Verbs are the workhorses of your poems. Strong verbs, exciting verbs, unexpected verbs, specific verbs: They make your poem sparkle and they surprise the reader.
Here are a few ways I try to make my verbs more interesting.
1. Combine a noun and verb. Sometimes, you have a phrase like, “I tossed the leaves into the sky.” Pretty straightforward and unpoetic. That phrase needs lots of work, but one place to start is to amp up the verb—and you might not even need to change any words. Just rearrange them! Try, “I sky-tossed the leaves.” Still not a beautiful phrase, but it’s more poetic and more intriguing (and more condensed, too). For me, it’s an improvement.
2. Build a better verb. Find each verb in your poem and say it out loud. Does it make a picture in your mind? If it doesn’t, you need a different one. Go ahead, pull out or click on that thesaurus. Look up your boring verb and see what other ones come up. Try using some of those words until you find on that fits.
3. Make another part of speech into a verb. I love Nikki Grimes’ poem “The Dream” (from Wonderful Words, a Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology):
Oh! To poet
like a laser,
with one word!
—Nikki Grimes, all rights reserved
I love the idea of using the word “poet” as a verb. To poet. It’s so unexpected, yet it’s perfectly clear (and clearly perfect).
4. Use verbs that belong to another noun. This works well when you’re using metaphor in your poem. In this cinquain, I’m comparing the patchwork of sunlight coming through the forest to a gauzy fabric.
threads through stiff trees
weaving a gold brown cloth
The forest wears a gauzy dress?
–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved
I could have said the “Sunlight shines through stiff trees,” but that would be very common-sounding. “Shines” is a verb we use constantly about the sun. But I was looking for sewing and weaving terms to help with my cloth metaphor, and I decided “threads” was what I needed. It implies a purposeful, focused movement of the sun, and that’s the feeling I wanted.
So, if I wanted to write a poem about the wind, and if I wanted to compare it to a bird, I might use some bird verbs: flew, winged, pecked, flapped, etc. Even if I never mentioned the word bird in the poem, the use of these verbs not usually associated with the wind would begin making a connection in the reader’s mind.
I invite you to take a poem you’re ready to revise and work on those verbs!