This is something of an exercise because my rules for poetry will no doubt differ from your rules. What works for me in one poem may not work in another, and may not work for you at all. Also there’s something liberating thinking about the patterns I tend to use and/or avoid in my writing. So without further adieu, here are my rules.
- Stay away from rhyme. I’m not very good at it, so unless the rhyme is internal, I avoid it like the plague. Hats off to poets who can, but it’s not for me.
- That being said, every few months I leave free verse behind to try a form.
- Be economical with words—I get rid of all extra articles, prepositions, and adverbs.
- Don’t end a line on an article or preposition.
- Look at each line as its own unit. Rather, see if the phrase can stand on its own. I look for the right adjectives, nouns, and verbs to describe the moment. It always pays off in the end.
- There is no subject that is taboo in poetry. I'll write just about everything, including family. Although the details may vary, everything is up for grabs.
- Poet Toi Derricotte once described what she called a “good line drawer,” where she (mentally) stored all of her good lines in poems that didn’t work. This is certainly a rule I adhere to in every poem. Too often I fall in love with a line that’s just not working. Usually it’s a line too clever for its own good. So I’ll take it out to see if the poem is improved.
- (NEW RULE, JUST ADDED) End the poem before it ends. Sometimes I have trouble finding an ending to my poems. So I ususally go back a line or two to see if I passed the ending on the way to a seemingly more clever line.