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.
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.