The New Poetry Handbook

      by Mark Strand

 

1 If a man understands a poem,

he shall have troubles.

 

2 If a man lives with a poem,

he shall die lonely.

 

3 If a man lives with two poems,

he shall be unfaithful to one.

 

4 If a man conceives of a poem,

he shall have one less child.

 

5 If a man conceives of two poems,

he shall have two children less.

 

6 If a man wears a crown on his head as he writes,

he shall be found out.

 

7 If a man wears no crown on his head as he writes,

he shall deceive no one but himself.

 

8 If a man gets angry at a poem,

he shall be scorned by men.

 

9 If a man continues to be angry at a poem,

he shall be scorned by women.

 

10 If a man publicly denounces poetry,

his shoes will fill with urine.

 

11 If a man gives up poetry for power,

he shall have lots of power.

 

12 If a man brags about his poems,

he shall be loved by fools.

 

13 If a man brags about his poems and loves fools,

he shall write no more.

 

14 If a man craves attention because of his poems,

he shall be like a jackass in moonlight.

 

15 If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow,

he shall have a beautiful mistress.

 

16 If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow overly,

he shall drive his mistress away.

 

17 If a man claims the poem of another,

his heart shall double in size.

 

18 If a man lets his poems go naked,

he shall fear death.

 

19 If a man fears death,

he shall be saved by his poems.

 

20 If a man does not fear death,

he may or may not be saved by his poems.

 

21 If a man finishes a poem,

he shall bathe in the blank wake of his passion

and be kissed by white paper.

 

 

First published in Harper’s magazine in January 1970, and also in Darker Poems (Atheneum 1970).