Don’t do what all the other little buggers are doing.

Don’t try to make the poem look pretty. You’re not decorating 
cupcakes, Cupcake.

Don’t think you’re the only bastard who ever suffered — just write as if  you were.

Don’t eat someone else’s lunch. For eat read steal. For lunch read wife. For wife read style.

Don’t be any form’s bitch.

Don’t think if  you cheat on form or slip the meter, no one will notice. They’ll know and think you a fool. Don’t think it impossible to cheat on form. If you do it well, they’ll think you a genius.

Don’t think if  you declare yourself avant-garde, your sins will be 
forgiven.

Don’t blubber if  you never receive prizes. Look at the poets who won the Pulitzer fifty years ago. See who’s there. See who’s not.

Don’t think you’re special. Stand in a library amid all those poets who thought they were every inch the genius you think you are.

Don’t double-space your lines and think the poem better. It just takes up more room.

Don’t think regret is 20/20. Regret is myopic. Hope is astigmatic. Trust is blind.

Don’t think what you have to say is important. The way you say it is what’s important. What you have to say is rubbish.

Don’t think you don’t have to read. You read in order to steal. Read more, steal better.

Don’t think your poems are good because they sound good read aloud. Get your hearing checked.

Never write poems about poetry.

Don’t play to the audience. Your audience is full of dopes, cheeseballs, and Johnny-come-latelies — besides, they’re laughing at you all the way home.

Don’t think you’ve been anointed by early success. Look at the critical darlings of a hundred years ago. Look at the darlings of twenty years ago.

Never wish you were there. Wish you were here.

Don’t think you can ignore grammar. You need grammar more than grammar needs you.

Never eat the pie if  you can own the fork.

Don’t think new is better. Don’t think new is not better. Don’t think, read. Don’t think, ink.

Poetry is the nude that stays nude.

Never write the first line if you already know the last. The best poem is the unwritten poem.

Don’t break the window before you look at the view.

Don’t think that if you have two manuscripts, you have two manuscripts. You have one manuscript.

Don’t eat jargon, because you’ll shit jargon.

Don’t think poetry is a religion. It’s more important than religion.

Originally Published: April 1st, 2013

Poet and critic William Logan was born in Boston in 1950 and earned degrees from Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since 1975, his work—both poetry and criticism—has regularly appeared in major journals and publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Poetry, and...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
  1. April 2, 2013
     giovanni

    Love this poem!

  2. April 3, 2013
     Patrick

    Don't use anaphora. Seriously, there should be a moratorium.

  3. April 3, 2013
     Sandra

    I'm new
    Without a clue,
    But can't underestimate
    That I find this great!

  4. April 9, 2013
     william walsh

    Wonderful poem in need of being read by every snobby poetry brat. This
    should inspire everyone to write better and enjoy poetry without pretense.
    Just enjoy what you do!

  5. April 11, 2013
     Ksenija Spasic

    Who wrote this? Delicious. Even deliciouser with a sprinkling of sodium.

  6. April 17, 2013
     Gregory

    always happy when such a find reveals those screws I've lost found another's mind . . .

  7. April 22, 2013
     josh

    Don't obey another's laws. Be the law of yourself.

    Most of us will fail to do just this; those who don't fail will probably be
    bad laws not worth remembering; but those who are good laws of
    themselves, the Genii among us, favorites of the Muse, shall be read by a
    teeny-tiny number of professionals and wannabe laypeople for all of
    time -- that is, until everything burns, and all is ruin once again.

  8. April 25, 2013
     Garrett

    A poem that gives the hard and unbreakable rules of poetry that begs
    the reader to brilliantly break every one.

  9. September 4, 2013
     Sharkspeare

    Don't steal but totally steal, never eat the bacon if you can plow
    with the birdbath, never write the first line if you have to include a
    line about the nude that stays nude, if you don't master your rage,
    your rage becomes your master, wow, this poetry stuff is easy!

  10. September 14, 2013
     Jenna

    Adding:
    Don't use gratuitous profanity. It is a poor writer who cannot find a better descriptive word.