Request: What do you think poets should know when they are starting out?

Hmmm, this will definitely be a list answer!

What do you think poets should know when they are starting out?

1) Poetry may not make you wealthy in material goods, but it will make you rich at heart.

2) You may spend an entire day on putting in a comma and taking it out and that's okay.

3) It may always feel weird to call yourself a poet.

4) The best way to learn is to read poets who are publishing today.

5) It's better to say poetry as a way to make a life than a way to make a living.

6) You will send out your work before it's finished, and that's okay too 
(I think we all did and sometimes still do!)

7) You will probably be over-confident about your skill when you begin 
and think you are pretty darn good. It's similar to a teenager learning 
how to drive, just because you are behind the wheel doesn't mean you've
earned your (poetic) license yet.

8) They don't really give out poetic licenses, that was a joke.

9) You should buy as many books as you do manuscript submissions.

10) Every poem is practice and will help you get to your next better poem.  

11) Don't be afraid to make mistakes or to write poorly.  
We can't start out at and be brilliant at something.  
Just as you wouldn't pick up a toothbrush and call yourself a dentist, 
you can't pick up a pencil and immediately be a writer.  
There is some learning and practice involved.

12) If you are being called to write, then you should write.

13) Art is important. Poetry is important. Just because something 
doesn't earn you a lot of money doesn't mean it's not valuable, it is.

14) Trust your instincts.

15) Always believe you have a greater purpose. It might be poetry.  
It might be something else, but give yourself quiet each day to listen 
and follow your own particular path.



  1. You don't have to have a MFA to write poetry.

    You can, as Kim Rosen says, be saved by a poem.

    You will receive many more rejections than acceptances of you poems. None of the rejections means you are not a good poet.

    Write about what you know.

    Write in your own style. Imitating other poets shows.

    Go to lots of poetry readings. Learn to listen to the sounds of words.

    Join a poets' group.

    Remember that criticism about a poem is not criticism about you the person. When you can hear what others say about your poems, you can learn how to improve them.

  2. An excellent list but I would add (strongly) classics as well. I'm so tired of MFA's (especially) telling me that they don't need to read Yeats, Shakespeare, et al. Oh really? After years of reading some of their stuff, I would say, please please read Keats, Rilke, whoever. They're still around for a reason.


  3. Read
    Fall in love with your work
    Believe in deep play

  4. Poetry has always been a way to purge myself of the over-descriptiveness I alwsy subject my fiction to. Oddly, my poems are also victims of more editing than my fiction. Odd.

  5. --Read literary magazine BEFORE you submit to them.
    --Spend time in libraries. Pore over books, not just poetry; science, fiction, memoir - everything will help you write.
    --Read and write in equal measure. Also, exposure to visual arts, music, and nature are important to writing.
    --Getting together with other writers will cheer you up immensely. You don't have to critique each other's work - you can talk about the books you're reading, magazines you're submitting to, the rejection letter you got.

  6. Fascinating post, in fact, I was reading an article about this in the newspaper today.

    Mmm...what should poets know when they're starting out - how to use a pen and write words. That's it.

  7. I paid for my license and have been waiting for it in the mail. Now you tell me...

  8. 1. Schedule writing time the way you would exercise, yoga class, dental appointments, etc. Even if only 15 minutes a day, aim to make it a daily practice.

    2. Strip away your Hallmark sense of what a poem is, and get down to the studs of your personal syntax, word choices, your own true voice.

    3. Persist. Editors need to get familiar with your new and strange voice. It might take a few years of rejection before they warm to the quirky you.

    4. Celebrate your successes, even the small ones, like a hard day of adding and then removing a comma.

    5. Read everything from Beowulf to the current issue of Three Penny Review. Find out what the best mags are ( can help) and commit to subscribing to at least 5 of them.

    6. follow your bliss.

  9. Great question -- and so many answers! I "stole" this from you and blogged about it over at just today!


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