10 things contemporary poets should know about poetry.

1. Poems are not purely narrative; stories are! If you want to write a story “by god” write a story, but don’t call it a poem. I speculate that most narrative poems are short-short versions of stories written by writers – who don’t have the skill, patience or time to write a whole short story.

2. Free verse does not mean that you should completely ignore rhythms and line breaks. Help your readers – one long ass, run on sentence, without punctuation; that takes up a whole page, is not innovative (it’s already been done). It disrespects your reader’s intelligence, shows the world that you are only merely cleaver, and is pabulum masquerading as a poem.

3. Don’t put two contrasting metaphors in one verse or sentence – it just won’t hold together for your readers. Here is an example: “I was hearing a picture of you standing in a well of feeling looking for water”. That’s a line that truly crashes, as the mind of your reader tries to make sense of the way your use of “metaphors” and “predicates” collides and shatters into each other.

4. If you write a poetry blog as a daily confession about how “no one listens to you” and then choose fonts and contrasting background colors that make it difficult for your viewers to read your pearls of wisdom – then guess what – not only will you not have people listening to you , you won’t have people able to read you either.

5. Consider that applying terms like “Postmodernism” and “Post-Postmodernism” to your poetry is you engaging in an intellectual mind fuck. Good poetry first lands in the heart long before it wends its way to the head (this will always be true, except for those poets and readers who are members of the “I am smarter than you” cabal – hell bent on living their lives in the mind, rather than remembering that just below their noses is this incredible thing called “the body”).

6. If your poem does not shout from the page then no amount of voice or invective will carry it to a listener’s ear when you shout it from a stage.

7. Dear Slam Poet: Isn’t nice that you have found a way to get along with big brother – that you have found a way to be like a corporate cohort smothering the competition – that you have found a way to weed out the weak poets amongst you and in a Darwinian manner leave them bleeding on the stage. Well done O’ ye gladiators of truth justice and the “I am hipper then you way”.

8. Please consider editing. I know that an angel or a devil personally whispered an opus in your ear – and that all of your words are holy, and that you once read Ginsberg stating that the first time is the best time – but that just does not stand up to the test of reading. It’s true that your first draft is a large part of why you write (your reporting the words of a muse, etc.) but remember, writing is a craft, and as craft, your poems should go through several iterations before finding themselves on your blog or printed on a page. And by the way you will be doing all of us a big favor in the process.

9. Read the masters, if for no other reason then to critique them. Study the evolution of poetry in a non-academic manner – who were these poets writing for, how were they received in their own times, what do you love about their poems, and what do you hate about them?

10. Poetry is about resonance; it’s the use of language in a manner consistent with and contemporaneous with its time. Remember the vernacular of the sub-culture of you audience – appeal to them by glorifying their understandings about “place”, “time”, and “dignity”.


18 responses to “10 things contemporary poets should know about poetry.

  1. I reviewed Charles Simic’s DIME STORE ALCHEMY on my blog recently plus I’ve read some of his poetry. Your suggestion in #9 to “Read the masters” is absolutely bang-on and I would say Mr. Simic’s minimalistic masterpieces put him firmly in that camp. Billy Collins is another terrific poet–America certainly has a number of good ones putting pen to paper these days. Mark Strand…

    Good post, good advice.

  2. Hmm i wonder how you would view my poetry.
    Although i have had no teaching and no direction.
    Reading this i wish i had someone to help me progress into a poet.
    All my poetry is just a vent of anger using the page to replace life as the reciever of damage.

  3. Also what i forgot to add on…
    Thanks for the advice

  4. as god as my witness, i will never attempt another poem!

    just shoot me.

  5. Dame
    I was trying to help – oh well…

    I don’t like many peoples poetry
    but that matters not a wit – your voice – whatever your voice (perhaps once you find it) will find ears.

    I have no formal training. I have never taken a writing class
    but that matters not a wit – because I have direction.

    So influencedse4 – find a direction – any direction – point your ship into any wind of poetry and write. Make a lot of mistakes – for mistakes matter not a wit. Its all about the process.

  6. Pingback: yeats i aints « Matters Of Little Consequence

  7. renaissanceguy

    Bravo. All of your points resonate with me.

  8. Thank You renaissanceguy

    Dame….What can I say…Its is faith and appreciation like yours that fuels me…
    How wonderful I felt when I saw that you had done a piece on my site…
    Thank You

  9. C’mon, i have to think of you when listening to Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man”.

    You write the poems that make the young girls sing. Manilow is royally fk’d.

    You’re the man– you bashful boy.

    You’re the poetry man.

    You make things alright.


  10. Hey.
    Slam poets are not here for slaughter of the competition. If you ever go to a slam you will see the friendship that is formed. It gives you a drive to dig deeper than you did before. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that poetry doesn’t get criticized. Slam poets are just brave enough to have it done in front of their faces. Written word poets get their work ripped to pieces by literary mags, and professors. Attaching a score is a whole lot better than someone telling you exactly what makes no sense, what should be removed, what should go in. Just accept that spoken word and written word are different. It takes different skills, one is not better than the other. Not everyone can straddle the world of both. So until you find the strength to get up on a stage of your peers, not to mention total strangers, and put life into your work before their eyes, don’t judge.
    Peace and joy

  11. Yve –

    I have been to slams, been slammed, slammed others…whatever…to each there own, they are not my cup of tea…

    My only real complaint with “Slams” is that often they seem to rely on theatrics rather than clear, well thought out writing…

  12. Elijah'sChairot

    I liked what you had to say ‘good stuff’
    Something tells me your a prick though
    But I don’t really care either way
    I write poetry, I have no idea why I write it
    Feels good, so I do it, I love words and working with words, I’m a visionary to boot, love emotion, and like creating images out of the void, here’s a poem of mine, feel free to bash the crap out of it

    Cold night
    With episodes of rain
    Hitting hard
    The windowpane
    A quiet guitar in the background is whining
    Bright room of my mine
    Waits for morning

  13. Elijah – What would be the point of bashing your poem or the poems any particular poet…I see no reason for doing this.

    I think I am correct in writing that I have not bashed any poet by name or poem any where on my site…

    Be Well, I wish you only the best…


  14. If anyone wants to seriously write poetry, then the following books are a good place to look. They are not books that preach to a younger, ignorant generation of potential poets. No, they list a multitude of different techniques and terms–alliteration, assonance, diction, metaphor, synecdoche, motonomy, etc–that will help broaden and strengthen a beginner poets arsenal. I strongly recommend the following: Western Wind, Triggering Town, Land of Stone, Letters to a Young Poet, Emerson’s essay “The Poet” and “Nature.” Continue writing young poets.

    Final note: a message to vers libre. It was Frost who said that “free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”

    Also, to the writer of this blog. I agree with many of these rules; however, I doubt that Milton, T.S. Elliot, E.A. Robinson, Frost, Virginia Woolf, Marvel, Richard Hugo, Billy Collins, or John Donne would agree that the narrative poem is a lazy short story writer.

    Keep writing poets.

  15. Reblogged this on Rites of the Image and commented:
    Very interesting post

  16. I like your post .. very useful even for those who only write poems in their journals as a way of recalling a moment in the day

  17. Any good books on how to structure contemporary poetry?

  18. You make good points but end up scaring more than encouraging lt the poet arrive at his own pace and peril as Virginia Woolf told an aspiring poet “write rubbish, but write… Poets must be encouraged not be sermonised as you do

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