You’re Doing It Wrong: notes to self on making poems

Here are some commandments I have heard thundering from on high at my writing desk. Don’t take them too seriously, please. Except for #10. I humbly submit that if we all took more pleasure and pride in the success of others than in our own, the poetry world would be a much happier place. (I’m not saying it is easy, mind you. I fear I may never master it.)


  1. First thought: worst thought.
  2. Make it you.
  3. Go where your gut keeps telling you not to go. You’ve made it to the abandoned asylum. It’s not enough to throw rocks through the windows. Step inside.
  4. The vast majority of people out there don’t give a shit about poetry. Your poems, however, should care a great deal about those people. Write for those who never intend to read you.
  5. The speaker is never you.
  6. The speaker is always you.
  7. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your pop culture references.
  8. There is more to life than Shakespeare, Greek myth, and other canon fodder– your reader will care more about the life imbued in your poems than the content of your footnotes.
  9. Why should I read your poems rather than, say, binge watch Parks and Recreation on Netflix?
  10. For your soul’s sake, endeavor to celebrate the success of others more than your own.


  1. I’ve just come across your ten thoughts on the Prole website and really appreciated them. So much there is so right!

    all best

    Robert NIsbet


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