Keeping with the theme of guidance for writing, I reckon you could do worse than follow some of Jack Undwerwood’s 20 poetry tenets, which I have pasted below.

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Jack at Goldsmith’s and although these ‘tenets’ are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I feel they do in fact say something serious – that poetry must be more than a lecture, more than a self-help or how to guide gifted by the poet to the reader, more than the poet imparting their deep and poetic wisdom and we should be thankful. Above all else, poetry must be enjoyable and interesting – or quite simply why should anyone bother?

You could also do worse than checking out his excellent collection ‘Happiness’, published by Faber.

By Jack Underwood 

Earlier this month the Faber New Poet and all round creative good egg, Jack Underwood, began tweeting his poetry tenets. So, young poets, take note. These may well make you a better writer…

  1. No word is poetic. Only ideas are poetic.
  2. Poems should not recount events but be events.
  3. In poems, don’t talk like more of a knob than usual.
  4. A poem is a question and not an answer.  
  5. If a poem wanted you to know exactly what it was about, it would be a boiled egg.
  6. A poem is the shoe you saw as a child, by the side of a road, and you asked yourself about.
  7. Good poems are like the thoughts of awful tennis players between points.
  8. Description refers to something in terms of what it is whereas poems refer to things in terms of what they are not.
  9. Never put out a burning poem with a wet person.
  10. Plath: “I have never put a toothbrush in a poem”. “My next poem is called The Tootbrush,” says the next poet.
  11. All sighs are poetic because they shift the feeling without altering the context.
  12. The more something tries to convince you, the less convincing it sounds.
  13. A figure of speech is a public figure, and therefore should not be trusted.   
  14. Form is a kind of visual grammar, not a job description.   
  15. A poem is getting into a too hot bath without any water in.
  16. There’s only a bit of “craft” in “art”.
  17. “Hello” said the poet. “You don’t live here anymore,” said the poem. “But you can look round”.
  18. When you’ve finished writing a good poem, it should feel like you’ve just borrowed a close friend’s saxophone.
  19. Language isn’t fixed so you don’t necessarily have to break it.
  20. You will find less than five really good poems.


Selected from the @underwood_jack Twitter feed 09.07.13 #poetrytenets