Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Rules of Poetry

Douglas Florian has been nice enough to give me permission to reprint his poem The Rules of Poetry. The poem is on the Children's Book Council's 2006 Young People's Poetry Week bookmark (for sale here!). This happens to be Young People's Poetry Week, but to me this poem is accurate alllllll year round. I cannot do the layout of the poem justice nor am I reprinting the art that goes with it, so please look at the bookmark even if you don't buy it.

Douglas Florian

Keep it short.
Leave it long.
Use bad grammar.
Spell words wrong.
Let the letters
All f
Print a few lines
Upside down.
Change the rhythm.
Never rhyme.
Force the meter
All the time.
Find your keys.
Lose your tools.
By the way --

©2006 Douglas Florian

(And yes, the line "upside down" is, of course, upside down. My skills aren't up to dealing with concrete poetry.)

Browse Mr. Florian's wonderful books here and here.

And embrace those rules. WRITE ON!


Deeplip said...


Poetry isn’t
You don’t need
an advanced
In basketball,
they can’t teach
Everyone can’t learn
to write.
Master classes
and week-end
won’t produce
a Shelley or Keats.
Why not do it
the old-fashioned way?
Ignore what the
critics have to say.
Remember that Rome
wasn’t built in a day,
and neither was
Edna St. Vincent Millay.
You write bad verse?
Well --- that’s ok.
You might write worse
with an M.F.A..
If you lack
the right credentials,
better stick
to the essentials.
Keep it short, but
not too sweet.
Don’t use rhymes and
don’t count feet!
Skew the syntax.
Switch the tense.
Try to keep
the language dense.
It helps if the title
makes no sense.
Never write
a line that could
easily be understood.
Critics all
will wax ecstatic
If your poems are
strive to be abstruse;
lest you’ll sound like
Mother Goose –
or even worse
like Dr. Seuss.
Don’t be “humdrum”.
Don’t be “trite”.
Think conundrum
when you write.
Pull enough wool
over their eyes,
and you could win
a Pull it, sir Prize.

Joanne said...

BAD:Well,u r cheating ur readers! I'm a beginner so i came on this web to learn some basic rules but,even when u had written that there is no need to use rhyming words in a poem but,exactly underneath it u wrote a poem in which there WERE rhyming words.
GOOD:Its nice and cheerful. :-)

Eva said...

This is brilliant! I was really struggling writing poetry following all those very strict rules and here is this poem telling me that there are no rules! Long live free verse!

Anonymous said...

Even free verse has rules, and telling people that "there are no rules" in poetry only encourages poor poetry. Writing down words willy-nilly is fine, sure, especially if it helps you relieve stress (which, as I understand it, is why many people attempt poetry). But it isn't always going to be poetry.

"Free verse" does not mean "free from all rules." Free verse excepts the writer from writing a poem with a certain number of lines (e.g. a sonnet or a quatrain), a certain rhyme scheme, or a rhyme scheme at all. But free verse still calls for some of the essentials of poetry. If free verse really was free of all rules, then my comment would qualify as free verse poetry, as would all prose throughout history.

I am in no way telling anyone to stop writing poetry, but please be aware that poetry has rules no matter how you look at it. But some rules are more lax than others.

Anonymous said...

lol! i love it it has a good rhythm! i would love to see more! this is a very bad haiku i wrote, it took my 3 minutes so don't complain!

My dad like to eat,
Elmo is nice too,
spaghetti is good.

this is a 5, 7, 5, haiku so...

any way kewl i'm starting a poetry book! (this is not going to ever be published!!!) lol!!! so well good poem!!

Anonymous said...

I loved this, including the comments, Deeplip's poem, and Anonymous's haiku. You guys had me laughing so hard I cried. I'm a poet. My rules: enjoy yourself, write what you love, love what you write or change it or throw it away whatever. Say something worth saying even if it's just to be funny. Nobody's the boss of poetry, but I've been noticing lately that the strict Free Verse people seem to have the strictest rules of all. Lighten up! Poetry's supposed to be enjoyable for everyone not just you.

Miss Huda said...

I agree whoever said modern poetry was boring didn't scan my blog!!