My Rules of Poetry

I’ve been following a few blog conversations here and here about poets and their personal rules of poetry, so I had to offer my two cents.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. That being said, every few months I leave free verse behind to try a form.
  3. Be economical with words—I get rid of all extra articles, prepositions, and adverbs.
  4. Don’t end a line on an article or preposition.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. (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.


Rethabile said…
What do you mean by "I'll take out it out to see if the poem is improved?"

And just just saying it I've answered my own question, because I do the same.

I mean, for me at least, the clever line starts the poem, but poems shouldn't be clever (mine shouldn't), so after a while, I kill the clever bit that started it all, and usually little by little the poem falls into place.
odessa said…
i don't have any rules because too often i'm just happy that i've written something. but since english is not my first language, i try to use as little words as possible. i agree with you on good lines. it very hard to take them out but if they don't work with the rest of the poem, i usually store them away.
Kay said…
Such great rules! I agree with them all and can't think of any more to add - but then again i haven't given it much thought yet ... maybe now I don't need to!
kj said…
this is wonderful! thanks for tips that are totally helpful.

i love to rhyme
much of the time.
though it's quite out of fashion for me it's a passion.

i could try to repent
withhold poems that i've sent
but at the end of the dial
rhymes just make me smile.

January said…
And this is why I leave rhyming to talented poets like you! Thanks KJ
January said…
Kay, I thought of one more rule, which I think I'll add to my post.

Odessa, yes, just getting something down on paper trumps all of the rules on this list.

Rethabile, you caught my typo--I'm prone to them as you know. This is why I don't list error free poems (or posts) as a rule!

Sometimes for me the clever lines occur where the poem turns or at the end. So it's easy for me to see if that line is paying off or not. Yes, sometimes the clever line has got to go.
Rethabile said…
Funny because I had a typo in there, and when I read you I understood the English without seeing the typo, but I didn't understand what you meant at first.
SEO Delhi said…
Rules are good but not for me. Bcoz i do when i feel good.

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