How Poets Engage Readers

May 16, 2023

A white person in a plaid shirt reading book. Photo by Lisa Fotios on
A white person in a plaid shirt reading book.

Hey, folks!

A lot of poets out there may ask themselves, “How can I engage my readers?”

There are plenty of ways to go about answering this. In part, it depends on the poet and the style of poem they’re writing. But there are three I always advocate for when working with clients; let’s take a look at them.

Imagery and Senses

No matter what type pf poetry you’re writing, it’s important to incorporate imagery and the senses into its essence. Think show vs. tell.

Some of you may be thinking, great! I write about nature – I can beef up the descriptions of the trees, add a few more sensory descriptions in, and we’re good to go!

Those people would be right. Don’t just tell me there’s a tree – what kind of tree is it? How tall/wide/colourful? What does it smell like, or feel like if you touch the bark? Not every detail is always required, but thinking about all the possibilities will help you determine what would work best and what’s needed for that description. The more it can evoke a full-on experience in the reader, the better!

But some of you may be thinking, Kaila, I write purely about emotions. There’s no image to deepen!

But there is. It’s an emotional image, a moment in time that you don’t just want readers to learn about – you want them to feel it.

That’s why I specifically called out the senses. If you’re writing about heartbreak, for instance, what’s your body doing in the moment? What do you notice about the world around you? Inhabit the moment, collect the details, and then use them.

Description is key to bringing your readers in.

Word Choice

The strength of individual words is just as important as the strength of the image they convey. To go back to an example above, don’t just tell me it’s a tree – tell me it’s a spruce, or a lemon tree, or a willow. Let the word help set the tone. Don’t you find that all three of those imply different things? Spruce for tall, stately, strong. Lemon for growth, brightness, summer. Willow for privacy, romance, sadness. See how quickly one word can adjust a whole poem?

It goes beyond description, though. If you say you were running somewhere, that’s great. Sometimes, “running” will be the exact proper choice. However, what if you’re talking about desperation? Does “running” convey that enough, or would “sprinting” or “hurtling” work better?

There’s also a matter of clarity. Sometimes you’ll need to change a word to get your exact meaning across, and sometimes you may need to add or remove one. For example, is it a “business,” or a “family business”? Do you want to say “brilliant azure orbs” or “brilliant blue eyes”? (Hint: you probably want to say the second. Clarity, and avoiding over-the-top cliches, is almost always the way to go.)

Essentially, make sure that you really think over every word you choose. Does each one contribute to the tone, the rhythm, the image as best it can? Or is there a cleaner, sharper way to say it?

Line Flow

This is partly summed up in that last paragraph, too: does each line contribute to the tone, the rhythm, and the image? Beyond that, does it set the right pace?

Lines are a backbone to poetry. Remember, poems are meant to be read aloud, even if they aren’t always. You want to make sure readers won’t trip over the lines no matter how they choose to read your work!

Once you’ve written a poem, give it some space, then come back and read it out loud. Sometimes the flow will be great; other times, you’ll find yourself hesitating, skipping words, rereading, slowing down, etc. When that happens, it’s time to look at the elements of that line.

Is there a word you keep skipping over? Take it out if it isn’t needed. Do you keep rearranging the words or adding one in? Edit accordingly.

Are there simply too many syllables compared to the other lines, and it feels like a mouthful to get this one out? Trim it. On the other hand, does it feel like it cuts off abruptly? Make it longer or combine it with the line before or after it.

Basically, does each line have a good rhythm, whether or not the poem follows a pattern?

You can also consider the theme and tone of the poem. Are you writing about a fast-paced race? Shorter lines may help readers feel the speed and rush the racers and audience do, whipping through the words at a higher pace. Or is your poem contemplative? Longer lines can draw out the thought process, give more for readers to chew on, as they’ll have to read it slower.

And don’t forget to make sure one line flows into the next! Does each cut off where it should, does each connect to the images around it, do you need to add transition words or phrases to smooth things out?

Making your lines work together and for the poem can suck readers in to the content that much more.


When you make sure that every element of your poem is doing the best it can, you’re inevitably working towards engaging your readers. And when they’re engaged, they’ll feel compelled to read the next line, and the one after that.

So don’t worry – you’re on the right track!

If you’re looking for a second pair of eyes to help you create an engaging poem, send me a message!

Happy editing 🙂

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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