Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, April 22, 2011

EtSLoP: Earl the Squirrel's Laws of Poetry

Please do not confuse this list with unofficial versions by Dennis Hammes or Peter John Ross.

Earl Gray's Rules Of Poetry from Earl Gray on Vimeo.

      The other videos are:  Part I, Part II and Part III.  Here is the complete text listing for #1 to 181:

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)
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
Education empowers creativity.
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:
(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
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:
WTF do you think I was doing?"
Rule #182
"Poetry is a well-planned accident."
- Pearl's Paradox #4

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #0

Click here for the pictorial slide show version of Earl Gray's Rules of poetry.

     These rules have been provided here as a public service with apologies for stating the obvious.

     No need to thank me.


Earl Gray, Esquirrel


  1. Rule #129
    “Lies tell us twice as much as the truth”

    1. I forgot to put why that is my favorite

      Reasoning~ When telling the truth you only get the truth... but when a lie comes to hand you’ll learn that “truth” and the dark side of why they lied or lied about its also reveals true colors and intentions than the truth itself.


Your comments and questions are welcome.