Tag Archives: Whitman

Break the Rules

[This post is an answer I gave to a poet I’m working with, editing her collection.]

Break the rules. Just do it.

I have a great fondness for Walt Whitman. He writes in complete sentences sometimes, in broken phrases, in whatever seems to suit his mood or the moment. I recommend all writers read some Whitman. (Everything he wrote is available at http://bartleby.com/people/WhitmnW.html )

The thing is, when we break the rules it has to work, otherwise people say, geez, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, it should be like this… What we really want is for people to get into the poem, to not even notice that the rules have been broken, because they’re engrossed in what we have to say.

Writing with intention in passive voice, doesn’t mean that the desire for stronger verbs and images isn’t still there. It’s simply how we do it, how we show it.

Little words are perfect if they serve our purpose. If they’re just adding bulk, keeping us from expressing what we want, then they should go.

All of this is author choice. Look at how tight Emily Dickinson writes. Images and strong verbs everywhere, even when it’s in passive. Billy Collins, with his flowing sentences, evokes great emotions through everyday experiences, so that we feel we’re there, that he’s captured something about us in his words.

So, I think it all comes down to “intention.” Have we chosen and placed each word and does each word serve the greater importance of the poem. If so, rules be damned. You make up the rules for your own poetry. We’re most able to make up those rules when we’ve seen and learned how others have done before us.