What makes a good poem?

Want to know what the River of Words poetry judges are looking for when you submit your work? Read through our "Hallmarks of a Strong Poem" to make sure that your poem stands up to the test-

Hallmarks of a Strong Poem 

*Note: a poem does not need to have all of these qualities to be considered ‘strong’—instead, this list is meant to help inform your writing process if you’re feeling unsure about the quality of your or your student’s work

  • Provocative
  • Inspiring
  • Evocative
  • Language-rich
  • Surprising
  • Interesting line-breaks
  • Informed by a form (there is a formulaic underpinning to the poem, i.e. a certain rhyme scheme, meter, # of lines per stanza, repetition etc.)
  • Avoids typical, easy rhymes and cliché statements
  • Addresses issues of writing, the environment

Tell us what no one what sees: the poem should reflect a your own unique observations of your surroundings 


When I read a strong poem, I should feel…

  • A chill through my body!
  • Surprised by the language and enchanted by it


Hallmarks of a Weak Poem

  • Includes cliché statements
  • Over-use of adjectives
  • Feeling and/or meaning are unclear