This blog post is for people working with clients who may ask you to write about challenging or controversial topics that may bring up past experiences for their audience. Alternatively, you may want to write your personal story or discuss a political topic.
Here are my tips for writing more challenging poems.
1. Before I write anything, I have to establish my honest opinion on the topic.
This is one of the most important things you can do because good writers are integral writers. This may be controversial, but recently, I have found that while there are some brilliant poems out there, there are very few consistently touching on today's current political issues. Poets of old, essayists and scriptwriters are not there to appeal to everyone - but to use storytelling to present current issues and experiences in a way that speaks to the masses.
William Wordsworth wrote 'London' in 1802 to be critical of the people and to encourage the reader to reflect on the prettier times that London had. Filled with nostalgia for a past London that evinced virtue. William Blake's 1794 poem London speaks on London's chartered streets and discusses London's classist history and some provocations surrounding privatisation.
Before writing, reflect on what I genuinely think about the topic I am writing about.
2. I always do my research.
When I wrote my poem about Roe V Wade, I understood that abortion is prevalent in society. 1 in 3 people have had an abortion, and just under 50% of women have second abortions for various reasons, including mental health, rape, or financial instability. With this in mind, I need to be conscious of these statistics regardless of my viewpoint. I need to understand that the people that will hear my poetry have real-life experiences and perhaps even trauma and regret relating to the topics I write about.
Some of my writing requires me to look at both sides, whereas other writing forms require me to focus on one viewpoint.
People come from all walks of life and have different moral standards with varying sensitivities. Does that mean I am dishonest? No. If anything, the poet's function is to present the picture as it is. I am also hyper-aware that it is also okay to challenge the status quo. The voicing and messaging of the poem are incredibly important and need to fit the audience I intend to speak to.
Research does not only apply to controversial topics but challenging ones. I am working on a poetry visual for Christians Against Poverty, an organisation focused on helping their clients with debt recovery, money management training, and resources to help them get back on their feet. In a cost of living crisis where people are experiencing rising inflation and increased stress and anxiety, it is necessary to make the voicing appropriate for the audience.
3. I establish the aim of the piece and consider the audience.
I have to think about my aim and intention when I write something. Is the poem's aim to challenge, inspire, share a story, motivate, or provoke? If the poem's function is to challenge, my techniques will be different. I am likelier to use a 'volta' in the middle of the piece. However, if I am trying to inspire, repetition may be more appropriate to remind the audience of the poem's central message and leave them with something to take away and remember.
My award-winning poem 'Men Are Trash' challenges the current culture to consider the words we use towards men. It was in response to the 2016 Twitter trend, which had women from all walks of life sharing their experiences with men and calling all men' trash.'
I used a technique called a 'volta' in the poem:
Men are trash,
Trash, complete and utter trash.
But if men are trash…
They are our wombs, the dumpster trucks God threw them in?
Of course, there is more to that poem, and the function is not to diminish women's experiences but to challenge the generalisations we can make about one group of people. You can watch the poem here.
Here are my three tips for writing about complex topics. If you've enjoyed this post, why check out my Youtube channel for other topics I have written about.