Rules for Writing Poetry

A fountain pen and a tattered poetry book

Have you ever wondered if there are rules for writing poetry? Asking a question like this about an art form as subjective as poetry will certainly get you a disparate range of responses. And while the word rules might seem a bit strong on some levels, there are nevertheless certain tropes and practices that have proven successful over the years. The following information will share some of the rules that poets have taken into consideration for years. Of course, if they don't sound like something you're interested in following, once you know the rules you are free to break them.

Some Basic Rules for Writing Poetry

These rules are compiled from a number of sources, including from poets, teachers and scholars. Again, use what works for you and disregard what you don't think sounds like it would be helpful. What you're looking for in these rules are ideas that inspire you to write in a different way or to confront some things in your poetry that you never have thought to confront before.

  • Your poems don't have to rhyme.

The first question asked in any poetry workshop is, Does my poetry have to rhyme? The answer, of course, is no. Your poetry can take any shape or form that you like. It can rhyme all the time, some of the time, or none of the time. Don't get hung up on rhyming.

  • They don't have to make sense.

The second question asked in any poetry workshop is, Does my poetry have to make sense? Again, the answer is no. Your poetry can be as literal or abstract as you feel like making it. Don't worry about whether others can understand what you're saying or not. Just write and let the world worry about interpreting your words.

  • Poems should be filled with vivid details.

This doesn't mean that you need to pepper your poetry with adjectives and adverbs. In fact, this probably isn't the best way to create detailed poetry. Remember that poetry is an art form that uses words as concisely as possible to convey emotion. Because only words are used, all the words of a poem are, obviously, vital to the poems success. Use a thesaurus when you need to flavor your poetry with more colorful, vivid language.

  • Don't try to impress anyone.

Sometimes people feel like good poems have to use fancy words or address complicated philosophical concepts. These people worry about what others are going to think of their poetry instead of just writing from their heart. Not surprisingly, poems that are written to impress other people typically fail at doing so because the poems lack sincerity. As the poet Charles Bukowski writes, don't be dull and boring and pretentious, don't be consumed with self-love. Try to find the truth in what you want to say and say that.

  • Be honest.

This is probably the only rule that you should rely on all the time. If you're not honest with yourself in your poetry, no one else is going to feel anything genuine when they read your work. It can be painfully terrifying to open up and honestly express your feelings on paper, but that's the name of the game. The great poets overcome their fears and insecurities and manage to write honestly in the face of great doubt. If you're not ready to be honest in your poetry, do something else with your time.

Other Resources

Here's some other resources for you to explore as you continue your study of poetry.

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Rules for Writing Poetry