Unwritten Poetry Rules
1. I find overt rhyme annoying, and think that it seldom works in contemporary poetry. Too often, linguistic nuances are lost and rhymes are strained; reliant from inapt similes to which a complete response is "No, it's not like that at all" (e.g., the work of Joshua Mehigan and Adam Kirsch). But the more I work on a poem, the more I am likely to find slant rhymes, near rhymes and the like in my own poems. This is never intentional.
2. I rarely write in strict forms, but admire many of the conventions of forms, and use them in my work. For example, if I write a twelve-line poem or an eighteen-line poem, I will almost always attempt to expand or contract that poem into a fourteen-line proto-sonnet. I will also attempt to "turn" the poem at line 8. The poem is almost always better when I push it against these (and similar) formal constraints.
3. I am a poet of place, and can write knowledgeably about very few places--the upper Midwest, certain rivers, parts of Florida, the kitchen, my wood lot, abandoned factories, marginal fields, the landscape of weather, the interiors of a few big-city museums.
4. I am wary of portraying myself as the "hero" or the "victim" in my poetry. I am neither. I am most often a fool. A poet who chooses to disclose the self has an obligation (at least when writing about an adult life) to implicate the self.
5. I am more naturally a narrative-lyric poet than a true lyric poet. My reader will almost always get a story from me--sometimes more than one.
6. I like nouns and details--the names of animals, birds, trees, flowers, rock formations, soil types, etc. I spend a lot of time researching my work. Many of the details I work out do not make it into the final draft, but the poem is (or to me, seems) far more satisfying, confident and informed by my research. With that said, I often change--or make up--facts if doing so is in service to the poem.
7. I believe in the flush-left margin. I love the look of those slab-like poems that Philip Levine writes. I revise away from that structure in my own work (if at all) only toward the end of the drafting process, and with reluctance.
8. I revise from complexity into mono-syllables. My poetic vocabulary is more anglo-saxon than latinate.
9. My poems are too often linear and I work hard to make them elliptical.
10. I would rather revise than write a first draft, and I can always tell whether a first draft can be revised into a real poem. I rarely write a good poem without already knowing the end of the poem. I do not think this is necessarily a good thing.