treat poetry like other forms of communication. Can it be an art? Sure, but so is telling someone where to go in such a way that they look forward to the journey. In other words, the communications part is what you say, while the art is how you say it.

So, what is communication and how do we do it? A communication involves conveying a message through a medium from a sender to a receiver. To do this successfully, the message must be encoded (into English, for instance) in such a way that the receiver can decode it.

Sender ==> Message ==> #Encode# ==> *Poem* ==> #Decode# ==> Message ==> Receiver

Those are a bunch of fancy terms, but it boils down to, you want to say something to somebody, so you have to put it in a way they can understand it. Since we are talking about poetry, it is the medium of communication. It can be spoken or written poetry. The sender is the poet. The receiver is your audience for the poem.

The first step is to figure out what you want to say. What’s your message? What’s your story? What’s the central metaphor of your poem?

Then think about your audience. For this message, who do you want to tell. Think as specifically as possible. Think of a single person if you can, but one who is widely representative of your audience. Instead of thinking of someone who already knows half the story, think of someone who might know the least, your Senator, for instance. (Or one of my senators, who happens to be as dumb as a doorpost.)

Write the poem thinking of that audience. Now, that doesn’t mean if you’re writing a love poem in the second person that you should be thinking of your Senator as the object of your love. In most cases, that would just be gross. So, you can write that love poem for the apple of your eye, but keep in mind that you’re sending a copy to your senator because you want him or her to know what a special love you have. Make sure your senator, or whoever that generic audience member is will have some inkling of what is going on.

Now, you can encode multiple levels of messages, such as using an extended metaphor where you talk about a flower or tree or battle, but you’re really talking about your love or love affair, and the generic audience doesn’t have to know that deeper level is there unless you tell them, but the surface level should make sense.

How many levels of meaning you have, whether you use rhyme, alliteration, or other tools and devices of poetry is the art. But remember that the art is not supposed to get in the way of the communication.

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