We don't just do prose here at Write Yorkshire; in fact, we have several very talented poets on the writing team. Poetry is subjective, and a little untameable. Nevertheless, we asked the scribble for any tips they might have for you.
This is definitely where I come in! I love writing poetry, in fact I'm pretty sure most of my degree submissions were poetry. Having said that, I'm definitely not the best poet and I'm certainly not the most disciplined, so my tips are probably more appropriate for someone wanting to give poetry a go, rather than your experienced poet.
My first tip is to read it. Inhale all the poetry that appeals to you, maybe even some that doesn't. There's something so individual about each and every poem and it's author, that I can't help but gather ideas and inspiration while reading the lines.
My second tip is to have fun with it. I think it's so often taught that poetry has rules, or you should follow the sonnet format or use rhyming couplets or some other regulation. In reality, poetry is about as lawless as it gets. Break all the rules, do something wacky with the formatting, switch languages halfway through and then switch back again. Just play with it until it entertains you, or communicates the emotions you're trying to convey.
Thirdly, if you create a poem you love and are proud of, remember that (if you choose to workshop it) not everyone is necessarily going to like what you've written. It's personal, individual and so subjective. And that is absolutely okay. Don't let it put you off, or stop you enjoying writing.
Poetry is fun, it doesn't need to be difficult!
Not long after I started writing poetry I met one of my favourite poets and I asked her how I could find my voice. I told her I loved writing poetry, but I felt like I was pretending - like I was writing in a voice that wasn't my own. She told me, simply, to "write your truth".
She was right. I think I've progressed a lot as a poet since then and much of that progress is due to her advice. I try, if I can, to write honestly.
It's tempting when writing poetry to imitate others. It is far too easy to just write in a way that you believe poetry should be written. But the truth is, if you just write honestly, straight from the heart, what comes out will be much better than anything you would otherwise produce.
I should start by offering a disclaimer: I’m bloody awful at writing poetry. Every now and again I get it right by accident, but it’s not on purpose. I can’t even tell whether poetry is good or not when I read it; I only know what I like and what I don’t like on a personal level - that’s about it. (Don’t worry, I’m not the Write Yorkshire poetry editor!).
For this reason, I’m not going to give you any of my own advice, but I will pass on some wisdom from an excellent poet I studied under about fifteen years ago. Yorkshire love poet Ian Parks told us a story about a poet who locked his freshly minted poetry in a suitcase stored under his bed, where he left it for a year before returning to his pieces to edit. At the time that seemed inconceivable but, a little further down the road, I’ve learned the value of this advice.
Whether it’s a year or a week or a month, I can confirm that putting your poetry down and leaving it alone for a while creates some space which allows you to come back to it with a fresh perspective. Poetry can be an emotional, turbulent experience; write with passion, step away and take a breath, and then review it with a clear head. I suspect the really good poets are the ones who can coolly take an editorial scalpel to their work without losing that in-the-moment rawness.
Writing poetry is the perfect way to catch a feeling; a moment; a thought, and preserve it, as if in amber. I love to look back at my poems and remember what I was feeling at the time I wrote them; the emotions seem imprinted on the page somehow, waiting to be released by reading. So, I would say my first tip would be to write poetry about the things you feel strongly about, and that passion will spill onto the page and bring vitality to your work.
I find the first draft of the poem is better if I write it freehand. There’s something about the connection between brain, heart and hand that seems to fit the form and bring about emotional truth. You can always type it up and edit it later.
Read lots of poetry. A lot of people physically recoil when I ask them if they like reading poetry, but then if pressed, most can recite a few lines of their school favourites. I’m not sure why we became scared of poetry; at one time it was the only way we told and heard stories. It’s time to reclaim it from academia, in my opinion.
Don’t get hung up on rules, but don’t completely disregard them either. Sometimes, it’s good discipline to set yourself the challenge of writing, for example, a villanelle or a series of haiku. This will force you to play with word order, and make different lexical choices than you might otherwise, which can bring about some happy accidents, or total disasters. Rules are there to be broken, but playing with form can push us out of our comfort zones, which is never a bad thing.
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Cover image by Trust "Tru" Katsande via Unsplash