10 Essential Rules of Poetry

1. KEEP THE POETRY COMING. Paint-ers paint, teachers teach, and poets poem. To excel at writing poetry, you need to flex your poetic muscles daily, even if it’s just revising an earlier work.

2. READ POETRY BY OTHERS. Too many poets worry that their voices will be influenced by the voices of other poets. Don’t fall into this trap. You need to study what you like and do not like from other poets and use that as inspiration for your own work.

3. STUDY POETIC FORMS. While you may decide against publishing sonnets, sestinas and haiku, trying various forms can only help your poetic development. After all, the form of a poem (even free verse) is the skeleton and skin that holds the content together for the reader.

4. ATTEND OPEN MICS. Performing is optional, but poets should at least listen to the spoken word occasionally. Poetry is as much an oral as a visual genre of writing. As such, it benefits a poet to understand the sounds of poetry. Plus, open mics are great for meeting other poets.

5. EXPERIMENT. Is there a poetic “rule” you just don’t like? Try breaking it. Then, look for other rules to bend. Often, the poets who are remembered and quoted are the ones who learned to do something well and then took it in a new direction.

6. REVISE. While there are exceptions, the best poems are written through the revision process. This is a great stage for experimenting. And if a crazy revision doesn’t work (removing all the adverbs just to see what happens?), simply revert to the last draft.

7. CONNECT WITH OTHER POETS. Go to readings, workshops, conferences, social media sites and anywhere else you can connect. Other poets can help keep you motivated to write and submit.

8. SHARE YOUR WORK. Give your poems to friends and family as gifts. Share good collections you’ve read. Remember: As a poet, you are an ambassador of poetry to those who are afraid to read it or think it’s something they just don’t “get.”

9. SUBMIT. Consult a resource like Poet’s Market (which I edit) and submit your poems to publications. Through the simple act of following guidelines and receiving feedback (whether through acceptance or rejection), you’ll learn to target an audience and revise appropriately.

10. PUBLISH ON YOUR OWN. Take a do-it-yourself stance to sharing your best work.

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