A Serious Business: Advice for Budding Poets

Every now and then I write poems.

I used to write a lot of them when I was a younger man. Many young people henri_fantin-latour_005do. I was lucky enough to find a friend who read them and encouraged me. Someone whose opinion, as a writer, I respected. I renewed my efforts a few years ago, when I joined a writer’s group and found, again, a friend who reads the work and encourages and supports me. This is a piece of advice I would like to give to budding poets: if you are serious about it, don’t be shy. Find readers and ask for feedback. Especially people who love poetry and maybe write it themselves. As a writer, you must expose yourself. Get used to it!

It also helps if you are a music lover. Poetry has rhythms and sounds that make it musical. These rhythms and sounds are almost completely instinctual and intuitive. Or at least they are for me. Pater said, ‘all art aspires to the condition of music’ and I believe that poetry is the art that is closest to it. When I was first writing poems I would listen to music or just have it on in the background. Somehow, it got me into the right place. Try it! It worked for me and it might work for you.

Another piece of advice I would offer is don’t be afraid to go to the edge. By this, I mean you must obsess over every line, every word until you get it right. It is a form of madness. It’s like having your mind in a washing machine: your thoughts are spinning round and round and round until you are close to getting it right. Of course, you will never be 100% happy with it, so know when to stop too.

Another piece of advice that most poets would give you is to read as much poetry as you can. It’s the only way to learn. If you don’t like to read serious poetry, if you don’t enjoy the works of great poets then don’t even try. Maybe you are only writing for yourself – nothing wrong with that. But if you have literary aspirations you must immerse yourself in poetry. It is a serious business. As Seamus Heaney said, poetry can’t change the world but it can change how people understand the world.

My final piece of advice would be to work hard at getting your poetry out there. Don’t just sit there waiting for something to happen. Enter competitions, submit to journals and magazines, go to workshops and events, make friends and contacts and, of course, submit to publishers. No excuses. There is always something you can be doing to get your poems read and heard.

I wouldn’t call myself a poet but enough people have liked my poems on this blog to prompt me to write something about it. I hope this post will help anyone thinking of taking up the pen. If you have the talent, the luck and you work hard enough it will happen. It requires some patience but it will happen.

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