Tuesday, August 12, 2008

(my) Rules to write by

Over on Blogalicious, Diane Lockward posted her list of rules for writing poems. I started to add my list, but I knew I'd need a little more time to think about it (and I also realized that my list might be long or kind of uptight in an embarrassing way).

I guess that seven isn't a terribly long number, or it's a start:


  1. Never repeat a word unless you intend to.

    (see what I mean?)


  2. Don't throw in just a couple of random end rhymes (even slant end rhymes). If you're going to rhyme, follow some kind of rhyme scheme—even if it's your own. Otherwise, find new words.


  3. Don't call a poem "Untitled." (For me, this applies to other art forms, too.)


  4. This one I learned recently during a class taught by Nance Van Winkle: When first writing out a poem, try not to know what it's about for as long as possible. More of a tip than a rule, but I try to keep it in mind and use it.


  5. Make the end words count, because they do—being at the end of the line lends the weight. That's my nice way of saying not to end a line with of or the or and. Caveat: Sometimes, for the sake of phrasing, of might work at the end of the line; even so, is that the word you want to emphasize?


  6. Keep the music in mind. Granted, not ever poem is meant to elevate the music—but for me, I want to keep rhythm and internal rhymes and assonance and alliteration in my ear.


  7. Punctuate with pride and precision. Another caveat: People write brilliant poems with no punctuation at all—and they're brilliant poems. But if you're going to use commas and full stops and em dashes (my personal favorite), do it up right.

Technical details, I know—but they're the rules I use.

3 comments:

Jarod K. Anderson said...

Looks like sound advice to me. Great post.

Premium T. said...

Great list Joannie -- especially the advice of Nance Van Winkle. I think it's important to let the poem be what it wants to be -- even if it's something other than what you originally intended.

Joannie said...

I have a hard time with that--not so much that I don't let the poem be what it wants to be, but that I possibly often stop writing before it can go where it wants to go.