Poetry-Writing Advice–There’s No Shortage


As is true with most things in life, there’s no shortage of advice when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t consider the source, though. Advisors are seldom names you will find in the poetry aisle. (Well, if poetry even had an aisle, that is. It’s more likely wedged between Romance and Manga.)

In truth, books about writing are like the “self-help” aisle, which by now probably has a more euphemistic name like “pre-owned cars.” Think about it. The guy who writes a book called “How To Be a Millionaire” wouldn’t have to slog through the writing of a book if he heeded his own advice, no?

So, some advice I’ve heard over the years and my reactions:

  • Write every day. My first thought is, “Really?” But then I remember that people get distracted. For me, writing is more fun than talking and listening, those staples of the daily sensory diet, but maybe I am in the minority (again). Thus, this is preaching to the choir (though I promise not to sing).
  • Read every day. Hoo, boy. Stick it in Aisle Obvious. If you are not going to learn how to do it from the masters (or even how not to do it from the mess-ups), then get out of Dodge.
  • Keep a notebook. Easy. Check my shelves.
  • No, Fool. Carry a notebook, I mean. To write ideas as they come to you. Oh. These pearls for a guy who doesn’t even carry change or a wallet in his pockets? And what about those ideas in the shower? As for me, it’s during a run the ideas come. All that blood flow and jostling of gray matter stirs up ideas, but I can barely breathe, never mind jot notes. So I memorize the ideas like they’re already a poem. A Frost poem. A “Whose Ideas These Are, I Think I Know” poem.
  • Copy by hand the poems you love. The ones by the greats or the contemporaries you love. Wait. Aren’t there lawyers for this?
  • Take chances. Live outside the box. I haven’t slept in the back yard for years. In a word: No. But I’m willing to take chances in a 5-star hotel!
  • Let poems sit for awhile after you write them. I get a lot of help with this from poetry journal editors. They let my poems sit for six to ten months, then send form e-mails asking about my day job.
  • Cut to the bone. As long as your knife is metaphorical, sound advice. Especially for wordy sorts who jay walk in the poetry zone each day without realizing it.
  • Never write a poem about dogs. It’s a four-legged cliché. Whenever I hear “never” followed by subject matter, it’s open season on writing about that subject matter. Never tell me never. I’m like a kid. Try reverse psychology or something. I’m easy to trick.
  • Marketing your poems is as important as writing them. And a logistical nightmare for some of us, too!
  • When some editor says, “Close call. Try us again,” try them again. See nightmare comma logistical above. Or get a secretary.

Anyone else have some gems to share? Though I don’t always take poetry-writing advice, I love to hear it!



  1. Some good advice there, but many of my best poems about dogs (and cats), por ejemplo:


    Lightning, then, of course, thunder.
    We can get used to anything.
    The window, lit up, shakes
    & we’re comforted, pulling
    the blankets to our chins. The dog,
    half-blind, diabetic, fat as a woodchuck,
    burrows between us, panting,
    trembling like she’s never heard
    thunder before. Maybe she hasn’t,
    she lives so much in the moment.
    Here’s her day: I was in. Now I’m out.
    I was out. Now I’m in. You going
    to eat that? You going to eat that?
    I’ll eat that! Here’s her night so far:
    What’s that? Thunder. What’s that?
    Thunder. What’s that? Thunder.


  2. I’m glad you ignored the “never write dog poems” advice. Those were among my favorite poems in your book, and I’m a cat person. What they probably mean is “avoid schmaltz,” and you did.

    I, too, have received a lot of good free advice. I guess working for free makes poets generous with their time. Now you’ve joined the Advice Givers Circle. Congratulations.


    • How ironic (joining the Advice Givers Circle, I mean)! In truth, I’m a lousy joiner, unless we’re talking Amalgamated Lone Wolves (membership: one). And thanks for the kind, cat-lover’s words about my dog poems!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s