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In Which Poets Just Say Don’t!!

By Harriet Staff


A hundred years ago this month, Poetry magazine published Ezra Pound’s “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” which proved to be a poetry game-changer by taking poets to task for mucky abstractions, loose verse, and Victorian cliché. We always need a refresher from Mr. Pound, that’s why we keep a copy of the ABC’s of Reading handy (hey, New Directions, maybe make a pocket-size edition…?). At any rate, please go ahead and read the piece again. To give you a taste now, here’s the first section of Pound’s poetry-proscription:


Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.

Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.

What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.

While all of this is still very much relevant, one wonders what else we should avoid these days to keep the art of poesy from going the way of dancing in armor? (talk about “making it new”!)

The editors of Poetry decided to update “A Few Don’ts” this month with a portfolio aptly titled “A Few More Don’ts,” featuring pieces by Vanessa Place, Joshua Mehigan, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Jill Alexander Essbaum. Follow the “Don’ts,” but do take a moment from your busy Friday to read them all.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.