32 Statements about Writing Poetry by Marvin Bell:

Many of you know these, as Marvin teaches them, but they are always as powerful to me as when I first heard them.  (I bolded my favorites.)

And if you share, please do attribute these to Marvin Bell.

32 Statements about Writing Poetry by Marvin Bell:
1. Every poet is an experimentalist.
2. Learning to write is a simple process: read something, then write something; read something else, then write something else. And show in your writing what you have read.
3. There is no one way to write and no right way to write.
4. The good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff.

5. Learn the rules, break the rules, make up new rules, break the new rules.
6. You do not learn from work like yours as much as you learn from work unlike yours.
7. Originality is a new amalgam of influences.
8. Try to write poems at least one person in the room will hate.

9. The I in the poem is not you but someone who knows a lot about you.
10. Autobiography rots. The life ends, the vision remains.
11. A poem listens to itself as it goes.
12. It's not what one begins with that matters; it's the quality of attention paid to it thereafter.
13. Language is subjective and relative, but it also overlaps; get on with it.
14. Every free verse writer must reinvent free verse.
15. Prose is prose because of what it includes; poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out.
16. A short poem need not be small.
17. Rhyme and meter, too, can be experimental.
18. Poetry has content but is not strictly about its contents. A poem containing a tree may not be about a tree.
19. You need nothing more to write poems than bits of string and thread and some dust from under the bed.
20. At heart, poetic beauty is tautological: it defines its terms and exhausts them.
21. The penalty for education is self-consciousness. But it is too late for ignorance.
22. What they say "there are no words for"--that's what poetry is for. Poetry uses words to go beyond words.
23. One does not learn by having a teacher do the work.
24. The dictionary is beautiful; for some poets, it's enough.
25. Writing poetry is its own reward and needs no certification. Poetry, like water, seeks its own level.
26. A finished poem is also the draft of a later poem.
27. A poet sees the differences between his or her poems but a reader sees the similarities.
28. Poetry is a manifestation of more important things. On the one hand, it's poetry! On the other, it's just poetry.
29. Viewed in perspective, Parnassus is a very short mountain.
30. A good workshop continually signals that we are all in this together, teacher too.
31. This Depression Era jingle could be about writing poetry:
      Use it up / wear it out / make it do / or do without.
32. Art is a way of life, not a career.

~ Kells
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  1. Thank you! This is so helpful!

  2. Can't argue with these.

    #18 - to those who hate poems "about poetry" I direct them to Bell's #18, only change to "A poem talking about poetry may not be about poetry."


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