02 August 2008

Breaking the law(s).

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.

Here's my list. Post yours as a comment, or on your own blog, and link back.

My Unwritten Poetry Rules

1. I don't write poems about writing poems. Not that I have anything against a good ars poetica. I just dislike poems that try to tell me what poetry is, and what is poetry.

2. I don't write (directly) about my family. I don't think I ever will. I do create versions of people I'm mad at, including family members, and put them in poems. But I don't think I could ever write a poem directly about my childhood, or my kids.

3. I don't make many allusions. If I do, they're (in most cases) unintentional allusions to other contemporary poems. A rare exception is here.

4. I don't write long poems, or short poems. I always have to use a set line length, and even when I vary lengths it's part of a pattern or shape. Some day, I have to overcome these neurotic tendencies.

5. I can write in form, but I don't. I don't rhyme. Sometimes accidentally within lines. But not on purpose. I feel slightly embarrassed that I never write in form, for some reason. It's just not my thing.

What are your unwritten poetry rules, O Blogosphere?

PS--Justin, I know the allusion in the title isn't industrial, but I couldn't help myself.


Justin Evans said...

Breakin' the law!
Breakin' the law!

Judas Priest does something I would never use:

A refrain.

I think that a refrain or the like seems to be archaic, which also may be why I have trouble with sestinas and villanelles. I just cant seem to get into that rhythm.

As for the ars poetica, when you read my chapbook, I hope you will be very forgiving.

Jeff Newberry said...

For me, my rules include:

1. Do the opposite. Whatever I'm thinking, whatever idea I have, I try to do the opposite, inverting images, writing only in fragments/sentences, etc.

2. Stretch that dollar. The longer I can stretch the metaphor, the better.

3. Tune the lines like strings. I read every line aloud, rearranging syntax & replacing words until it sounds right to my ear, just like tuning a guitar.

4. I rarely write in form, myself, though I've been playing the eye game with a sonnet sequence for a while.

5. I used to avoid writing in second person, always. These days, I have some second person poems, but I try to make sure that the addressed is a realized character, someone the "I" of the poem would actually be addressing.

6. I don't consciously write ars poetics, but I think a number of my poems can be read that way.

P. J. said...

Not that I get a chance or have the inclination to write poems anymore—something I hope my move to Ohio will fix—or make rules for myself, looking over what I have (minus the hogwash written prior to the past six or seven years), it's probably the opposite of yours, which is why you are the poet and I am the guy who Photoshops icons for LiveJournalers (there are also several other reasons, probably, though I'm trying to keep this brief), but here they are anyway:

1. I used to write about what I know in cheesy extended metaphors. Now I try to write more objectively, about what I've observed but not really experienced, with tighter descriptions.

2. I used to make a lot of allusions, especially to pop culture, but not so anymore. Some, sure, but nothing like a Flavor Flav reference or something that might require a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Compendium to "get" it.

3. I like to keep things to one page; otherwise I'm just blowing smoke.

4. Probably the one-page rule is because I love forms, which I try to write in just to keep me sharp, also so I can tell myself, "Just 5 more lines...c'mawwwwn!"; for me, it's not so much about writing anything decent as it is to see if I have anything in me that can be expressed poetically.

Probably all these can best be expressed in the following rule:

5. I try not to write about sorority girls or use the word dragon.

Carol Mac said...

I will never write a poem that alludes to WCW, Stevens, Eliot, Plath, or Donne, and overtly mention it in the title somewhere. Frankly, if I read one more submission that notes "after WCW" I'll do a crazy-dance.
I am, however, open to poems that mention lesser known poets, painters, people, etc.

Dan said...

Just wanted to say hello -- I stumbled upon your blog a couple of days ago and have been benefiting from the great dialogue here ever since.

I don't really have any solid unwritten poetry rules as of yet, but two things I try to steer clear of are ghazals and metapoetry. I'm not a huge fan of sestinas, either, but I think that with a little homophonic ingenuity and a willingness to cast aside purist approaches, a poet can actually make the form's repetitiveness work without letting it take center stage.


Nin Andrews said...

I don't make rules about what I don't do--because then I do them. I HAVE TO DO THEM. I started out with the rule--never write about sex. Oh well. Then there was--never write a political book. Yeah, okay. And it keeps going. I was never ever ever going to write about my family. Argh. Go ahead. Tell me what I should never do.

Collin Kelley said...

Collin's Rules of Poetry Order:

1. Do not write in form.

2. Never be afraid to write about the people in your life and name names.

3. Use profanity and graphic sex as needed.

4. Do not write about little birdies flying past the window, unless the bird is a vulture and the window is shattering and cutting your face to ribbons.

5. More cowbell, more confessional poetry.

Anne Haines said...

The only one I can think of offhand is: If there's pain or sorrow in a poem it better be there for a reason. "Oh I feel so sad and angst-filled" is not, in itself, sufficient grounds for poeming.

Anyone under the age of 18 is exempt from this rule. ;) I, unfortunately, continued to break it until I was about 22. I should burn those.

Word verification: fljbkts -- fleejbuckets?? Hm.

Laura the Poet said...

I stopped using "I" or "you" in my poetry a while back, but have since let them back in. I figured since I made the rule, I can unmake it.

I write about my own experiences a lot. My own feelings. I have an interesting life, so it serves me well.

I also write about the people in my life a lot. My family and friends serve as an excellent source of humor and wonder.

I never rhyme. It doesn't work. I sound like Dr. Seuss.

I tried writing about sex in poetry once explicitly, and people thought I was talking about a man shaving his face. I leave that topic for my creative non-fiction.

My poems' lengths can vary, but they are never longer than what I can fit on one page typed. Must be the ADHD.

wudifwe said...

My list of unwritten poetry rules that I revisit each morning before writing any poetry:

1. don't write poetry. your poetry is not good.
2. if you do write poetry, stop.
3. read other people's poetry until you are sufficiently inspired to write your own.
4. go to #1.

wudifwe said...

BTW: I like the pic in this post. it is the view from my office window (above Crave)

Michael said...

My rules (at least the few I can think of at the moment):

1. I (can) never (bring myself to) end a line with a, an, and, or the, even if I want to do something I was ordered not to during my undergrad days.

2. Never be too kind or too unkind to my speakers and how they choose to think/act in any particular moment.

3. Never fall too much in love with a word, phrase, line, or poem I've written. Those are the ones that rarely survive revising.

Jonathan Barrett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Barrett said...

My unwritten rules are:

1. I usually follow "Sound more then sense"(Marilyn Hacker) but not in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E sense or the John Cage sense...well, maybe the John Cage sense.

2. Economy; although I suck at following this rule some times but I'm getting better.

3. Image: I'm not in Heidelberg Castle.

4. "Autobiography rots" (Marvin Bell) - avoid the "I" if possible. Windows or mirrors, windows or mirrors. Decisions, decisions.

5. "Don't be 'viewy'" (Ezra Pound) - poetry versus philosophical essays...I'm just not sure???

6. Three. No, not images--three, three, three.

7. Four, yes four again. As Blaise Pascal aptly put: "the bias towards self is the beginning of all disorder..." Although, I have to admit I do write an occasional poem about my kids as a break and for fun.

I think I’ve got a lot more unwritten rules now that I think about but I’ll stop there.

Gary said...

My one rule is not to write a poem that's shaped like the thing it's about. I like John Hollander's work in general, but a poem shaped like a swan? Or a bottle of burgundy? Just give me the burgundy. I used to have other rules, but once I wrote that ode to Britney Spears in seven parts, most of them went out the window.

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks for starting this discussion! I found out about your blog through Greg Rappeleye's blog... will bookmark it soon, as it looks interesting. Come and see my list!

Oliver de la Paz said...

Hrm . . .

I too can't allow my lines to end in "and," "to," "the," and "a."

I avoid writing about my family as much as possible--I love masks & persona poems.

I try, as much as possible, not to write about sex because of my latent Catholicism . . . the guilt never goes away.

I try to avoid using the same noun or adjective in consecutive lines or stanzas. Weird, I know, and it's my most often broken rule.

Often, I try to keep my lines between 10 and 15 syllables. Why, I don't know.

There are others I can't think of at this hour, but I know I set up a lot of constraints in most of my work.

marybid said...

Wow--I love these responses!

Welcome to all the new posters here. I will blogroll y'all.

Kelli Russell Agodon - Book of Kells said...

Great post, Mary! And what a way to start a conversation.

I've added my "rules" on my blog. Thanks for the topic!

Radish King said...

If someone tells me there is a rule, I break it as quickly as I can.

WorldClassPoet said...

You can read my list of rules on my blog at http://www.worldclasspoetryblog.com.

January said...

Mary, great topic. And like Kelli, I have posted my "rules" on my blog.

Matt Walker said...

Wow. A lot of people seem to like rules. My only rule is, don't make or follow rules.

Dominic Rivron said...

If I have a rule it is to try not to let the energy of the poem flag.

Another one is: if it doesn't excite me it sure isn't going to excite anybody else. I would like to think a good poem takes the reader by surprise: ideally, it makes it possible for him/her to imagine things that were not possible prior to it being written.

Avoid sentimentality.

Observe. There are more good ideas out there in the world waiting to be discovered than there are in my head.

So often the bit I feel most smug about is the bit that has to go.

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