One of the key requirements, one of the most secret tricks
of the trade, is to have a firm understanding of stanzas.
Poets like stanzas, like monkeys like bananas.
It is a fascinating phenomenon, that you can take almost
any kind of text- random magazine clippings, excerpts from
a telephone directory, etc, and they will look like poetry if
you simply arrange them in nice, neat little lines.
To punctuate or not to punctuate, to capitalize or not capitalize-
these are all minor details, for which the poet can merely
wing it, in an impromptu fashion, according to whim.
Occasionally, the poet will find a stranded stanza or two,
that are incomplete, or have no good place in which to fit.
These may be discarded, because a goal of poetry is to
express an idea vividly in as short of a space as possible.
In poetry, a key belief is to be brief.
However, sometimes you wind up with such a bonanza of
stanzas, that you just can’t bear to part with them, much the
same as when you are cleaning your attic, and cannot bear
to part with old keepsakes that you have not really looked
at in the last 15 years. In that case, to hell, just throw
them all in. It doesn’t matter, because much of the audience
is only skimming anyway, or even more embarrassingly,
much of the imagined audience isn’t really there, or paying
Now probably, you are thinking that the correct thing for
you do, based on this insight, is to arrange your poetry
into neat, short little lines. This is incorrect. The poetically
correct thing to do, based on this knowledge, would be
to take a screwdriver, chisel the carriage return key
right off of your keyboard, and put your poem into
a single, endlessly long line.
Even more important than arrangement into stanzas
is the fact that poets do not like to be confined with
rules, or told what to do.
To Rhyme or not to rhyme ?
Rhyming is not a crime. I rhyme, all the time. However, there
are some poet partisans who eschew rhyming, as if it were
an outdated, uncouth, lowbrow sort of affair. A rhyme is
considered to be as obnoxious and absurd of a thing,
as a mime.
You should reject this argument. In poetry, it is perfectly OK to
be outdated, sentimental, uncouth, or lowbrow, because in
poetry, one of the most important things is to be free. Of our
precious freedoms, none is more important than the freedom
to be uncouth, which might make you wonder why we
value freedom as much as we do. However, another aspect
of the freedom is to be free of such rational concerns.
As a matter of fact, the freedom of poetry must include the
freedom to be morbid, hostile, and unpleasant, if this should
please us. The poet, when faced with criticism for a habit
such as using rhymes, should react by being in the face
of critics, creating a whole genre, by putting particular
emphasis on the rhymed words, beating his critics over the
head with them, and making them wallow in their
self-pitying helplessness, in their lack of ability
to make the poet cease and desist:
If my rhyming gets your GOAT
I will pay you back by cutting your THROAT
I will row you out to sea in a little row BOAT
toss your corpse overboard, to see if it will FLOAT
until it swells up with gas, and will grotesquely BLOAT
The gentle reader should observe how the above
illustrates both the art of rhyming, and the arrangement
of the text into neat, little stanzas.
To punish critics of rhyming poetry even more deviously,
I have contemplated writing a compute program to spew
out endlessly every conceivable rhyme that exists in every
human language, limited only by CPU processing power,
and disk storage space. This would have the added advantage
that all other rhyming poets, henceforth, could be accused of
Why do we do it? Why do we rhyme? Oddly, we do it,
because sometimes, incredibly enough, this practice can
be pleasing to the human ear. This is a peculiar realization,
because very frequently, rhyming makes you want to strangle
the person who is doing it.
The most likely explanation is that enjoyment of rhyming
requires a certain, mental derangement. It is not the poet’s
fault, if not everyone in the audience is fortunate or unfortunate
enough, as the case may be, to share the same, peculiar
Faking it completely
Now, some people take the position that if it doesn’t
rhyme, it isn’t a poem. Others hold rhyming in total contempt.
What is one to make of it?
This conflict should not cause distress to the neophyte.
One of the key things to understand about poetry is that
for nearly every proposition ever made about poetry,
the opposite proposition is likely to be equally valid. This
chaos is a consequence of the “total freedom” principle.
Of course, the “total freedom” principle itself is contradicted
by the opposite- the notion that poetry should not be
attempted, unless it conforms to endless reams of fussy
rules and traditions. To resolve this conflict, the aspiring
poet should do whatever most pleases him/herself. Pleasing
of readers, if any, should be at most a secondary concern.
Admittedly, there is a slight problem with rhyming,
even in addition to maddening irritation that rhyming can
Scarcely is there a poet who would not have to confess that
in the course of writing a poem, they occasionally have
to stoop to the gross question of “What rhymes with…?”
The problem with this is that the focus shifts to the purpose
of rhyming itself, instead of the essential concept that you
are trying to express. There are lots of possible rhymes
in our language, but the supply is not unlimited. Sometimes,
there simply doesn’t exist a good rhyme, so you have to
settle for a mediocre one, or a trite one.
Now, the freedom of poetry should include the freedom
to dare to be ordinary. Poetry should be for the Everyman
(a proposition contradicted by the attitude that poetry should
be left only to the most talented and educated of experts).
However, bland poetry, while permissible under the “freedom”
principle, is sometimes held not to be a desirable thing.
When there is no good rhyme, you can attempt to resolve
the dilemma by adopting the attitude that you will write
a rhyme when you have a natural, good one, and will just
say to hell with rhyming, when there isn’t really a good one.
This approach doesn’t always work. Generally, once you start
to rhyme, it sets up an expectation of rhyming for the reader,
which is jarred when you periodically switch gears.
This is why some poets choose as an option, to fake it completely.
To hell with rhyming, altogether. This approach offers several
advantages. For the lazy, it is less work, because you don’t
have to strain your imagination in search of rhymes. Furthermore,
“rhymeless poetry” is to poetry, what “modern art” is to art.
It allows the poet to fake the whole thing, without anyone
being able to prove it. Simultaneously, you can gain a double
advantage, masking your basic laziness by pretending that
you are being more sophisticated.
However, this approach also introduces a slight dilemma.
In order to fake convincingly, you still need to do something
in order make distinguish your writings from (heaven, forbid)
lowly prose. How does one do this, if forsaking
The most agreed upon method is to make the writings
creative, by either picking obscure words that would seldom
be used in everyday prose, or more importantly,
to select adjectives that bear little or no rational relationship
to the nouns which they purport to describe.
This confuses the reader, of course, but therein lies
the advantage. If they are sufficiently confused, then
they might be unable to decide whether the poetry is
supposed to be good or bad, insightful or not.
This allows the evaluation to made by the influence of fashion,
caprice, luck, marketing, power of suggestion, etc, thereby
increasing the odds that the poet might be well-received.
This leads to another of the key rules of poetry- if you can’t
write something insightful, then write something obscure.
Always remember- if you are adequately obscure, then
even if you fail dismally, you will always have the consolation
prize that you are merely “misunderstood”, or ahead of your
What is good poetry ?
Well, that depends on how you define “poetry”. If you
think that your haiku poems is not good, then merely redefine
poetry, to remedy that problem. For example, if you define
poetry as the “narcissistic pretensions of neurotics”, then
it becomes much easier to assure yourself that what you
write is meeting the definition of what poetry should be.
You should not be made to feel badly about this. A well-kept
secret of the poetry industry is that even well-known poets
sometimes fall into this same definition. This little-known
fact should also give you encouragement.
Remember always, that poetry, like human rights, like
all great conflicts of right and wrong, is a beautiful thing-
its virtues exist only in the eye of the beholder. If there
is a problem with your poetry, then the problem is not
inherently with the poetry, but with merely having the