April Is National Poetry Month! ADJECTIVES! Marie Kane Writing Advice–Adjectives

How important is it to your poetry to add the absolutely right, kicker of a word, most specific adjective?  Very.

Adjectives modify nouns–people, places, and things.  They describe, identify, or quantify a noun or a pronoun.  In the phrase, “black cat” the word black is an adjective because it describes the cat.

Their use is vital in poetry when aiming for specifics.

BUT, be careful when using them for three reasons:

1. Don’t ask them to do more work then they should.
2. Your energetic verbs and powerful nouns should handle much of the description.
3. Avoid generic adjectives that are overused and therefore meaningless.
Adjectives such as beautiful, interesting, lovely, exciting, sad, miserable, peaceful, angry or any number of overused adjectives need to be avoided.  Your reader does not see the specific in the word, only the general.  You have to show the reader what you are describing; the use of the general adjective convinces no one that you are.

Use as few adjectives as possible. Only use them when your line needs a punch, a word needs a further description that will exactly inform the reader. Use sparingly.

Check out the second stanza of my poem “Almost” WITHOUT ADJECTIVES, THEN THE FINAL DRAFT WITH THEM.   We looked at the first stanza earlier.

LAST STANZA OF “ALMOST” WITHOUT ADJECTIVES: (‘a’, ‘and’, and ‘the’ are adjectives; I left them in the following.)

week, the thump of an MRI
obscured music and my
nerves lit up like stars. I tried to remember
running—eating up the asphalt, eyes focused
on the runner ahead.  My number
always askew, my arms lifted at the end.
I would lean, mouth slightly open, focus
on a watch.

Here’s the final with adjectives:

Last week, the eight-beat thump of an MRI
obscured 60’s piped-in music and my scarred
nerves lit up like stars. I tried to remember
running—eating up the asphalt, eyes focused
on the swaying runner ahead. My race number
always askew, my arms lifted at the end.
I would lean, mouth slightly open, focus
on a timer’s black and silver watch.

The adjectives not only allow the stanza to make sense, but they add vital description to the action.  While they are sparse in number, they are necessary.  See how words used such as “60’s piped-in” to modify “music,”  “scarred” to modify “nerves,” “swaying” to modify “runner,” and the all-important “timer’s black and silver” for “watch” deepen the meaning of the poem.   These adjectives widen the reference of meaning for the reader and complete the picture in the short poem.

>Well placed adjectives are forceful.  Strong adjectives enliven a poem; be as specific as possible, surprising, and original.

Be judicious in their use!

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