Rules for Poets: 5 — Write at All Costs

Poetry is written. Reading poetry, talking about it, even loving it, is not writing. Write.

Poets are not born. They are written. Write.

When you’re not writing, read as much poetry as you can. It’s like planting seeds for later poems.

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” — W. H. Auden

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” — Robert Frost

Revision is where the poem happens, but you can only revise what you dump on the page.

Never stop revising. Never hesitate to make a poem better if you see a way to do so.

Anyone can write. Only those who persevere can become their own best editor.

“A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” — Paul Valery

What keeps me writing is the illusion, so short lived, that what I am writing at this moment may turn out to be something great.

The only way to get better at poetry is by writing a lot of bad poems.

You’re going to write a lot of bad poems before you start to write good ones. Even then, you’re still going to write a lot of bad poems.

“You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get.” — James Baldwin (same goes for poems).

If you’re satisfied with the poems you are writing, you’re probably not writing the best poems you can.

Writing a poem means bringing enough order to chaos so chaos can shine through the order.

“Surprise.You should be surprised at seeing something new and strangely alive” – Elizabeth Bishop, asked what quality a poem most needs

Nobody but you cares if you write. Nobody but you cares if you don’t. You have to do it for yourself.

Write the poems you want to read.

“Pain is filtered in a poem so that it becomes finally, in the end, pleasure.” — Mark Strand

Your poems are not you. You can and will write better poems if you keep writing. Write.

For better or for worse, your subject matter will find you. Write your passions and obsessions.

“How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.” — Robert Penn Warren

Don’t try to rewrite the poems others have written. Write the poems only you can write.

“Always go past the given.” — Amiri Baraka

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

“The bottom line of any art is ‘what are you talking about?’ And if you don’t know, then it’s difficult to get close.”
— Amiri Baraka

“Good poets take their poems beyond merely a sort of tourism, to a universal dimension that speaks to the inner life…” — Denise Levertov

“Any small thing can make a poem. No great thing is guaranteed to.” — Edward Thomas

If it helps you write, it’s good. If it hinders your writing, it’s bad. What works for some doesn’t work for others, and nothing works for everybody.

Learn what works in the poems you like. Don’t be afraid to try out what you’ve learned.

Find a mentor. Good feedback is priceless.

Give good feedback to others. You can learn a lot doing so.

Writing poetry is a process, a journey. Each poem is but a step. With time you will become more sure-footed. Write.

The only thing worse that bringing a bad poem into the world is not bringing a bad poem into the world.

“Poetry is very much the time that it takes to unroll, the way music does. It’s not a static contemplatable thing like a painting.” – John Ashbery

If you start submitting to poetry journals, your poems will be rejected. A lot. Revise them. Send them out again. Repeat. They won’t get published sitting in your computer.

Almost every poem you see in print has been rejected before, most of them quite a lot. A friend of mine’s poem was rejected 38 times (38 times!), and then Poetry magazine (yes, that Poetry magazine) published it. And then it was included in the Best American Poetry anthology for that year. Thirty-eight rejections. Think about it.

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” — Don Marquis

Write at all costs. Don’t let fear of not being good enough stop you. If you write you will get better. Don’t let rejections stop you. If you write you will find an audience.

Write at all costs. If you stop writing,the last poem you wrote may be the last poem you’ll ever write. That’s not the best you can do.

Write at all costs.


Rules for Poets: 1 — Poetry happens on the page

Rules for Poets: 2 — Poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out

Rules for Poets: 3 — Poetry Is Poetry Not Because of What It Says But Because of How It Says It

Rules for Poets: 4 — Poetry is Language on Fire



  1. Hi ag’in Andy,

    I’ve posted on your blog three time tonight!
    Is this a record? Am I bored, or procrastinating?

    I wanted to say that, though I don’t enjoy your poetry, that you write
    essays to die for. I don’t say that lightly. Your writing on writing is truly top-notch. I’m not surprised by the MFA. Have you missed your vocation?

    Either way, as I posted earlier on “Tunnel”, every writer should listen to “The Value of Failure” on BBC Radio4. Note this will expire in 3 days:

    By the Burn

    P.S. I used to post as “SpiritOfEnquiry” until my Daughter deleted my FB account after a scary altercation with two Lallans (Google) rappers…

    1. many thanks for your comments! they are much appreciated.

      generally the “poems” I’ve posted recently are more like exercises. they are not at all the stuff I consider “my work.” I will be posting some of my recently published poems shortly, which reflect my style.

  2. >>the “poems” I’ve posted recently are more like exercises.

    Ah ha. Je comprends. I noticed you’ve been playing with lists (I quite liked Yalta). Recently I’ve been experimenting with lists and language (not my normal style at all).

    Sadly, I’m a monoglot, but courtesy of Google’s translator I came up with the verse below (the polyglot list occurs in verse 3).

    When the sun sets over Europe

    When the Beast is in the East,
    The air will surely fall;
    Compressed by rising
    Baltic ice.

    When the sun sets,
    Clouds will form,
    Tinted in magenta.
    Long shadows in the winter.

    Ich liebe dieses schöne licht.
    J’aime cet belle lumiere.
    Argi eder hau maite dut.
    Ich houd van dieze mooie licht.

    I love this lovely light…

    Feel free to be rude. 😉

    >>I will be posting some of my recently published poems shortly, which reflect my style.

    Looking forward. You clearly have a way with words. 🙂

    P.S. did you listen to my recommendation:

    It’s a jolly good “read”, which will vanish on Monday

    Happy writing…

    By the Burn

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