Invent a new language anyone can understand.
Climb the Statue of Liberty.
Reach for the unattainable.
Kiss the mirror and write what you see and hear.
Dance with wolves and count the stars, including the unseen.
Be naive, innocent, non-cynical, as if you had just landed on earth (as indeed you have, as indeed we all have), astonished by what you have fallen upon.
Write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outer space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full disclosure and has a low tolerance level for hot air.
Write an endless poem about your life on earth or elsewhere.
Read between the lines of human discourse.
Avoid the provincial, go for the universal.
Think subjectively, write objectively.
Think long thoughts in short sentences.
Don’t attend poetry workshops, but if you do, don’t go to learn ‘how to” but to learn “what” (What’s important to write about).
Don’t bow down to critics who have not themselves written great masterpieces.
Resist much, obey less.
Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.
Write short poems in the voice of birds. Make your lyrics truly lyrical. Birdsong is not made by machines. Give your poems wings to fly to the treetops.
The much-quoted dictum from William Carlos Williams, “No ideas but in things,” is OK for prose, but it lays a dead hand on lyricism, since “things” are dead.
Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and think the rest of the world is going to think it’s important.
Remember everything, forget nothing.
Work on a frontier, if you can find one.
Go to sea, or work near water, and paddle your own boat.
Associate with thinking poets. They’re hard to find.
Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking. “First thought, best thought” may not make for the greatest poetry. First thought may be worst thought.
What’s on your mind? What do you have in mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.
Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.
Question everything and everyone. Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and the status quo.
Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t pander, especially not to possible audiences, readers, editors, or publishers.
Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there.
Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks from the doors, but don’t throw away the screws.
Be committed to something outside yourself. Be militant about it. Or ecstatic.
To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen, to be a poet at 40 is to be a poet. Be both.
Wake up and pee, the world’s on fire.
Have a nice day.
First read at the Seventeenth Annual San Francisco High School Poetry Festival, February 3, 2001