National Poetry Month Day 8: Michael Bazzett


How To Become An Effective Poet In 31 Days, Or Less

  1. First, slick back your hair with gasoline and slip an unlit cigarette between your pouting lips.
  2. Now, casually toy with the lighter. Remember: you are working with a snake that eats both its young and its tail.
  3. From time to time, actually touch the flame to your hair.
    This will encourage a sense of urgency.
    You may even write as if you really mean it.
  4. For a while.
  5. Persona is everything. Use 4th person whenever possible. Or narrate as a cloud. Drink warm milk & honey if you feel a storm coming on. When in doubt, rain. Use lightning sparingly.
  6. Never mistake a bone necklace for an actual spine.
  7. Keep the through-line of a poem tense. If it goes slack, reel it in to confirm you still have bait. Then, cast it out into deeper water.
  8. Encourage your stanzas to hold hands. This implies friendship, yet also allows them to discretely check for weapons.
  9. Build a small wooden temple. Burn it to the ground. Use the ashes to blacken your ink. Compose haiku praising your enemy. Repeat, as necessary.
  10. Insist that all your verbs take a vow of silence and wear robes of rough linen. Observe them while they harvest lavender outside the monastery. Set up a lawn chair and drink iced gin while you watch them toil, to heighten the disparity.
  11. Have a small door installed above your heart & occasionally reach inside to feel your pulse. It is best to do this discretely, while murmuring: “This door you might not open, and you did.”
  12. Have a key line from your manuscript tattooed on your forearm. Post black & white photos online. Choose a German site that doesn’t actually allow anyone to view content. Then sit back & listen to how the quality of the silence greeting your work has subtly shifted. Write a think-piece about the experience, entitled Integrity.
  13. Bind your wrists with duct tape & type in a closet. This will provide an immediate sense that you are writing from behind the Iron Curtain.
  14. Strive for a tone that is simultaneously whelmed and seemly. Avoid prefixes. Use words like “limned” & “palimpsest” liberally to discourage the half-hearted. True poets have 9 readers at most. Genius, none at all.
  15. Encourage each poem to visualize itself as a bone in the body of a larger animal. Name this animal “Book” – but do not feed it, lest it become domesticated. When the neighbor mentions his cat’s gone missing, murmur vaguely about coyotes.
  16. Replace your pen with a gun. Your images will remain alert; your characters will yearn to be more disarming.
  17. Adjectives are mascara. Verbs are merely muscle and blood.
  18. Adopt a novelist. Tell them what it’s like to be a real writer, how it feels to not make compromises or be a whore to story. Then sleep with one eye open.
  19. Choose your table in the café wisely. Be certain to order only the most cryptic espresso drink. (Ideally, this would be bourbon.)
  20. Re-purpose a utility belt for your ostentatiously old-fashioned writing tools, then clink around the coffee shop muttering about your cantos.
  21. Insist that your next book is going to be big. Construct a mock-up two meters tall, set in 56-point font, with a spine made of elk vertebrae. Strap it into a child-trailer and tow it nonchalantly behind your bicycle.
  22. After wrapping yourself in animals skins, stalk out into the darkness to face the brutal calculus of loss.
  23. When in doubt, smolder. Not like a cigarette. Smolder like Nina Simone.
  24. Go for a long walk & wait for the lines in your head to fall in line with the cadence of your steps. Then persuade Wislawa Szymborska to return from the beyond and copy them down in Polish.
  25. Title every sestina “Pantoum.” Every sonnet “Haiku.” When questioned, smile and say, “Exactly.”
  26. Write on scraps & envelopes using only miniature pencils. Erase nothing. Also, speak the unspeakable in timeless fashion & transcend the fact that the world is utterly unaware of its need to be explained.
  27. Don’t be subtle about insisting on the power of repetition.
  28. In fact, be pretty overt about insisting on the power of repetition.
  29. But it’s the spaces between the words matter most. Opera singers plan their breaths. Words nest in the silence before & after.
  30. Compose in invisible ink to save hours of revision.
  31. Cover the floor and furniture with paper. Dip the paws of the neighbor’s absent cat in ink. Release a coyote into the room. Then, write exactly what you see.


– Michael Bazzett


Michael Bazzett’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, 32 Poems, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Best New Poets. He is the author of The Imaginary City (OW! Arts) and The Unspoken Jokebook (Burning River Press), as well as the winner of the Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers Collaborative. He was a finalist for the 2013 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, and is the winner of the 2014 prize with his collection You Must Remember This.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →