Seven Poetic Things You Should Never Do

poetry

Poetry has a long history.  The first poem was written about 4100 years ago, and the most recent poem was written probably about two seconds ago.  In all this time that we have had to develop this art, there are some rules that everyone, regardless of poetic style or experience, should follow.  This is a list of seven things that you absolutely must not do as a poet

1. Never say you aren’t a poet.

The bright noonday sun is suddenly obscured by a man who gently sits beside you.  He is dressed in shades of black and grey “a la Paris,” complete with a black beret set askew on his head.  He absentmindedly takes a puff from his extra thin cigarette before pulling out a heavily worn notebook and turning to look at you.  His voice is smooth and methodical as he greets you.  “Excuse me,” he says, “but would you mind being my muse for a moment?  You see, I’m a poet.”

If you think that you need to be, look, or act anything like this person in order to be a poet, think again.  Anyone can write a poem.  It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you do, or even how good your poetry is.  Still don’t believe me?  Here are a few poets you may recognize:

Russell Crowe – Academy Award winning actor

Pamela Anderson – Model, producer, activist, author, and showgirl

Leonard Nimoy – Actor, film director, photographer, author, and songwriter

Etan Thomas – Former professional NBA athlete

Each one of these people is quite unique, and none of them are particularly famous for their poetry.  Some of them only write poetry in their free time, and some have published whole books of poetry.  The point is that no matter who you are or how much time you have, you can write poetry.  So never say you can’t.

2. Never stop thinking.

It is a well-known fact (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/13/business/13habit.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) that about 45% of our daily activities are made up of thoughtless habitual routines.  Habits certainly aren’t all bad, but the more time we spend with our brains on autopilot, the more difficult it becomes to write poetry.

Poetry is, by definition, “a literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas.”  In order to create the kind of special intensity by which poetry is defined, the ability to think deeply and critically about your surroundings is key.  A great way to develop your critical thinking is by writing.  And that brings us very neatly to my third point.

3. Never stop writing.

“But wait,” you say. “You’re telling me that in order to write I need to think, and in order to think I need to write?”  Absolutely.  You only ever get better by starting out worse, and you only improve by practice.  Write about anything you want.  You can write about school, work, friends, trees, bugs, or the perpetually overflowing garbage can that smells like old mushrooms.  I once wrote a poem about the three options my phone gave me for predictive text.  Your options are endless, and the only thing preventing you is you.

4. Never stick to a single format.

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared!

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!”

—Edward Lear

Most poetry is famous for having a consistent rhythm and for rhyming the end of each line.  But there are many kinds of poetry that have nothing to do with rhythm or rhyme at all.  In fact, the only thing that all poetry has in common is that it is an expression of an idea or feeling.  That’s really all there is.  

Here’s a list of different formats of poetry:  Acrostic, Ballad, Ballade, Blank Verse, Cinquain, Diamante, Echo Verse, Epic, Epigram, Free Verse, Haiku, Horatian Ode, Irregular Ode, Kennings, Kyrielle, Limerick (like the above poem), Lyric, Ode, Ottava Rima, Pantoum, Pindaric Ode, Renga, Riddle, Rondeau, Senryu, Shakespearean Sonnet, Shape Poem, Sonnet, Tanka, Terza Rima, Tetractys, Triolet, and Tyburn are just some of the most historic forms of poetry. (For full descriptions of each of these formats, look here.) Honestly, though, poetry can be whatever you want it to be.  Just be expressive, and the poetry will come.

5. Never doubt yourself.

While we’re on the subject of self-expression, let’s talk for a moment about doubt.  A lot of people are interested in poetry but never really get started because they doubt their ability to express their feelings or are even afraid to do so.  I get that, I really do. When I was in school expressing myself honestly was the last thing I wanted to do, and I’m only just starting to break out of that fear years later.  But trust me when I tell you that writing poetry is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself.  The therapeutic benefits of poetry are so renowned that there is an organization called The National Association for Poetry Therapy.  Getting past the doubt that comes with writing poetry may be difficult for you or it may come easily, but you’ll be glad you did.

6. Never limit yourself.

“Poetry should never be more than ten lines long.”  

“I don’t write a poem unless it’s at least a page long.”

“I can’t figure out how to make this poem shorter.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, poetry has no limits.  If you limit yourself by believing that your poem is too short, too long, or too boring, then you’re (usually) not doing any good.  One of the most impactful pieces of poetry that I have ever heard was only one word long, and some of the oldest and longest stories ever written were poems.

7. Never be original.

After everything I’ve told you, I finish my list by telling you not to be original.  It’s true, though.  Everything that you could ever write about has already been written about before.  The goal of poetry is not to write about something so unique that it hasn’t ever been written before.  If that was the goal of poetry, then “Roses are red, violets are blue” would be the only love poem ever.  But how many love poems have been written?  Good luck counting them all.  

The true goal of poetry is to write something passionate, expressive, and honest.  If your honest emotions have already been felt by some other human being before you, then welcome to humanity.  Take pride in your connection to those who have written poetry before you.  Read their poems and glean ideas about your own writing from theirs.
Now go!  Get out there and write some poetry!