It takes two to make poetry. The poet, of course, is number one, the one who gets the idea and actually writes the poem. But just the poet is not enough. There must also be a reader. (Though some poems are private and eyes-only, many are not. As with most creative writing, poems are meant to be read.)
Unless your poem expresses private emotions that you donít wish to share, it will someday have an audience. Therefore, your readers must not be forgotten while the poem is being written. If you plan to write for commercial or monetary purposes, you will want to consider the audienceís role more seriously than someone just writing for themselves or for fun.
Here are some things to remember regarding audience.
What the Audience Knows
The complexity of your poem, both in topic and in word use, is entirely in your hands. If youíre writing poetry for children, you should probably avoid long and complicated vocabulary, which they wonít understand. Funny words, and onomatopoeia, go over well with younger readers. When writing for adults, consider how narrow you want your focus to be. Letís say youíre a gardener with a poem about flowers. If the poem is meant for your Botanist Weekly newsletter, then you can easily fill it with scientific names and specific references. If you plan to share it with those of us less knowledgeable about flowers, however, perhaps a different tactic would be better. As a general rule, unless youíre aiming for a specific and knowledgeable audience, keep esoteric words and obscure references to a minimum.
What the Audience Wants
What do people want to gain from reading poetry? Sometimes itís to step away from the rush and roar of daily life, to get absorbed in a cocoon of words and let one strong image take over while the rest fades away. Sometimes they want to experience something new, to see the world through anotherís eyes, to find a new way of looking at an old thing. Think about the audience youíre trying to reach. If they could ask you one question about this poem after reading it, what would it be? Try to answer that question.
What the Audience Needs
While the paragraph above deals with the conscious, this deals with the subconscious. Readers not only need to understand the poem, but to feel it, too. They need to feel a connection between the meaning and the sound, the rhythm of the words. Literary devices such as alliteration and rhyme help words flow together in a pleasing way. Readers also need structure. Even in free verse, some semblance of form and structure is necessary (otherwise itís just random words on a page, which is chaos, not poetry). Finally, readers need clarity. From the beginning, it should be clear what the poem is about. At least one topic, theme, emotion or image should arise without effort on the readerís part.
What the Audience Expects
By studying and thinking about your intended audience, you can figure this one out. Much of this depends on where your poem appears. If itís in an anthology for love poems, the audience will expect different things than if it were published in Fish & Stream, or a travel magazine. Once you have a good idea of what your audience expects, you have a choice whether or not to give it to them. Remember, you donít always have to follow what convention dictates. Give your readers something new. Surprise, amaze, and astound them. Write what they donít expect, and sometimes youíll come away with something stronger or more unique than before.