I'm going to kill the proverbial "two birds with one stone" (I hate that saying, I have got to think up something better, like feeding two starving cats with the same fish).
I was tagged by the lovely Michelle Johnson over at Poefusion to list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid.
In an added twist and challenge, I will incorporate the five words from her weekly Friday Five list into my answer. This is an advanced poetry move. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You may pull something, perhaps an adverb.
1 - Writing groups are great. If on-line is your only option, do that. But nothing beats getting together with other writers in person to read - loudly, with pride, as if performing theater - and talk about your work. Have one person host each week who finds a warm-up exercise, which you can then rewrite as your "homework." Share your rewritten poems each week and give constructive feedback (see #3 in the AVOID section).
2 - Read your work out loud. To yourself after you write it, while editing it, and to your writer's group. Hear and feel the rhythms. Even if your poem is not a metered poem, it will still have a rhythm and the rhythm should work. Read other people's poetry out loud.
3 - Also, read books about poetry. In particular, read Jane Hirschfield's wonderful book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry if for nothing else then the first essay "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration." It's extremely accessible and quite lovely. I promise you she's not overly erudite. One of my other favourite essays on poetry is Frank O'Hara's "Personism." It's quite funny, actually.
4 - Play in ALL the forms. experiment. try writing rituals (like waking up at 3:15 AM every morning for a month to write, right Gwen?). HERE are a few examples of some of my rituals and experiments. Try cutting up other people's poetry (I once made a fabulous Shakespeare - e.e. cummings sonnet). make collages! Fill up a journal page, place a leaf over the words, and trace the leaf. Take everything INSIDE the lines as your poem. experimenting yields the most surprising work. And poetry should surprise both the writer and the reader.
What to AVOID:
1 - It drives me crazy when people write in flowery language, using thees and thous, as if the language of poetry (and language itself!) hasn't changed like every other art form over the years! We don't speak that way, so why would we write that way? Poetry is to connect, you'll distance your audience if you can't communicate with them.
2 - Don't insist on sticking with (predictable) rhyming poetry... there are other forms out there. Rhyming can be fun (hey, I love a good rap or villanelle and I'm a total sucker for a surprise rhymed couplet), but it can be quite limiting. I mean, seriously, try to come up with a good rhyme for malaria while keeping the intent of your poem.
3 - I find it amusing when I get students in my writing workshops who present their work, and then get defensive when I critique it. I start to wonder why they're there - for me to simply pat them on the back and say well done? Shut up and LISTEN in workshop situations. Take it all in, think about it, use what makes sense. Be open to making your poem better! If it's not working for your audience, it's not working for them.
4 - Whatever you do, DO NOT enter the poetry writing contests on Poetry.com (aka the International Library of Poetry, the International Society of Poets and the International Poetry Hall of Fame) - it's a total scam and a shame that they got to that url first. They tell everyone who enters "you're a semi-finalist" and you can buy the anthology with your poem published in it for $59! Then it comes in a 600 page book with 10 poems per page. You do the math. (even Wikipedia lists it as suspect). Do not support them, they have scammed many unsuspecting poets over the years. My incalescent blood boils just thinking about it.
In case you were wondering, Michelle's words were:
The poetry train has left the station...
I TAG the Art predator (because she's a new blogger and hasn't been tagged yet). You now must list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid and tag someone else (if you want).