Write from a place of deep fear, which the authors of the Old Testament rightly considered the beginning of wisdom. Turn your poems into cunning traps and instruments of fraud. Writer’s block is primordial and best left uncarved; create only in its shadow.
Prize your digressions. Revise nothing, and put all your poems into books that self-destruct after a single reading. Wallow in idleness. Treat inspiration as a sworn enemy.
Practice abstinence; it’s the only way to know what love and hunger are really all about. Find something absurd to believe in and cling to it as passionately as Pound clung to fascism or Neruda to Stalinism. Watch a lot of television.
“First thought, best thought”: get it down and go do something useful, like cleaning the toilet. In lieu of reading, listen to audiobooks. Write about what you don’t know and didn’t think you cared about. Stay in your cave until you start seeing beasts on the walls.
Cultivate suspicion and distrust toward the universe — after all, it is out to kill you. If you must be sociable, avoid poets, for they are boring at best and petty at worst. Hang out with artists and musicians instead.
And for god’s sake, learn HTML.
OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
- How to wake up
- How to eat
- How to walk
- How to listen
- How to wait
- How to breathe
- How to find things
- Manual: How to make videopoems, courtesy of Swoon
- How to lose
- How to dance
- How to procreate
- How to play
- How to listen: the movie
- How to mourn
- How to calculate
- How to grow up
- How to spit
- How to burn
- How to mourn, Belgian-style
- How to make a fist
- How to make a face
- How to sacrifice
- How to take notes
- How to talk
- How to dig
- How to sleep
- How to cast a shadow
- How to teem
- How to fit in
- How to sit
- How to panic
- How to exist
- How to drive
- How to question authority
- How to cook
- How to find things (videopoem)
- How to distress furniture
- How to meditate
- How to be a poet
15 Replies to “How to be a poet”
“Write about what you don’t know and didn’t think you cared about. Stay in your cave until you start seeing beasts on the walls.”
I believe, with a passion of a Pound or Neruda, in writing what I don’t know. I learn more by writing than by reading, which is merely a means of revision.
I love poetics: all that emphatic and categorical nonsense. I love nonsense. Nonsense works (he asserted).
“Writer’s block is primordial and best left uncarved; create only in its shadow.”
THAT is the best thing I’ve ever read on writer’s block.
And the cave thing — gotta try it.
Peter, it figures that you would agree with the most via negativistic of my advice! The uncarved block thing is of course taken straight from Zhuangzi and Laozi.
Needless to say, the right advice for one writer might be exactly the wrong advice for another.
Oh please….NOT html!! (Can you teach it to my son, though?)
LOL. I’ve actually thought about trying to hire myself out as a website designer for writers, but the problem with that business model is that writers tend not to have any money. And should really learn how to do it themselves. :)
Seriously, though–you’ve made some lovely observations about the need for occasional perversity/contrariness in the creative process. And I love that.
Dave, you almost make me want to take up blogging.
Thanks! High praise.
This post lives up to its name: Negativa. And look how interesting the poetic advice came out! Now, I have to read Brewer’s blog, too. (Not that I don’t want to; but I like the negative lead; via negativa.) I read you, Dave. (:– }) Literary Blogs, at their best, might be literature in a hurry. Or they could reveal one’s most honest brand of stupidity. There’s the challenge in writing blogs. The clear-eyed would recognize the latter soon enough and stop. Then again, the “medium is the message.” Then, what? Well, back to book publishers, editors, and other businessmen, and Gutenberg. What’s wrong with painstakingly slow literature?
To me, online self-publishing (or micro- and nanopress publishing) isn’t about greater speed, but cutting out the middleman. I also take issue with the dictum that the medium is the message. Like most of McLuhan’s assertions, it sounds attractive but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Love it! In my opinion, most important advice is shake loose from conventional thinking, which this piece does. I’m glad I learned HTML, but feeling rather annoyed with the necessity to use it to post anything that doesn’t strictly align left. Can someone come up with an easier markup language for poetry?
Glad you liked this. And you’re right, HTML was definitely not designed with poetry in mind. (See my post “How to format poetry on the web: an incomplete guide” if you haven’t already.)
Oh, wow. You have no idea how much I needed to bookmark that. Thanks very much.
Now do it for ebooks!
I wish I had the experience formatting ebooks to write such a guide. In the meantime, I recommend Nic S.s’s posts on the subject.
Good link to feature!
Only an hour ago I was invoking Emerson’s hobgoblin, “foolish consistency,” in talking about poetry. And here it is again. Opposite ideas are often quite happy to take up residence in the same head and both be true with no resolution needed. Negative . . . capability.