TUESDAY: The Rules for Writing Poetry

Poetry Week 2023 Second-place Winner!


Copyright is held by the author.

Rules for Writing Poetry
First, one must  bitterly disagree with, then disappoint one’s parents often.
This should involve wearing thrift store clothing and sleeping with a string
of  unsavory lovers, some of whom should be brought home for the holidays,
and when the lover is so drunk, he urinates in your  brother’s closet thinking
it is the bathroom, one  will have the beginnings, just the stirrings, of a fine poem.

Second rule for writing poetry, enroll in as many workshops as you can and cannot afford.
Research the facilitators, read reviews of their style, read their work, and write
some new poems that mimic and sound as much like them as possible. Be sure to praise
them loudly and toady up to them within earshot of everyone at the workshop.
Disregard any and all critiques.

Third and final rule is to never have a pen handy and if you can find one buried
in the folds of the couch, make sure the ink is dry. Then write with anything that will
capture the newly minted phrase running like a tickertape across your brain, but when lipstick,
eyebrow pencil and a highlighter don’t write clearly enough on the back scrap of the utility bill,
tell yourself  “I will remember this, it’s so good. I will surely remember this in the morning.”

They Tried to Kill Her with their Pseudo-Intellectual Elitist Mumbo Jumbo but Poetry Still Lives Among Us
Poetry crossed the frozen Bering Strait, her shoulders covered in stories, feet wrapped in thick skins of love lost, love found, then lost again. Poetry painted her secret tales on French caves, wandered Kiowa grasslands singing at every ceremonial fire and etched wind poems into the Red Rocks of Queensland. She braided a history of butchery and bravery into her miles of dark hair, sang from Mongolian steppes, keened from slave ship decks, filled sails of fishing fleets, and she carved adventure onto schooners’ prows, Poetry sings to the hovering mist above the Amazon, and to tender bamboo shoots in a Saigon garden. Poetry whispers into the ear of every mourner and holds their hand at the edge of every grave.

St. Marguerite’s Convent

     Writing Retreat

The women, dressed in black,
soft and dangerous,
are asking for stories
over and over again.
Tell this one, tell that one—
the one you are afraid to tell,
the one that lives in the cave,
stares back at you from pond water,
tell the story buried behind
basement shelves, the one
that peers over your shoulder
at the new job or sleeps beside you
with the new man. Don’t tell us
about the lilies outside your window,
but instead who planted them and why.
Tell about the ghost in the machine
of your family, your Christmases at the ER,
or of Thanksgiving’s large sharp knives.
Tell how many columns of hope
have flown up the chimney
and how in the early morning,
you are awakened by the squawking
of the crow’s sinister lullaby “Be quiet — be quiet,
no one wants to know.”

Donald Hall Comes for Tea and Warns Against the Evils of Poetry Reading
He comes unannounced, unusual for a New Englander, arrives with his book “The Weather for Poetry” and always the teacher, brings another “Poetry and Ambition.” He tells me, Jane was never tortured by the critics. Jane wrote without notice of the “aahhs“ or lack thereof; she avoided bookings, speaking engagements, and never cared for the machinations of publicity or the felicity of fans. She wrote because she had to, she wrote to peel her skin away from flesh and sinew and to sew it up again. She wrote to purge, to soothe, to excise and examine. I am the one, he said, who recoils at fatuous praise from other poets or those jockeying onto the horse nearest the finish line. I am the one who wonders: Why am I listening politely to this dreck? Is it the New Hampshire or Lutheran in me? He said, I would return home aggrieved from a reading and find Jane at the wide wooden table, afternoon sun on her hair, writing. 


Black-and-white image of a smiling Susannah W. Simpson, wearing dangling earrings, leaning casually on a table.

Susannah W. Simpson is a hospice nurse and an ESL tutor. Her work has been published in North American Review, Potomac, Wisconsin Review, South Carolina Review, POET, Nimrod International, Poet Lore, Salamander, Sequestrum, and Xavier Review among othersHer book: Geography of Love & Exile was published in December 2016 by Cervena Barva Press (Somerset, MA). She is the founder and co-director of Performance Poets of the Palm Beaches Monthly Reading Series.

  1. OMG, totally loved this! In all honesty have never been a huge fan of poetry but this story brings a whole new perspective and angle on the craft. Write On!

  2. Susannah’s inner thrum oozes out life force! Loved it.

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