Get a library card and ask the librarian for Lorca, Dickinson and Ginsberg. Avoid book stores, they'll only have Jewel, Richard Thomas and Suzanne Somers. If you see these, beat the book store manager to death with them.
Convince the head nurse that you can be trusted with pens or pencils. Summon up your old beauty contestant smile. Keep a sugar cube and any medications under your tongue; you can spit them out later. Don't waste the pens by making them into shivs.
Get the warden or the matron to let you out of isolation. Only authors of memoirs can write with their fingernails in the dark. Poets need light.
2. Ask others to look at things you've written up to now.
Show your previous poems to relatives or friends. Most of them will tell you it's brilliant, others will advise you to stop with this nonsense and go to secretarial school. Regardless, it won't matter because if you want to be a poet, you'll have shoved your pens through your ears beforehand.
Show your work to someone who tells you it isn't good enough, that it's derivative, tired, meandering and lazy. Get as angry and butt-hurt as you like, but keep showing everything you write from now on to this person.
Do not show anything you've written to your spouse, lover, priest, employer or attorney. They'll urge changes, codicils, repentance and cessation.
3. Think about what you'd like to write about.
Fuck what you'd *like to* write about. There are plenty of rhymes about love or flowers already, on the insides of greeting cards scattered in landfills along with the authors of same.
If you're really meant to be a poet, you'll be told what to write about. It may feel a little like really needing to be sick, or like a medium-sized lizard is crawling up the inside of your throat or under the skin of your fingers. You may think you have an STD or that someone dosed you with Spanish fly, but in your head and heart as well as your sex. You may feel like you're dying, or that it's one of those dreams where you forget to get dressed before going to work or church. If you're a poet, it's not a dream.
4. Consider your poem's length and form.
If you write haiku, and it's the usual lazy shit, please go through the door on your left and into the crocodile swamp. The door will lock itself behind you once you've gone out.
If you've chosen a form with a rhyme scheme or a syllable count, don't forget all about it by line three and go careering off into the weeds. Don't jam in words that don't belong or make sense, just to satisfy said rhyme scheme or syllable count. That's like shoving a hand grenade smack in the middle of an apple pie and then serving it like nothing's wrong. Don't be a fucking idiot. Form is like bones, it makes a meat bag functional, pleasing, and upright. The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, not the shoulder bone. Them bones them bones gonna walk around, but it's up to you whether they shamble or dance.
If you choose free verse, that doesn't mean to make it a journal entry. That doesn't mean make it the same as the shit you write in your diary about your ex-boyfriend and similar tiresome claptrap. That doesn't mean break bullshit into lines and call it poetry. If you're going to do that, please swallow this--it's quick and painless.
5. Place your bets.
Being a poet means accepting a certain level of commitment--what the unenlightened might call obsession, insanity, a certain hemophilia of the soul. If all you want to do is post a picture of a flower above a breathless made-up love ballad every day on your blog, please take up knitting or hosting YouTube videos about boy bands or something, anything, else.
To survive as a poet, you've got to frack for the black gold way beneath the surface--as well as avoid painfully poor comparisons like this one--and then hold on during the resulting earthquakes. Wear a hard hat. Don't place a lot of stock in the gathered well-wishers shouting "We have to let you go," or "You crazy motherfucking bitch!" from the sidelines of your life--that is to say, work, family, responsibilities.
Do all of this, and you'll soon see your work on page 32 of Brick Spoons, the quarterly journal of the University of Southeast Nebraska State Normal School, or in an e-zine called The Vagina That Yodeled. Best of luck to you, Padawans, and
for Out of Standard, "List With A Twist" at Toads.