Poetry is a personal experience and we all judge it by what we enjoy. This neatly fits with BBC book on the nation’s favourite poems. And they are not bad! It is said that readers know more than the poets do. But there is an opposite claim as well! On top of it, there is poetry we are supposed to know: why? Then, yes, there is toffee-nosed poetry of the academics, written for the academics and by the academics: it is supposed to be deliberately abstract. We have also come to dismiss poems from the BAME group of writers.
Art is not a science. The world of poetry is subjective. It cannot claim to be objective on the selection of material; as happens with the language, it is always in flux. Is what is published the only way current poets should write? Do you then write specifically for the magazines to get published and recognised? And of course, you must win awards otherwise you can’t be an important poet!
Publish and be damned, as the Duke of Wellington retorted! There is no one way to write poetry and there are many who would teach you poetry while they struggle themselves! There are no regulations regarding workshops. So please stumble and be bruised; choose workshops and mentors wisely. Success is not guaranteed. Do read poems, learn, read more, listen, read aloud, and follow your path. Even the likes of Walt Whitman and Lord Tennyson were condemned in their times! Many have explained poetry, only poetically, but no one can do so concretely. Here are other takes by various poets…
Yogesh Patel MBE, Poetry Editor, ARS Notoria
From right to left
Bashabi Fraser 2
Cyril Dabydeen 3
Jhilmil Bickeridge 4
Mona Dash 5
Prabhu S. Guptara 7
Alice Wickham 6
Words of Wisdom
From right to left
Tim Tomlinson 9
David Rushmer 11
Debjani Chatterjee 10
Kavita A. Jindal 12
Reshma Ruia 13
Abhay K. 14
Zilka Joseph 15
So you want to be a poet?
So you want to be a poet?
by writing a line
or two of verse.
It not need be strictly
grave or profound,
It may be no more
than nimble sound.
It need not be euphonic
or keep in time.
Strict metre is optional,
the same with rhyme.
It can be nonsense
like Edward Lear,
speaking of love
of hope or fear.
It’s a voice in the earth
or air you are seeking.
It’s like the universe
You utter it so
it seems like song
and occasional sense
as you move along.
Don’t expect cash
or praise or prize.
Just waggle your tongue
and tell such lies
as truth requires
to pass the gate.
It’s getting late.
The horizon of possibilities
Have you ever come to the brink of the slashing waves
And looked across to that indefinable line between
Sea and sky and hailed a passing ship to accept you
And take you on that quest of an unreachable dream?
But it is not an unrealisable mirage, it is a beacon
Of possibilities. It recedes, but it never weakens or fades
Rather, it urges and challenges, daring your undaunted
Vision to decipher the truth and shape it into words to
Empower the stricken, bestow tongues of fire on those
Who are silenced for now, prove that the pen can work
Magic more powerful than the violence of brute force
Bringing the breath of freedom’s fresh hope to those
Who trust the rhythm of your music to set their trapped
Feet free to seek the horizon aglow with tomorrow’s
Dawn sun’s determination in a journey that awaits
Every prisoner of conscience today whose poems
Are set afloat on ships that take a message of invincible
Courage beyond the prison bars of the cowards who
Hold the poet hostage now, but certainly not for ever.
Dr Bashabi Fraser, an award winning poet, has authored and edited several books and articles and is widely anthologised. She is Professor Emerita and Director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies at Edinburgh Napier University, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow and Chief Editor of Gitanjali and Beyond.
HOW I BECAME A MINIMALIST
I talk to myself in the village
if you must know–
a place in-between,
the Amazon only.
The forest once more
where the harpy eagle
soars high above
the tree canopy.
The jaguar in the middle ground,
and the anaconda far below–
as Claude Levi-Strauss
would have it.
Each leaf turned over
in more humidity,
Rain-clouds I want
you to know about,
being myself only–
thinking of what
I must bear up to,
what keeps rubbing
and sniffing against
each other, I know,
when a tribesman sees
a plane in the far sky
and points an arrow
at those taking pictures
high above, cameras clicking,
those being invaders, or
ecologists all, like what
I haven’t seen before
coming close to you; and
it’s nowhere else to go
but moving around,
looking up, not down.
Cyril Dabydeen is a Guyanese-born Canadian poet, short-story writer and novelist living in Ottawa where he was the Poet Laureate.
The Poetry Commandments
If your religion is poetry,
you must learn to witness, to feel
the terror of starving farmers,
the hungry sea the refugee boat teeters in,
the salt of your tears as you see small bodies
being lifted from soot and grime.
If your religion is poetry,
your heart must sing and dance
to see clouds swimming in a cornflower sky,
daisies and dandelions bejewelling green,
to hear the forgotten music of a stream
and see the whole world in a single dewdrop.
If your religion is poetry,
you have to consume grief and joy
in equal measure,
consume until you are so replete
you have no option but for the words
and worlds to flow, soot on pristine white.
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the founder of Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which advocates Poetry as Therapy and is working on a few initiatives, both in the UK and India, taking this into prisons and hospitals. Her debut poetry collection, Reclamation Song, was published in May 2018 by Red River Press, India, and in November 2019 by Verve Poetry Press, UK.
Prepare then to set your watch, to a different time, where the hands of the clock
are measured in a thought, a feeling, or a word, where things are as slow
or fast, like sentences, sometimes ambling over lazily, sometimes rushing, rushing
Prepare then to be there, yet not really there, every instant, as you meet and greet
people, fantasising instead of being alone, with your pen loving its paper
or fingers astride a laptop; eagerly wanting to bring alive, to birth a poem
Prepare then to be suddenly thrown away, by a tornado, at times even a tsunami
sucked straight out of a day, down, down into labyrinths’ of ideas and words
Prepare then to have a poem which sits in your heart
Prepare to nurture it, and wait for it to catch a flight, apart
So you want to be a poet? Prepare then to have everything, and sometimes nothing at all…
Mona Dash is the author of A Roll of the Dice : a story of loss, love and genetics, A Certain Way, Untamed Heart, and Dawn-drops. She holds Master’s degree in Creative Writing (with distinction) and her work has been listed in leading competitions such as SI Leeds Literary award, Fish, Bath, Bristol, Leicester Writes and Asian Writer. An engineer with an MBA, she works in a global tech company and lives in London. www.monadash.net
A Certain Way, Skylark Publications UK, £9.99
So you want to be a poet
In school years they spoke of Yeats
‘A bard among the greats’
His icy ramblings left me cold
On carefree summer days
In college it was Plath
Or Betjeman, or Hughes
Whose sculpted air of gilded-gloom
Infused me with the blues
A lady strolled across my mind
In midnight-silver hues
Her sass and style and rhythmic lines
Foretold a different muse
She sashayed all around my soul
And swayed with rainbow staff
Those jewelled phrases raised my heart
Commanding it to laugh
In memory of Maya Angelou
Alice Wickham is the editor of Purcell Press, and a writer in her spare time. Her latest story – Brexit Swan – is published in Storylandia Issue 33, available via Amazon on the link below:
ADVICE TO A BUDDING POET
Prabhu S. Guptara
Some poems erupt from you;
others, as when your tap
left slightly open, drips
to form a pool.
However, we may ooh and aah
no human is born full-formed
like a photograph.
Every child needs food and drink
cleaning and clothing
hair trimmed and helped
to walk and swim,
taught to bike and drive,
learn their manners, their alphabet,
understand how much work
goes into making a picnic.
A painting too needs
looking at from different angles,
different times of day, different lights.
Sometimes your eye and mind need to rest a bit
before they re-engage.
Sometimes you need to grow
for a night, a week, a month, a year,
or decades before you see the work
needs a touch just – there –
or a whole wash.
Play with each word, participle, adverb.
Does a comma need adding or taking away?
Every full stop earning its keep?
How about another stanza, another line-break?
Will more freedom or more discipline
tune feeling with form?
A poem, like a diamond,
can be set in a wedding ring
or in a crown: the title
a torchlight, a mirror, or a laser.
No choice is mechanical.
Drill changes the way one walks.
It is such disciplines
water, fertilize, and grow a seed
or a vine, bearing precious fruit.
Most wines can be drunk young;
the best wines take longer to mature.
Prabhu’s poems have been published since the 1960s in magazines, in anthologies, and in two collections. In January 2017, Skylark Publications, UK, chose him Poet of the Month, and he is included in Debrett’s People of Today.
Words of wisdom
So you want to be a poet? Welcome to the Club for the un-clubbable, the dreamers’ Pioneer Corp, the maddest invention of the sane. Or the sanest innovation of the mad. ‘We are the music makers /And we are the dreamers of dreams,’ wrote Arthur O’Shaughnessy in ‘Ode’, a poem which Edward Elgar set to music with due pomp and circumstance in 1912. ‘World-losers and world-forsakers, /On whom the pale moon gleams: /Yet we are the movers and shakers /Of the world forever, it seems.’
How did this sound, from the massed forces of soloist, chorus and orchestra, that first night in Birmingham Town Hall? Probably more than a little ridiculous. You can imagine the civic dignitaries in their evening best, straining to follow the (mercifully blurred) words being sung at them. Or nodding off, having enjoyed an excellent Edwardian dinner before the concert.
But after all, to be faintly ridiculous, always ever so slightly out of step: isn’t that what the poet wants? Those snores, that bemusement. Aren’t they our accolade?
Fiona Sampson is a leading British writer and poet with a particular interest in translation, music and collaborative projects.
I did, so I showed some work to Philip Levine, who was a visiting instructor at the MFA Program I attended. He returned my pages with written comments. The one I remember best was, “Stick with fiction, please!!!!!!!!!” There were others, less encouraging.
I followed Mr Levine’s advice, but the poems kept percolating beneath the prose. I’m glad they did. They formed my first book.
I returned to prose for my second. And now I go back and forth—fiction, poems, prose poems, hybrids. And I trade stories with other poets similarly victimized by Philip Levine. I continue to admire Levine’s poetry. I condemn his pedagogy. But it provides a good reminder of perhaps the most important lesson: Stick with self-belief!!!!!
Long live Philip Levine(‘s poems).
Tim Tomlinson is the author of Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire (poetry) and This Is Not Happening to You (short fiction). He’s a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop and a professor in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies.
This Is Not Happening to You Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire
So you want to live in an attic and starve? So you want to avoid doing a proper job and making a success of your life? So you want to reside in a fantasy world of your imagination and avoid the real world of work? So you don’t want to be an adult and take on grown-up responsibilities? Are you crazy? These were some of the questions levelled at me by my well-meaning parents; the very same people who had earlier encouraged me to read and write poetry in childhood, the proud parents who had asked me to recite my poems to visiting relatives and friends!
Actually, they were not far from the truth. I was not a masochist to wish to embrace a life of semi-starvation and loneliness as some kind of a hermit in seclusion. Nor was I crazy. But the questions do underline the financial deprivation that many writers experience. They pinpoint to the fact that for every published and established poet, there are hundreds of others who never ‘make it’. Writing is a vocation. People say they write for fame, for money, to be a ‘voice’ for a section of the populace, for independence and work flexibility, and even in order to change the world. Ultimately, one writes because of an inner compulsion: one writes because one must. And poetry is the medium that offers the highest form of expression.
Debjani Chatterjee MBE FRSL was born in Delhi, lives in Sheffield, and has been described as ‘Britain’s best-known Asian poet’ (Elisabetta Marino). More information at www.dchatterjeewriter.simplesite.com
Finding your voice in a sea of noise is not an easy process. The key is to read and keep reading, organically. Follow where you are drawn by the voices that touch you and imbibe their qualities. Finding out what has gone before is the best way of making progress if only to avoid repetitions of the past. The point of any art form is to challenge what has come before it, but finding work that excites you is a good way to locate your subject.
Writing for me is an activity close to meditation; I can only really write when I forget that I am writing. When the sense of self is absorbed within the act.
I think of a page as a theatre of multi-dimensional space. Words flow through the air, or hang like stars, so their relationships to one another are not always obvious or can change depending on the focus. When read by another I think of the flow of one’s words through the body of another and the impression that leaves; physical, mental, and the closeness that evokes, the intercourse between two people. This commune ultimately interests me about writing.
David Rushmer is a Senior Library Assistant at the University of Cambridge. He has been publishing his poetry in journals and websites since the late 1980s.
Kavita A. Jindal
‘Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.’
That’s a quote from e e cummings, the American poet who went ‘lower case’ with his name and poems. I quote him not because I believe poetry is the only thing that matters, but because that is what a poet does. They write.
We all have to start somewhere. If you want to be a poet, it’s because poems have resonated with you or the art form itself appeals to your nature and soul. Begin with writing how a poem sounds to you and leave the categorisations of good and bad poetry aside. Be true and natural. There’s no need to be fashionable or competitive at this stage.
There will come a time, should you wish, that you will want to be a published poet. That’s the moment to take stock of where you are in the bigger picture of a globe-full of jostling poets and decide where you are heading. Live with those intentions. This is the time to hone your craft, to train yourself to be the best you can be at your particular style. Be harsh with yourself, but not so harsh that you give up.
Back in 2016, when I was asked for my Poet’s Statement for Skylark journal in connection with the Word Masala award, I said: ‘I relish my place as an obscure little dot on the literature continuum.’
To me, the continuum matters; I like to see it stretching as a progressive streak from past to present and cometing into the future.
Kavita A Jindal has published two poetry collections to critical acclaim: Patina and Raincheck Renewed. Her work has appeared in journals worldwide. She is the author of the novel Manual For A Decent Life, which won the Brighthorse Prize.
So you want to be a poet?
Said your parents-eyebrows hitched high. There goes the mortgage and the pension plan. What’s wrong with being an accountant or a lawyer? What’s wrong with knowing that two plus two will always make four and there’ll be enough pennies and pounds to place a bowl of fresh food at your beloved’s door.
What’s wrong with wanting what everyone else wants! Your mother wrings her hands, her glass bangles slide up and down, little bells tinkling of despair. Your father picks his newspaper; he will hide his sorrows in weather forecast.
Being a poet you say is like being a doctor. You will have skills. You will be able to bandage wounds and sew broken hearts, catch bleeding sunsets in the palm of your hand .
A poet has nine lives, you continue, one moment you’re a chef, paring down words, peeling their skin till you reach the quiver of the heart beneath. You can be a cowboy too, ‘Yeehaw’, you’ll howl as clichés gallop onto the page. The wild horse of language has to be tamed. Sometimes, you will be God flying high, shaking your head at the carnival of clowns down below.
The ghosts of poets past and present weigh down your shoulders; they whisper obscenities in your ear, keeping you awake at night. Their spit spills on your page. Pay heed to them, but also know when to kick them out. This ship of poems is yours and yours alone to sail.
Reshma Ruia is an award-winning writer and poet based in Manchester. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani-a writers’ collective of South Asian British writers. Her debut collection of poetry, ‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties’ published by Skylark publications is out now. https://www.skylarkpublications.co.uk/bookshop.html
Her website is: www.reshmaruia.com
A Dinner Party in the Home Counties, Skylark Publication UK £9.99
The subject instantly reminds me of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet — a collection of 10 letters to Franz Kappus, a young officer cadet, who sought Rilke’s advice on the quality of his poetry to decide between a military and a literary career. Rilke in his first letter to him wrote— “Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.”
Joseph Brodsky in his Nobel lecture said— “One who writes a poem, however, writes it not because he courts fame with posterity, although often he hopes that a poem will outlive him, at least briefly…the one who writes a poem writes it above all because verse writing is an extraordinary accelerator of conscience, of thinking, of comprehending the universe. Having experienced this acceleration once, one is no longer capable of abandoning the chance to repeat this experience; one falls into dependency on this process, the way others fall into dependency on drugs or on alcohol. One who finds himself in this sort of dependency on language is, I guess, what they call a poet.”
So you want to be a poet?
Abhay K. is author of nine poetry collections including The Alphabets of Latin America and the editor of The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems., CAPITALS and New Brazilian Poems.
Read. Read. Read.
Learn the craft. Listen.
Grow a thick carapace.
Keep your day job.
Expand your knowledge of literature, history, the world and cultures.
Attend workshops, lectures, and find a community of diverse writers.
Raise your standards. Get out of your comfort zone. Grow.
Who/what kind of poet do you want to be? There are no right or wrong answers. What works for YOU?
From Hoagland’s Real Sofistikashun:
“The artistic life begins in instinct and moves towards calculation; or maybe, it begins in blind obsession and ends in self-possession. Or does it begin in play or end in ambition?
…the loss of innocence is inevitable…but one has it’s compensations…skill, perspective, and choice”.
“Everyone has a nose, said Auden, but not everyone knows where to point it”.
From Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry”:
“A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” The greatest poet even cannot say it for the mind in creation is as a fading coal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness.”
From Neruda’s poem “The Invisible Man”
“what can I do,/ everything asks me/to speak, everything asks me/to sing, sing forever”.
Zilka Joseph teaches creative writing and is an editor/manuscript coach. Her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (Wayne State University Press) was a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book Award. www.zilkajoseph.com
“Fall for Writing” by cogdogblog is licensed underCC0 1.0
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