Earl Gray's Laws of Poetry

Earl Gray's
Laws of Poetry




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Rule #1
Never say anything in a poem that you wouldn't say in a bar.
Rule #2
If you can't be profound
be vague.
Rule #3
There's a difference between poetry and hebephrenia.
Rule #4
McNeilley Dictum #4:

Cut off the last line! This will make your poem better!
(If this doesn't work, keep cutting off the last line.)
Rule #5
Never discuss bad poetry with anyone who hasn't read Ferlinghetti.
Rule #6
Poetry lies between synonyms.
Rule #7
The difference between self-expression and communication is poetry.
Rule #8
If you can't spell a word don't use it.
Rule #9
The fact that it's bad writing doesn't make it good poetry.
Rule #10
Don't emote. Evoke.
Rule #11
Linebreaks don't make poetry any more than stuttering does.
Rule #12
Try to be understood too quickly.
Rule #13
If it doesn't sound like poetry to a Lower Slobovian it probably isn't.
Rule #14
Every modern poem must contain at least one em dash abuse.
Rule #15
Audiences don't come to use their imaginations. They come to use yours.
Rule #16
To each their own taste, even those with none.
Rule #17
Don't use clichés. Create them.
Rule #18
The Egoless Motto:

"If you don't think your poetry is competing against the works of others you're probably right."
Rule #19
Don't worry about your voice until someone is listening.
Rule #20
Writing is to poetry as paper is to stone.
Rule #21
Poetry isn't about the writer or the reader. It's about everything in between.
Rule #22
You aren't a poet until the janitor says you are.
Rule #23
The Gerard Ian Lewis Rule:

Triteness is a minor flaw, easily remedied (should nothing else occur to you)
by adding a mysterious reference to a goat in the last line.
Rule #24
The Elizabeth Alexander Rule:

Poetry's only selling point is that it is cheaper than tear gas.
Rule #25
The fact that it's boring doesn't mean it's poetry.
Rule #26
We aren't stoned enough for this.
Rule #27
The Pistols at Dawn Rule:

Never compare a poet's work to Ferlinghetti's unless you're a better shot than target.
Rule #28
The Joan Houlihan Rule:

Any poetry reading longer than 20 minutes is a hostage situation.
Rule #29
The merit of your words should exceed the considerable value of silence.
Rule #30
Poetry cannot be paraphrased.
Rule #31
If you cannot scan verse you cannot imagine free verse.
Rule #32
Poetry is a competition with judges and coaches but no performers or fans.
Rule #33
Poetry needs to get over itself.
Rule #34
Tripe details the unspeakably obvious.
Poetry details the unspeakable obvious.
Rule #35
People don't read poetry for the same reason you don't read film scripts.
Rule #36
Memory is the difference between storing and misplacing.
Intelligence is the difference between planting and burying.
Rule #37
Free versers don't count.
Rule #38
There is always a deadline.
Rule #39
The Rule of Two and Three:

Two is a contrast.
Three is a trend.
Rule #40
Bad poetry haunts the author.
Good poetry haunts the reader.
Rule #41
Journalism is about what you say.
Poetry is about how you say it.
Diplomacy is about how you avoid saying it.
Rule #42
Prose is message. Poetry is words.
Rule #43
All those who distinguish between art and audience understand neither.
Rule #44
"I want your honest opinion" is never entirely true.
Rule #45
Poetry is cheaper and safer than other general anaesthetics.
Rule #46
If you ain't getting better you're getting worse.
Rule #47
The funny thing about arrogance is where you find it.
Rule #48
Writers shouldn't write better than readers can read.
Rule #49
It's not too clever to appear so.
Rule #50
The 50-50 Rule: Fewer than 1 in 50 can recite a poem written in the last 50 years.
Rule #51
Denial is not a cure.
Rule #52
Poetry used to have fans.
Now it has constituencies.
Rule #53
Defining poetry by content is like trying to grab a drowning donkey by its bubbles.
Rule #54
A picture contains a thousand words.
A poem contains a thousand pictures.
Rule #55
Prosodists aren't shamans or mystics.
They are coroners and accountants.
Rule #56
Fewer people know the fundamentals of poetry than the rudiments of Klingon.
Rule #57
"It's more fun if you take it seriously."
- Pearl's Paradox #1
Rule #58
No meritocracy ever survived a vote.
Rule #59
Practice does not make perfect.
Practice makes permanent.
Rule #60
We hold these truths to be, like, duh.
Rule #61
Your ear is brighter than your brain.
Rule #62
Poetry bears repeating.
Rule #63
Poetry used to be a challenge to write and easy to read.
Now it's the opposite.
Rule #64
As goes contemporary, so goes classical.
Rule #65
Imagine how dull the world would be if you or I were the most interesting thing in it.
Rule #66
Bad actors pause for breath.
Good actors pause for thought.
Rule #67
"Forgettable poetry" is an oxymoron.
Rule #68
Few who teach Shakespeare have learned anything from him.
Rule #69
Poetry is an act of consumption, not production.
Rule #70
There has never been a better time to be a bad poet,
never a worse time to be a good one.
Rule #71
Poetry is about poems, not poets.
Rule #72
Introducing your work as "poetry" is like a hunter firing off a warning shot.
Rule #73
Those who believe in criticism without criticism
usually believe in poetry without poetry.
Rule #74
Would you buy a car from someone whose sales pitch
amounted to an argument that the thing in front of you is, in fact, a car?
Rule #75
Science is where superstitions go to die.
Rule #76
Good poetry is memorable.
Great poetry is unforgettable.
Rule #77
If you have to ask its meaning
a poem has already failed.
Rule #78
If you have to tell me it's a poem
it isn't.
Rule #79
Novice poets don't have a style.
Experienced poets don't want one.
Rule #80
You will learn more from the critique that you give
than the critique you receive.
Rule #81
Inspiration has a date of expiration.
Rule #82
What trips off the tongue lands in our memory.
Rule #83
One who compromises on wit becomes a half.
Rule #84
Rehearse until it seems unrehearsed.
Rule #85
Today, the poet with five readers can envy
the exclusivity of the one with three.
Rule #86
Bad poets may argue that words have no meaning.
Theirs certainly don't.
Rule #87
People reread stories because they forgot the words.
People reread poetry because they remember them.
Rule #88
If no one is in for a penny
then no one is in for a pound.
Rule #89
If you can't be famous
be infamous.
Rule #90
It is not the public's apathy we need to address first.
Rule #91
We can sell crap to a lazy ignoramus.
We can't sell crap by a lazy ignoramus.
Rule #92
What can mean anything means nothing.
Rule #93
Try not to blur the distinction between aesthetics and anaesthetics.
Rule #94
Chris Richardson's American Ido effect:
"Being bad includes not knowing you're bad."
Rule #95
"Now that phone booths are gone will poets stop trying to fill them?"
Rule #96
"Avant garde" is beyond pretentious.
It is pretension itself.
Rule #97
Don't ask what it means.
Ask if and why it will be remembered.
Rule #98
Authorial intent is to poetry what creationism is to science.
Rule #99
The Bachmann Question:
"How can we tell where the disingenuity ends and the stupidity begins?"
Rule #100
We can work with the clueless.
We can't work with the clueproof.
(Be teachable.)
Rule #101
Those who can't do...preach.
Rule #102
What is fashionable can never be original.
Rule #103
Poets not jealous of Maz have the most reason to be.
Rule #104
Ignorance isn't the sin that laziness is.
Rule #105
On Originality:
The question isn't: "Have I seen this before?"
The question is: "Do I want to see this again?"
Rule #106
Shakespeare's Law:
"If you don't know how poetry is performed
you don't know how it is written."
Rule #107
There are no rules,
only tools and fools.
Rule #108
People avoid today's poetry for the same reason psychotherapists charge money.
Rule #109
I'm a big fan of my work.
Sadly, others have better taste.
Rule #110
If poetry wants more fans
it will need more heir conditioning.
Rule #111
Do not confuse wilful ignorance and opinion.
Rule #112
Anyone can be awful but if you want to be shockingly so
you need to go first.
Rule #113
Did you know that poetry is a spectator sport?
Rule #114
Nobody Reads Poetry
Rule #115
There is no more certain proof that poetry is dead
than the need to deny it.
Rule #116
While alive, poetry was art.
Now it is religion.
Rule #117
People don't call what they read "prose"
and they don't read what we call "poetry".
Rule #118
History is politics.
Rule #119
[When writing...] Show, don't tell.
[When performing...] Tell, don't show.
Rule #120
Write for audiences, not readers.
Rule #121
Common sense is not an open-book test.
Rule #122
Poetry isn't what you write.
It's what others remember hearing.
Rule #123
Trying to sell poetry today is like trying
to sell scripts in a civilization without theaters.

(Pssst! You have to build the theaters first.)
Rule #124
What are you afraid of learning?
Rule #125
Vicious cycle warning!
Learning breeds curiosity.
And vice versa.
Rule #126
Poetry is an effect,
not a cause,
not an affect.
Rule #127
A poem is rarely about its topic.
Rule #128
Honesty is just a lack of imagination.
Rule #129
Lies tell us twice as much as the truth.
Rule #130
The wise learn more from fiction
than fools from fact.
Rule #131
Poetry isn't about saying something original.
It's about saying something originally.
Rule #132
You don't have to be clever,
just slightly less stupid than everyone else.
Rule #133
Nothing good ever followed the words "Hold my beer and watch this!"
Rule #134
News is what doesn't happen.
Rule #135
If everything is art then nothing is art.
Rule #136
How to read poetry:
Rule #1:
Don't.
(Instead, listen to it.)
Rule #137
"Poetry readings" is an oxymoron.
Rule #138
The one lesson that can be learned only by reading poetry
is that we should be listening to poetry.
Rule #139
Mixing politics and art yields neither.
Rule #140
Too much clarity has the same effect on pseudointellectuals
as too much sunlight has on vampires.
Rule #141
Poetry is its own ambassador.
Rule #142
Tell me the fable, not the moral.
Rule #143
Common sense isn't just a myth.
It's an oxymoron.
Rule #144
Truth is the most effective lie.
Rule #145
The story is the story.
Rule #146
The teller is the story.
Rule #147
You can't invent what you can't imagine.
Rule #148
Quality is not a genre.
Rule #149a
When arts die they turn into hobbies.
- Michael Lind
Rule #149b
When arts die they turn into lobbies.
- Pearl Gray
Rule #150
"Poetry is the original digital art; its audience tends to be in the digits."
- Michael Lind
Rule #151
Poetry ≠ Email From Rehab
Rule #152
Why do you think teleprompters were invented?
Rule #153
Prose is timely.
Poetry is timeless.
Rule #154
From childhood, humans are conditioned to fall asleep when you read to them.
Rule #155
Poetry.
It isn't just prose
you agree with.
Rule #156
Never accuse anyone of being a poet. They might know a lawyer.
Rule #157
There is no such thing as a little candor.
Rule #158
The Tsendoku Law:
The number of poetry publications read is lower than the number sold.
Rule #159
"Maybe it was a slow news day.
Poetry has a lot of those."
Rule #160
You can't sell books shorter than 25 words.
Rule #161
"All a real editor needs is clean copy, dirty graphics,
a nearby printing press and a corrupt janitor."
Rule #162
Satire should be funny,
not just silly.
Rule #163
Poetry isn't homework.
Rule #164
"To be useful in classrooms poetry must
be accessible without being accessible."
Rule #165
Your greatest ability is your available.
Rule #166
If the audience is not your first concern
then you will be their last.
Rule #167
Whether or not critique is constructive
depends on how the author uses it,
not on the manner in which it's phrased."
- John Boddie (on Gazebo)
Rule #168
Postmodernism is incoherent solipsism.
Rule #169
Poetry can be about anything.
Poetry is about everything.
Rule #170
Better is different enough.
Rule #171
The only thought more frightening than poetry being dead
is the notion that this is poetry being alive.
Rule #172
Most poetry isn't.
Rule #173
Get better.
Not bitter.
Rule #174
Good causes.
Bad verses.
Rule #175
Poetry's status quo:
Those who perform cannot write;
those who write cannot perform;
those who learn cannot teach;
and, those who teach cannot learn.
Rule #176
Piracy is advertising.
Rule #177
Poetry is the mathematics of language.
Rule #178
If you can tell it's poetry
it's not.
- Pearl's Paradox #2
Rule #179
The lack of an aesthetic is, itself, an aesthetic.
- Pearl's Paradox #3
Rule #180
People who finish every project
don't conceive many.
Rule #181
Shakespeare's Question:
"'Pandering'?
WTF do you think I was doing?"
Rule #182
"Poetry is a well-planned accident."
- Pearl's Paradox #4
Rule #183
"If you're not careful...
...you might learn something here."
Rule #184
Fools can be followed, forgotten or fleeced.
(Choose wisely.)
Rule #185
"Money is no substitute for taste."
Rule #186
So proud of their dizzy display
as they prowl through this dark neighbourhood,
these loud voices with nothing to say
will all need to be misunderstood.
Rule #187
"Art is our vanguard against the mundane,
a tin foil umbrella against the insane."
Rule #188
"As an author I don't write for me.
I write for you."
Rule #189
"If you have to tell me you are a poet
you aren't."
- Pearl's 5th paradox.
Rule #190
Imaginative is not imaginable.
Rule #191
"Poems are elliptic, not cryptic."
Rule #192
There is no river.
Only currents.
Rule #193
"A poem is a little machine for remembering itself."
- Don Paterson

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