Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rules, No: Guidelines for Poets


I saw this on Mary Biddinger's blog and will take a short break from my vacation to add to it.

Are there certain things that you will never do in a poem, either intentionally or unintentionally? Are there things that you won't write about? Techniques you refuse to use? Sometimes it's fun to look at your work and see what rules you follow, even if you never set them in the first place.

*****Note from me: I realize immediately as I begin these, these are guidelines written in stone rules that should be obeyed on every poem. Each poem is its own unique thing. Just as one pair of glasses doesn't fit every person's face, these rules will sometimes work for one poem and not for another. Sometimes I follow them, sometimes I don't. I see them more as advice from other poems that worked, but not anything I'd tell someone to do in every poem. Except for #8. I believe in that greatly.


1) Like Richard Hugo, I like my end words to pack a punch. I think nouns, esp. nouns with more than one meaning, offer satisfaction. Esp. nouns that continue to move the poem to another level.


2) I work with the line of the poem and try to see each of them as individual gems I can pull out. If a line is clunky, then the line will be fixed or dropped.


3) I like being able to create linebreaks that add new or a surprising meaning to the poem. For example something like:

In the hospital room, he was dying
for ice cream...

appeals to me greatly.


4) I love to use wordplay in a poem if it's allowing me to take the poem to another level and not just being clever.


5) If someone tells me there something one shouldn't write a poem about, I immediately want to write that poem.


6) I don't believe there is anything off limits in poetry or any writing, but I believe in integrity. And I dislike "shock-poetry," anything anyone has written to be edgy. Everything has been done, I just try to do what I am doing well.


7) I don't like habits. If I find I'm always doing something in my poetry (see the above list), I try to stop and do something else.


8) I always have a reason for everything in a poem--where I break the line, why I used a certain word, why it's in X number of stanzas--it's very important to me that I can tell you why I did something in a poem instead of answering, "I don't know."


9) I dislike poetry rules. And of all my rules I wrote, probably 8 is the only one that I stick too 99% of the time, the others are all guidelines, not rules. Rules tend to make artists limit themselves. If you've made a hard-and-fast rule for yourself, try to break it in your next poem. See what happens.
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