Poetic Thought for the Day: There Are No Rules

There are no rules.

Impulses, swerves, collisions, flights, descents, gags, indirections, surprises, exploding cigars , non sequiturs: all are allowed or encouraged, and all in some sense begin to create their own principles.1 The key here is that the rules are invented out of the necessity of the moment rather than that there are no rules, there are no tyrannical styles or art police; or, in this case poetry police to tell you this is a poem, you must pattern its behavior this way and no other.

There may be no rules, but there are patterns and rhythms and even our so called free-verse is defined by the rhythms of the street and actual life. One can listen to Industrial Music, Grunge, Metal, Black Metal, are any variation of music on the iPod or mp3 player of your choice, they all have rhythm, beat, tempo, music. Poetry is no less. Yet, poetry is free to break the rules, the rhythms and patterns, the styles and tempos but only at a price. To do so it must train an audience to receive its new perceptions and music otherwise it will not gain an audience.  

Sometimes poets in their search to break out of the mold that seems to lock all their contemporaries into the same lockstep, the same beat or rhythm they will return to other eras in the past to revive certain styles and patterns that cut across the grain of the present mindscape and soundscapes. As Robert Pinsky reminds us: “Remote models require assimilation. You can learn from the past with little risk of merely aping it as you might ape your contemporaries, or the generation just before your own.(p. 2)”

This sense of assimilation or absorption of past models that must be reintroduced into contemporary settings is one of the key elements in cutting against the grain of peoples expectations and complacency. Most of the time people reject the new without realizing it is new at all, that it is in fact something old and timeless being reintroduced. Think of the early modernists who reintroduced the metaphysical poets Andrew Marvell and John Donne to a public who was so used to Wilde and Swinburne with their almost soft and feminine lines and blurring and melding of perception and sensation. Against this Pound brought back a masculine line of hard and fierce tones and drums beats of wit and humor of the metaphysical poets.

This is the way of poetry. It needs this sense of reinvigoration in every generation, else it grows stale and complacent; dies on the vine so to speak. As Pinksky says again: “The work’s freedom to establish its own unique principles, alive in particular cadences and words and lines and sentences: that is the goal.(p. 3)”

For more dailies visit: Poetics & Daily Thoughts

1. Pinsky, Robert (2013-08-05). Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters (p. 1). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

7 thoughts on “Poetic Thought for the Day: There Are No Rules

  1. How do you think the internet affects this reinvention/reinvigoration? On one hand there is so much more freely and easily enjoyed and available – poetic outlets on a scale never before imagined. One the other, there is this vast quantity and maybe less of a sense of a unified “generation”?

    Thoroughly enjoyed the post – thank you!

    Marcy Erb


    • True. The internet is a two-edged sword in some ways. It’s opened the publishing platform to regular citizens in ways not available before in history. To be have your thoughts available is just a wordpress a way. Obviously then the problem is the exercise of good old horse sense of what one considers worth reading or not… with millions of people publishing its’ … to read are not to read is the question unlike Hamlet we are in the midst of Glut…

      Even now Google, and other companies are capitalizing on that problem inventing new AI technologies to take over where human critical faculties and due to our laziness can no longer encompass the task of reading everything… so now it’s all about filtering agents, of filtering out the noise so one can find the gems in the sand…. 🙂

      But because of this I’m betting that publishing of poetry will return to its very selective and rigorous standards of critical appraisal and its roots in literary journals etc. Only because people do not have the time to read everything, so they like the idea of a Readers reader – which is what the old fashioned literary critic used to be to do all that weeding out for them… so they can get to the crème… Literature has never been democratic in that sense… one always has to make a choice, which means leaving someone else out by exclusion …. sad as that is… or, should I say, bummer …

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with your assesment. The internet is two edged and I find myself at war with it regarding my poetry. On one hand, I have always rejected the conventions of the lofty MFA and the journal route to poetry success. Honestly, it is the view that a poem must be so obscure, so clouded in learned metaphors that only the most educated can hope to understand the nuance.

        However, at the same time I respect and admire the classical poets and the rigor found in the form and meter of sonnets, villanelles, etc. I trait I find lacking in what I would consider the common man poetry.

        But I agree, poetry has never been a democracy. What is considered great is always selected from a refined group of individuals. Sadly, some posthumously where the writer never got to see the greatness of the work they left behind realized, such as with Dickinson.

        Your blog has given me some things to think about. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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