Poetry-Writing Advice–There’s No Shortage


As is true with most things in life, there’s no shortage of advice when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t consider the source, though. Advisors are seldom names you will find in the poetry aisle. (Well, if poetry even had an aisle, that is. It’s more likely wedged between Romance and Manga.)

In truth, books about writing are like the “self-help” aisle, which by now probably has a more euphemistic name like “pre-owned cars.” Think about it. The guy who writes a book called “How To Be a Millionaire” wouldn’t have to slog through the writing of a book if he heeded his own advice, no?

So, some advice I’ve heard over the years and my reactions:

  • Write every day. My first thought is, “Really?” But then I remember that people get distracted. For me, writing is more fun than talking and listening, those staples of the daily sensory diet, but maybe I am in the minority (again). Thus, this is preaching to the choir (though I promise not to sing).
  • Read every day. Hoo, boy. Stick it in Aisle Obvious. If you are not going to learn how to do it from the masters (or even how not to do it from the mess-ups), then get out of Dodge.
  • Keep a notebook. Easy. Check my shelves.
  • No, Fool. Carry a notebook, I mean. To write ideas as they come to you. Oh. These pearls for a guy who doesn’t even carry change or a wallet in his pockets? And what about those ideas in the shower? As for me, it’s during a run the ideas come. All that blood flow and jostling of gray matter stirs up ideas, but I can barely breathe, never mind jot notes. So I memorize the ideas like they’re already a poem. A Frost poem. A “Whose Ideas These Are, I Think I Know” poem.
  • Copy by hand the poems you love. The ones by the greats or the contemporaries you love. Wait. Aren’t there lawyers for this?
  • Take chances. Live outside the box. You can do better! Live outside the rhombus (you’ll no longer have to wait at the rhombus stop).
  • Let poems sit for awhile after you write them. I get a lot of help with this from poetry journal editors. They let my poems sit for six to ten months, then send form e-mails. By that time, I’m not so sold on the poems myself. Moral: Good advice, this.
  • Cut to the bone. As long as your knife is metaphorical, sound advice. Especially for wordy sorts who jay walk in the poetry zone each day without realizing it. By the way, I think this advice goes back to Emily Dickinson, who also talked about good poetry taking your head off. Ouch.
  • Never write a poem about dogs. It’s a four-legged cliché. Whenever I hear “never” followed by subject matter, it’s open season on writing about that subject matter. Never tell me never. I’m like a kid. Try reverse psychology or something. I’m easy to trick.
  • Marketing your poems is as important as writing them. And a logistical nightmare for some of us, too!
  • When some editor says, “Close call. Try us again,” try them again. See nightmare comma logistical above. Or get a secretary.

Anyone else have some gems to share? Though I don’t always take poetry-writing advice, I love to hear it!

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