Poets Should Know

10 things contemporary poets should know about writing 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”

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24 responses to “Poets Should Know

  1. This is all excellent advice. The kernel may be that poetry is more than mere self-expression therapy, thoughts dumped on a page to make the writer feel better. It is a craft which requires patience and experience. The poet must be able to write about something other than themselves and do it in a way which communicates, entertains or illuminates. You are right, poetry is about resonance, the creation of subtle connecticons across time.

  2. you’re singing to the choir…I agree wholeheartedly… bravo…

  3. First thanks for commenting on my poem, I am new out here in BLog Land and also first sharing my stuff. This is a great little guide you have. especially the line about formatting and proofreading. I find it actually hard to do on WordPress but I am stickler for a word spelled correctly. Looking forward to reading and sharing more,

  4. #7 is a treasure. The worst part is, once a slam poet, always a slam poet. The ex-slams I’ve heard read have a crazy, train-wreck kind of rhythm behind every word and line.

  5. veronicaromm – Thank you and welcome to my site… try writing and editing in word and then uploading to wordpress – careful to post it under the code tab instead of the visual tab…it usaually works out fine…

    LesHannah – Thanks for your comment – I have been to many open readings and slams and they’re interesting…as another form of poetry…but most suffer when read from a page…in other words they have a greater chance of working when “Spoken” and don’t always make sense when silently read from a page…it’s a lot like reading song lyrics…


  6. Thanks for the help. Check out my site is has definitely blossomed since I figured some of this stuff out. I even added a page on book reviews, goooo me!!

  7. Hurrah, now you too can be a wordpress blogger… 🙂

  8. I love Spoken Word or slam shows. I have seen some great performance readings. I know what you mean b/c how you say the words impacts how they are interpreted. Reading can limit or vice versa. I wonder HOW people read my stuff, and if it sounds to them like I wanted it to.

  9. Pink – ditto on the bravo back to you…thanks for coming…

    veronicaromm – most but not all slam poets are aspiring to entertain using theatrics…acting out in some way the aura of the piece they are working with…which leaves little room for pondering…

    It is damn difficult to know how people will read your stuff and if it will sound to them anything like the way it sounds to you…Do you read your poems out loud to yourself?

  10. ‘Good poetry first lands in the heart long before it wends its way to the head’ a most poetic pronouncement and so very true! I like this list much more (wink).

  11. I’d very much like to post this on my blog. Is Would you grant me the privilege of doing so? It goes without saying that I’ll credit you for it.


    My one request Bob is that you link Poetman as the author and my site 1poet4man in your posting…I do thank you very much and I am thrilled…one more thing (I knew there were two things) please let me know when you have posted this piece…


  13. No problem… and it’s already up. Thanks…

  14. I’m just gonna have to kick at number 5 though. There is an honourable and noble intellectual tradition associated with poetry and language with an agreed terminology. Perhaps a good poem does land first in the heart but a very good poem should be able to sustain a vigorous, literate examination from an intellectual standpoint.
    In fact, taken as a whole, all you seem to be saying is that poetry should be discussed in the terms which most favour your work.

  15. Thank you Jo – can you talk to Paul – maybe you can splain it to him….

    Paul I almost agreed with you until I got to your last line – “In fact, taken as a whole, all you seem to be saying is that poetry should be discussed in the terms which most favour your work.” and to that I say…huh?

  16. I don’t know about that, Poetman, Paul is far too clever to need anything explaining to him…..

  17. Some interesting material, although I’d definitely disagree with some of it. I find #7 to be a little contradictory considering your ‘Poetry Asses’ section (no offence). On the other hand, numbers 5, 6 and 10 I completely agree with.

  18. ooooo, I’m glad I read this conversation
    How are you a cleaver, do you like slicing and hacking things into chunks?
    the essence to me is to first learn the rules, the rhythms, the beats and the fact upon fact of mathematics and architecture, then throw it off the roof and sing what you see

  19. Interesting point of view. There is definitely a distinction between poetry for the page and poetry for the stage. There’s a great deal of historical poetry that is the same way. Coleridge’s “Rime” is a disaster for perfomance, but “Kubla Khan” is great for performance. Most of Ginsberg’s poems aren’t good for either . . . but “America” and “Howl” are both good for performance, whereas “Kaddish” is not so good.
    Narrative is only a problem if, as you say, it is the only conceit; poetry can be narrative, but it requires more than that.
    Also, there is a time and there are reasons to use mixed metaphor. It’s a good general rule of thumb, but not a poetry law.
    I’d be more adamant about editing.
    Definitely sing that ninth psalm – READ THE MASTERS! [of course, this raises the question of ‘who are the masters?’ and ‘which masters?’]
    Poetry to the people!

  20. i agree with some of what you say but isn’t a poem a poem if it’s written from the heart…and aren’t the most beautiful stories or for that matter anything beautiful an expression of poetry….the very word-‘poetry’ captures its own essence and includes in its ambit not just poem but all beauty withal and without……why destroy it with rules….although some of what you say is true coz it prevnts artifice from creepin in

  21. Mystic Wino – I completely agree about editing…maybe I will write about the way I have spent endless hours editing my poetry…Thanks for the comments…

    Scarlett_31 – A poem is a poem when you say that it is a poem, and perhaps any activity or thing can be described poetically – when I wrote the above, I probably should have stated them as my rules…so of course write as you wish and for who you wish, and use the above only if you think that it is useful…

  22. Your not suppose to tell them about number three. I like to call that accidental humor. I love bad writing, o i love it when its so bad its genius.

  23. Pingback: 10 Things Poets Should Know « Dreams Awake Poetry

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