This is a repost, of sorts, from yesterday’s Poem-a-day email from  The poem became more meaningful to me when I read the “about” paragraph after the poem, so I will start with it here:

About this poem

“I spent much of the last year unable to write. When I tried to listen to my interior, what I heard was a cacophony of accumulated voices telling me what a poem should be, what a poem should do—and, more disturbingly, what it shouldn’t. I began this poem as a genuine attempt to follow the rules I had internalized, but as I wrote the poem, I was interrupted by a strong urge to instead write about something that broke them—I wanted to write about the walk I took the night prior, in Madison, Wisconsin, and the brief, vital moment of joy that indicated my year-long depression might finally lift. I knew this risked sentimentality, earnestness, and vulnerability, things I had been told to guard against, but I was tired of the rules—I wanted to write the real thing, even if it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing. So I did.”
Leila Chatti

How many of us can relate to writer’s block, to a cacophony of voices — on whatever topic — telling us what to do, what not to do, that you can’t do?

The Rules
by Leila Chatti

There will be no stars—the poem has had enough of them. I think we
          can agree
we no longer believe there is anyone in any poem who is just now

they are dead, so let’s stop talking about it. The skies of this poem
are teeming with winged things, and not a single innominate bird.

You’re welcome. Here, no monarchs, no moths, no cicadas doing
they do in the trees. If this poem is in summer, punctuating the blue—
          forgive me,

I forgot, there is no blue in this poem—you’ll find the occasional
pelecinid wasp, proposals vaporized and exorbitant, angels looking

as they should. If winter, unsentimental sleet. This poem does not take
at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing

of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and
          everyone in it is still
at work. This poem has no children; it is trying

to be taken seriously. This poem has no shards, no kittens, no myths or
          fairy tales,

no pomegranates or rainbows, no ex-boyfriends or manifest lovers,
          no mothers—God,

no mothers—no God, about which the poem must admit
it’s relieved, there is no heart in this poem, no bodily secretions, no

referred to as the body, no one
dies or is dead in this poem, everyone in this poem is alive and pretty

okay with it. This poem will not use the word beautiful for it resists
calling a thing what it is. So what

if I’d like to tell you how I walked last night, glad, truly glad, for the
          first time
in a year, to be breathing, in the cold dark, to see them. The stars, I
          mean. Oh hell, before

something stops me—I nearly wept on the sidewalk at the sight of them

Copyright © 2019 Leila Chatti. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.


    1. I try to avoid the “about this poem” until after I read the poem through once or twice, to give it my own reading. This time I found the “about” to be so revealing. It did indeed bring a whole other level of meaning to it for me. Glad you enjoyed it.


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