The Writing Retreat’s Tips For New Poetry Writers

Vivienne Neale Considers Writing Poetry For The First Time

Not all of us have grown up with poetry and being bitten by the bug when you least expect can feel quite daunting. You know how it goes, suddenly something happens in your life and you want to express it and poetry seems to be the only way. You will be joining a massive army of people who have felt exactly the same and when the muse strikes there’s nothing for it but to start writing.

As someone who has written poetry all my life and been immersed in the genre since I was very small it’s second nature to want to express myself in a poem. For those just stepping out on the road I would like to offer some thoughts which might assist. I run a writing retreat in Europe and am used to having all kinds of creatives wandering through who are looking for peace and quiet to simply finish some work or are looking for a structured and individual course which will help them get the most out of their desire to create. So these tips come from many years spent talking, reading, writing and listening to poetry and poets and I hope they are useful.

The Writing Retreat’s Top 5 Tips For New Poetry Writers

  • If you start writing poetry make sure you are a reader too. You don’t have to buy poetry books, but special collections will find their way into your bag and stay there. I keep a copy of John Burnside’s Asylum Dance with me at all times. He is my inspiration and whenever I find myself with a few minutes to kill I turn to him. Find your own mentor; or maybe collect a few of your favorite poems and make your own anthology which might inspire you. Keep it close to you so you are always reading.
  • The important thing to do is to write; yes I know that is obvious but the brain can behave like a skittish colt and refuse to jump the fences you set up. Having confidence to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is very important. So I suggest getting into the habit of keeping a journal. Buy a special notebook and write in it every morning when you wake up, when your inner censor is still asleep and start writing. It doesn’t much matter what you write, just keep filling the pages. Don’t read it back, or if you do, wait a month. This prevents you from being critical; the object is to just write, to fill page after page. Trust me; I have been keeping journals for years and even when I don’t create anything in a day I still call myself a writer as I have written after all. This is an important psychological milestone. So start keeping a journal today.

When emotions are strong we turn to poetry

to express ourselves.

Self portrait by Vivienne Neale

  • Think about your five senses. Can you explore them in your reading, writing and in your everyday life. Writing poetry is about distilling your thoughts; every word should count. Usually you are using far fewer than you would when writing prose, so each one must do a job. Watch your reaction to your own reading, after all you are part of the creative process when you read something. Think about how a reader might respond to what you have written. Ask yourself: ‘Have I communicated something memorable? Have I chosen to focus on something which will immediately bring my reader in to the moment? By reading poetry we can see how another writer draws us into their experience. So concentrate on smell, taste or touch rather than seeing or hearing only when you start writing.
  • Be curious about the world. The word revision means ‘to look again’ and that’s what a poet needs to do. Stop and look carefully at everything you usually take for granted. Use a frame made out of cardboard or make your fingers into a frame shape and then look through that frame at the landscape, or a section of your room, your desk, a person. It suddenly makes you focus on specific detail and can add a completely new perspective. I noticed my cat curls up like a comma for example. That got me thinking about the fact a comma is a pause and pause sounds like paws – it’s a homonym and already I have an idea for a poem. I may never write it, I may well just experiment, but the thought is there and the comparison is different and it came because I was thinking carefully and focusing on detail. See what I mean?
  • Samuel Johnson once wrote: ‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’ Effective writing is a craft, an art, call it what you will. What I do know is that it takes time and an extraordinary amount of effort. It is rare for a poem to be born fully formed. Be prepared to write a rough draft and work, work, work. Just because we have written about strong feelings and emotions that doesn’t mean we have necessarily written poetry or in fact something anyone else would want to read. Sometimes the simplest work hides the greatest artistry. You cannot be a poet without being a reader of poetry. You cannot be critical of your work until you step away from it and read objectively.

These are just a few ideas. There is so much to consider about the writing of poetry that I need to stop here and allow you to make a start on some of the ideas outlined. One final thing; why not read some of these poets I recommend and see how some of their work might help you to find your own voice. I have chosen poets who are writing right now and are at ‘the top of their game’. In another post I will concentrate on other voices from the past.

Reading List of Contemporary Poets

Gillian Clarke, Sharon Olds, Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Matthew Hollis, John Burnside, Paul Farley, Simon Armitage, Imtiaz Dharker, Sujhata Bhatt. You will find lots of their poems right across the internet; so you can afford to experiment with your reading. Check out YouTube and watch them reading their work too.

Author Profile

Vivienne Neale is a freelance writer and Director of a Writing Retreat in Portugal. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and has been published by Hodder Headline, Collins and numerous small poetry presses.


24 comments on “The Writing Retreat’s Tips For New Poetry Writers

  1. What a great list. Anyone really going after everything on the list cannot go wrong!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Deserves a reblog…

  3. Reblogged this on Hannah Meiklejohn and commented:
    Some great tips here. 🙂

  4. Thank you for liking my poem. Yes, when the poetry bug bites, it sure bites hard. 🙂

  5. I’d add a few more:

    Read in all poetic forms, not just the ones you practice. (I’m a prose writer who loves haiku.)

    If you are learning another language, jump into the poetry as soon as you can!

    Poetry is more than half music and that can take you very different places. Try writing in form and see how fast the demands of meter knock the ‘usual word’ out of your head!

  6. this is aazing stuff, Thanks for stopping by my blog, and from just one post (and the comments ) Ive already learnt so much.
    Thank you

  7. Reblogged this on DO NOW | Marianne Manzler and commented:
    Vivenne Neal considers writing poetry for the first time

  8. Thank you for the wonderful tips… I often sit staring at a blank screen; then, I just begin. The writing is so important. However, for years, I left journals sitting blank and dusty on a shelf, begging to be filled; my mind cluttered with thoughts, but I lacked motivation…

    What a great list of tips to start the mind on a path to success.


  9. DudeEddie — Thanks for visiting OurHerstory.net today… I also invite you and your readers to my verbal poetic works at susanbourne.net, as well as my visual poetic work at allbourneart.net. Keep on sharing!
    Susan Bourne

  10. Thank you for adding the list of poets – I will check them out as well as your work. Cheers!

  11. Thank you for putting up this list, especially the names of contemporary poets!

  12. Hi

    You have just visited my blog and “liked” my latest post so thank you!!

    This page of yours is so helpful! I only began last year after a diagnosis of MS.

    Best wishes


  13. Great tips! Thanks for dropping by. Good journey.

  14. Sometimes it’s good to express the way you feel
    About things, if you put your heart into it
    It can take you where you want to be
    Thank-you Eddie for the words you write
    Best wishes
    Daniel angel from Cape Cornwall

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