Over the past few days, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis has posted “Ten Rules for Changing the Game of Poetry” to his Facebook profile. (The full list can be found here.)
Ellis’s ten rules actually reveal a lot about the state of poetry today. Apparently it’s necessary to tell poets things like: “Don’t Publish for Publication’s Sake” and “A book of poetry is not a novel.” (Though First Things readers know otherwise!)
He does say some good things (like: “Young poets should practice integrity when acquiring blurbs”), but the list also contains a lot of poststructuralist mumbo-jumbo and downright silliness, like: “Every Time Writing Tries to Write You, Re-write It or Revise You.”
Anyway, I’m not a poet, just a poor, parasitical critic, but Ellis’s list seems less like rules for “changing the game” and more like asking for overtime. So here’s my humble alternative. I couldn’t come up with ten, just seven, and I haven’t put them in my Facebook status or Twitter feed. Hopefully that won’t make them too uninteresting:
1. Don’t quote Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin or Chinese poets. If you don’t have anything interesting to say, don’t name people who do.
2. Don’t complain that no one reads poetry anymore. After all, whose fault is that?
3. Don’t write about the moral baselessness of going to war or genocide unless you have first asked yourself whether or not your interest in these events is motivated by your own subconscious fear of pain, death, or loss of freedom.
4. If your poems sound like pasted snippets of Jacques Derrida or Flavor Flav, you are legion.
5. Don’t write poems that are indeterminate for indeterminacy’s sake.
(I know Marjorie Perloff has a good heart and all, but I really wish she hadn’t written that book on Rimbaud. It was like giving a suicidal monk a match.)
6. If you think language is writing you, it’s probably not.
7. Send your mother flowers on her birthday. You’re not Pan, and she’s not Medusa, no matter how much she drank when you were growing up.
Any others our readers would care to add?