Why This Isn’t Good Poetry

Every Friday is Haiku Friday at Mark Osler’s blog. This past Friday, he asked us to write our own bad high school poetry (real or imagined). Here is the real-life sample he posted:

There’s no need to cry
The clouds do it for me
Expressing my depression better
Than I ever could.

So, why is this bad poetry? Oh, let me count the ways.

1) It’s too short for such a big subject. This kind of massive depression deserves a little explanation.

2) The author violated the credo: Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t use the word “depressed.” Show us. Tell us you spent 10 straight hours in your room watching “The Office,” hoping your family would realize that you weren’t actually laughing—you were crying.

3) It employs cliche: clouds/rain = sadness/crying. Cliche has uses. You can use it to work against type, as in “Sunny days make me saddest of all.” Or you can employ it in terms of defining a character because some people really do talk that way, and it can take decades to decode what they really mean. (Many Texas women fall into this category).

4) There’s no attention to poetic form. Even if a poem doesn’t rhyme, there should be reasons for the line breaks. There should be alliteration or internal rhyme or a rhythmic quality.

5) Other than those poor, sad clouds, there’s no imagery. A good poem will often bring a picture to your mind.

6) Not all poems are sad. If in doubt, read Billy Collins.

7) What is the reader supposed to do with this poem? All it does is make me feel sorry for the author. A good poem will make you think about yourself or that time you met your dad at a cafe on the anniversary of your mother’s death or about the particular blue of a bluebonnet.

Thanks, Osler. As I said in your comment section, I’m just glad I put all my high school poems in a dumpster long ago. They would’ve sounded just like this one.


  1. Megan, maybe you should be the one writing a how-to book on poetry . This is actually quite helpful!

  2. These are such good teaching points! I have notebooks full of bad poetry for the teenage angst-ridden years. I keep them hidden well. 🙂 BTW, I did write Jeffrey a poem this year but it never made the light of day. I think I’ll collect his birthday poems from each year and present him with them one day.

    • Your comment made me laugh and inspired me to go back through some of my past poems. They were once so new and fresh, once upon a time…I was able to extract some inspiration from them surprisingly!

  3. I know what I shall write for my weekly Sitting down on Sunday post thanks for the inspiration!

  4. See–this is why I don’t dare write poetry. Because I’m certain it would be bad, and I wouldn’t even know why.

  5. I agree — good idea. I too found this really helpful — and interesting.

    Unlike Sandra — I’m not going back through my poems…. I don’t want to be embarrassed!

  6. This was fascinating and left me wondering if you are, or were, an English teacher.


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