1. Don’t. Not yet. Read poetry first.
2. Read the greats. There is a difference between good and bad poetry.
3. Read every new poem 4 times consecutively. Always aloud. If you don’t have time. Make time or wait.
4. Start big or small. I personally began by mimicking the styles of the Romantics and Modernists. I was verbose and frankly, I sucked. But I sucked less and less with every line.
5. Fail. All the time. Repeatedly. Or at least, be prepared to. I’ve been writing for 14 years and I fail constantly. It’s how I grow. I have modest success sometimes and receive positive reviews but I’m no longer afraid to be told that I suck.
6. Memorise. Not just your poems but your favourites of others.
7. Practice them. Yes. Practice the poem. Not looking to perform? Fine but too bad. Practice reciting them anyway. Poetry is meant to be heard, not just read.
8. Be open to criticism. You’ll be told how to improve and not always by soliciting advice but don’t reject it. Keep an open mind but not too open so your brain doesn’t fall out.
9. Be okay with being a bit egotistical. The lowly, tortured artist thing is a myth. Every great writer I’ve ever read has or had a bit of an ego. (I take this rule VERY seriously)
10. Directly after you’ve completed 9, grow a thick skin. That ego could pop at any moment. You can insult the fuck out of me without any constructive criticism but I won’t give a fuck. You don’t either.
11. Don’t write for money or fame and definitely don’t pander. I’ve spent my share of nights on park benches with a dollar to split a McDonald’s hamburger with a friend for our one meal. Did poetry pay for a bed? Nope. I have made a modest amount of money writing but it’s few and far between for paydays.
12. Never finish. You’ll finish hundreds of poems during your career but you’ll never finish writing poetry. You’ll also wind up writing 1,000 stanzas of trash before you write a single poem. I can fill a library with books but they wound up in a landfill.
13. Don’t take advice from me. Or do. I don’t care. If you like my poetry, you may find this helpful. If you hate it, well, I’m sure you haven’t read this far but, if you have, find your own path then.
14. On a pink cloud of poetic ecstasy and productivity? Pack a parachute. Again. You will fail. Keats died penniless with his work torn to bits by critics during his lifetime. He requested that his tombstone reads, “here lies one whose name was writ in water.” It really says that. No name. He didn’t know he’d posthumously become one of the greatest masters of the English language. Maybe he would’ve died a bit more satisfied if he hadn’t set his sights so high. Consumption didn’t kill John Keats but rather, “I! said, The Quarterly. ‘Twas one of my feats!” Byron knew all along. (I said that joke to the most beautiful English woman leading a tour of Keats House in London and she giggled with delight. Bring me back to England if only ashes in a can, Isabella!)
15. Learn to live with rules.
16. Learn how far you can bend them. Beware that some rules may just slap you in the face like a branch when bent but fuck it. Fortune favours the brave, right?
17. If you searched for writing tips, poetry tips, how to write poetry, or just clicked this link, you’ve already started your journey on the right path. A lot of my contemporaries aren’t open to shit like this and prefer fluffy free-verse (some do it very well) but it’s mostly all bullshit. I’ve seen better platitudes and inspirational cliches at AA meetings. Same old tricks, just new dogs. (And similar, ironically crafted idioms)
18. Read this entire list again and again ad nauseam. Vomited? Good. Almost there.
19. Write every chance you get. Fuck inspiration. Hard work pays off better. 20. Don’t simply produce content, create context. Despite your opinion, when you stand in front of a Pollock painting, you can see the chaos fade away and admire the restraint. Balance restraint and abandon. Your readers aren’t dumb and can understand your poem without you expressing, or rather explaining, the same thought over and over again in different, watered down ways. Again, don’t pander. 21. Get yourself some friends. Solitude is a great asset and being a complete recluse may have worked for Dickenson but you have access to other aspiring poets and seasoned vets. I used to think I was the last activist chained to the Last Great American Redwood tree facing bulldozer wielding armada of plebeian poets. I didn’t see the forest for the trees that are still numerous, alive, and well. Teaming up with a partner has vastly improved my work and my faith in the craft.
22. This list was written by a pompous asshole who is in no way the de facto authority on what makes for good poetry. This list is just what this asshole does himself and never perfectly. Use at your own risk.
-Stephen J. Dawson Jr.
Did you realise these rules are redundant as fuck too? It’s not just my sleep deprivation? Good, then they’ll drill a proper nest in your wonderful, poetic little noggin.