How to Write a Poem and Become a Poet

OK, so I’m not really a poet. I’m a prose writer…novels, short stories, non-fiction and blog ramblings like this one. But I’ve managed to trick more than one publisher into accepting a few poems I inadvertently wrote in moments of temporary madness. And that, of course, makes me an expert on how to write poems and be a poet, whether I know how or not. Because it’s all about tricking the publishers.

So listen up because I’m not going to repeat any of this to either of you.

“A little harsh tonight, Biff?” said the fox. “And maybe a little out of contact with reality? All they have to do is re-read it.”

“It’s always better the first time around. Don’t you have some hounds to avoid?”

Now, while the fox is looking around for hounds, I’ll tell you how to write a poem and become a poet.

First, you’ll need wine. Lots of wine. Preferably red wine. Poets always drink red wine. In my delusional college days when I thought I was a poet, I drank red wine while writing poetry and stopped only when I was too hammered to hammer out the words. Sure, this approach does put a lot emphasis on revision but isn’t that what writing is all about anyway? Poet Rule #1: A healthy liver is a sure sign of an under-achieving poet.

You need a quill pen and a bottle of ink. Sorry, but word processors don’t cut it for poetry. There’s no pain. You have to prick yourself with pen nibs, spill black ink on your best white sweater, scratch the crap out your mistakes and first thoughts so that you can barely read the manuscript the next day, when you’re sober enough to read what you wrote the night before. Think of the ink flowing onto the parchment (yes, parchment) as you…bleeding your life onto the paper. I tried this with red ink once, just once. It was almost impossible to distinguish between the red ink and the wine spills. You’re welcome.

You’ll have to sell your car and buy a horse. Poets have an image to keep up and they don’t ride anything they can’t wrap their legs around. It’s all that bumping and fresh air that stimulates the brain and the brawn and makes it possible for the poet to drink wine longer and therefore write poetry for longer periods. Which, of course, means more re-writing, but that’s what it’s all about.

If you have car keys in your pocket, you’re not a poet and therefore you cannot write poetry.

“Biff,” said the fox, “you used therefore twice in the same paragraph. Don’t you think that’s a little pretentious?”

“I think I hear horns in the distance. Can’t you hear them?”

So, if you have a car and you have one or more volumes of poetry published, then you’re much better then me at tricking publishers.”
You have to live in torment. If you’re happy, write self-help books. Poetry has no room for the un-suffering. If you’re happily married, do something to really piss off your partner. Do it every day and then wallow in self-pity when you arrive at an empty home and a note on the coffee table. Wallow with your quill. Cry and pull at your hair as you slurp wine and spill soul blood onto the parchment. If someone tells you it’s a beautiful day, doubt them. Wait for the storm. If it doesn’t come, go to the storm. There’s always a storm somewhere. Find it. Wallow in it. If there are no mud puddles, make one. Fall into in it and curse your luck for falling into the only mud puddle for miles around. Then…write. Write poetry. Fill page after page with your misery.

Find a biographer, someone who will put up with your whining and crying and think that it makes you the stuff of great literary history. Your biographer will be a constant source of ego, and you’ll need lots of ego if you’re going to be a successful poet. Poets are famous for their egos. Without the ego, people won’t read you. Don’t ever let your biographer catch you being humble. Treat your biographer with contempt or they’ll desert you and find someone with a real ego to treat them like shit.

Eat lots of cheese, the raunchiest cheese you can find. Obnoxious blue cheese is good for this. Carry some in your pocket and bring it out often when you’re in public. Chew it with your mouth open. This will attract attention and convince people that you’re a rebel, that you’re living in hell and only the strongest cheese will assuage your pain. And don’t forget to attack the cheese as though you haven’t eaten in weeks. Poets are all about the drama.

Die young. But not before your biographer. Now…you have to get this one right because you don’t get a second chance. Die tragically. Die with drama. Fall from a 300 foot cliff, be trampled by a herd of mad cows, go for long walks in thunder storms, ski in avalanche territory, be bitten by venomous snakes, catch a topical disease and drag it out for all it’s worth. Canes help in your last days, especially if it’s all that’s left behind when your body is swept out to sea in a tempest.

When you’re dead, come back and haunt the last place you lived in, preferably a hotel or bed and breakfast by a graveyard or moor. Don’t actually hurt anyone. Just give them the creeps enough so that they’ll recommend your haunting to their friends. Nobody likes a ghost who plays hardball.

Now, before the fox gives up trying to hear the horns, pick one of the pictures below and write something poetic. It doesn’t have to rhyme and it doesn’t have to make sense…it just has to show your pain. Like…stairs were my Waterloo. Grass pierced my soul. Go for it.



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