How to write poetry

Related titles:
Fred Sedgwick: Teaching Literacy: A Creative Approach

How to write poetry and get it published Fred Sedgwick continuum O N D O N • NEWYORK .

ISBN 0-8264-7913-8 . including photocopying. NY 10017-6503 www. London SEl 7NX 370 Lexington Avenue. electronic or mechanical. without prior permission in writing from the publishers. New York. or any information storage or retrieval system. First published 2002 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means.Continuum The Tower Building. recording.continuumbooks. 11 York © Fred Sedgwick 2002 All rights reserved.

Contents Acknowledgements Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 Poetry games 'No detail too small': The stone Writing about relationships Using paintings to create poems How to get it published Glossary Books References Index vii viii 1 27 47 71 89 97 103 110 117 v .

For HBE Vladimir: 'You should have been a poet. [Gestures towards his rags.' Estragon: 'I was.] Isn't that obvious?' Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot .

I do not offer them (this should go without saying. Anthony Haynes and Joanna Yates for their comments on early drafts of this book. but I don't want to take any risks) as exemplars. either in slim volumes or in poetry magazines of varying stature. this book has no place on shelves where there isn't also a library of poetry. NOTE I have illustrated this book with poems of my own. Vll . in Robert Frost's lovely phrase. Although most of them have been published. As the introduction will make clear.Acknowledgements I am grateful to John Cotton. All crudities that remain. Henry Burns Elliot. are merely scribbled drafts. Some of my poems. and as lights along my own path that might find equivalents on my readers' paths. 'temporary stays against confusion'. are my own. despite their vigilance. Those readers are directed to infinitely brighter lights shed by other poets. Emily Roeves. though. from Robert Herrick to Sylvia Plath. I intend them to be. The exercises are printed in a grey tinted box and are meant to help the reader to see that through practice poetry is therer for all of its.

On the contrary. possibly a shell crater. from Complete Vlll . God. that are ready and waiting for our attempts on poetry. bird. and this world. We look around ourselves. You have those five subjects among a million others. There is a common misconception among would-be poets that the subjects out there in the world. with its paper. for example. No. Everything that we might write about is in one of those places or the other. We can make out at least eight bodies. in a prose poem. of course. This is the marvellous American. They lie heaped together. God. and we look inside ourselves (the Kingdom of God being. You want to write? Then write. its typewriter and its ashtray: a sort of dugout. we live in the world. within us). I'll leave the bad news to the last page of this introduction. don't look now. wearing the camouflage 'battle dress' intended for 'winter warfare'. a 'nest' of soldiers. inside. time) or beautiful in the conventional sense (tree. music. SUBJECTS TO WRITE ABOUT First. There. All members of the human race have three of the abilities to be a poet. It is arguably in both. They are in hideously contorted positions.Introduction There is good news to begin with. is the subject matter. garden. '12 O'Clock News'. it is often better to approach subjects that are neither grand nor beautiful: a desk. looking at cigarette stubs. Tree. is the subject for all poetry. Elizabeth Bishop. outside. garden. are either grand (music. both the Kingdom of Humankind and the Kingdom of God. all dead. blossom in spring-time).

our senses. Competent food and wine writers not. or think about them. if not all. except when we are appreciating a flower. It isn't fanciful to imagine her frustrated in her writing and. while writing. the ive senses Second. therefore. making love. we have to think harder about smell. because. We should use. 1979). when we are reading other poetry. and Craig Raine's time 'tied to the wrist / or kept in a box. ticking with impatience' ('A Martian Sends a Postcard Home'. much like poets — employ these senses with an intensity we should copy. as the Russian. because of that. second. work. Auden (1976) calls 'the precious five'. We neglect them. said. It is relatively easy to use sight and hearing but. 1990). efficiently. Try to look and hear in the same way that you smell and taste when you are concentrating: eating.' There is more on ordinary subjects in Chapter 1. first. and.Introduction ix Poems (1991). Collected Poems. and writing about it with a terrific metaphorical originality. We can use our senses. We use them without reflecting. we have another means to be a poet: most. and. If we are going to write well. simply looking at her desk with an intensity she hadn't used for such an ordinary object before. We are complicit when we read a poem with attention. making that poem ours by bringing our own experience to it. H. . especially. or running our hands over a carving. or a sculpture. or our lover's body. drinking. taste and feel. when we read we are complicit in the creative process. write Sweeney and Williams (1997) 'is to think small. from the book of that title. the senses that we tend to neglect: smell. Other examples of vivid writing about ordinary things are Norman MacCaig's description of an old ewe's 'Whisky and soda eyes' ('Camera Man'. on the face of it. We are also complicit in the creative process because reading a poem may help us make a poem of our own. of what W. third. Marina Tsvetayava (quoted in Brodsky. taste and feel. The way to start a poem'. while preparing to write. or eating an unusually tempting meal. We should also use our senses. when we look over what we have written with our second draft in mind. No poem is the same poem to two different readers. we use these senses almost without appreciating that we are doing so. 1987).

and make a tanka of it: 5. Write about what you feel. what does this object remind me of? Something that tastes/feels/smells similar? An experience from your past life? Write a note about putting air into your car diction Write a poem of four lines with no more than five words each abut the smells in your kitchen just bejore breakfast lunch or dinner. Feel what is around you. my poor senses of taste and smell comprise a disadvantage to me. making the beds. or a brick wall. tasting wine. down your throuat. Again. Or Write about the feel of a drystone wall. or a glass of whishy or gin as it slips thrugh your lips..n the back of it. Include the word like..7 syllables. five in the last. seven in the next. or smell. along your tongue. Pare your note down to 31 syllables. include the world 'like'. Though they are tiny deprivations by comparison.5. his light. washing up. both as a man and as a writer. Write a note about any household task: vacuuming. Make a haiku of it: five syllables in the first line. sensing the .. Think as your write. or galass of wine. Note well what the wine and beer experts int he broadsheet new. Smelling herbs.papers keep on teling us: the taste of both beer and wine is different at each state in our drinking it: different on the tip of the tongue. Smell it.. A blind or deaf person might remember that John Milton. Exercise: Close your eyes. or block your ears for a moment.x How to Write Poetry Exercises Read a poem you admire and imitate it its hythi. spent. Or about the tast eof a pint of beer. And smell is effectively the first taste sensation.7. // And that one talent which is death to hide / Lodged with [him] useless' made one of his grandest sonnets out of his blindness. Pare yur note down to seventeen syllables.7. on the sides.

This book is about what we need beyond our experiences. and the play of writing poetry. a hedgehog scuttling along. as they move across the June sky. by a British poet called Craig Raine). or effort. Look. And forget about another art. if we emerge from a tube station in London when 'up from the country'. If it doesn't. because all cities have certain smells in common (petrol fumes presumably). because those senses are weak in me. Look at the way a cat is shaped like the suspension part of a bridge when he creeps under the fence (I am watching my cat through my study window as he does this) or the way he is shaped like an ammonite when he sleeps. his neighbours would say of him 'He was a man who used to notice such things'. of writing poetry. because all the arts depend on curiosity. I hope that these relatively minor deficiencies make my other senses work harder than they might have without that deprivation. All this obsesses us. we have a choice: learn to be obsessed by this world. . using them more attentively is likely to produce words that are fresh: their very weakness makes them work harder. we have three important means to be a poet. and the ones that sway at the trees' edges.Introduction xi difference between the best food and indifferent food. both in nature and in the artificial world. Look at the still leaves at the centre of a tree. a bell. or we will never be poets. or do something else other than writing poetry. Thomas Hardy (in Gibson. or the way a breeze silences. (This is from a line from a poem already cited. for example at the way that rain makes 'colours darker'. after his death. we have to start to become such people. However. If we are not already people who notice such things. Notice how. as well as smells distinct from each other. CURIOSITY The third means we have to be a writer is our curiosity about what goes on around us. momentarily. I believe that there are three principles for the writing of poetry: the reading of poetry. an unbearably slow adagio. So. Also. 'A Martian sends a Postcard Home'. our senses and that obsession with the world that I've said is so necessary. He meant a hawk crossing shadows. or any other kind of artist. we are reminded of the first foreign city we ever visited. the toil. 1976) hoped that. Look at the way that clouds sing silently.

quoted in Sutherland (1975). with critical faculties sharp. if he was alone . as Seamus Heaney wrote somewhere. the look and. Many attempts at writing verse are made by people who have less than even a passing-on-thestreet acquaintance with what poetry is. self-serving. at his meals a book lay by his side. book in hand.xii How to Write Poetry READ POETRY This may seem obvious. But anyone who has judged a poetry competition will tell you it isn't. borrowing or stealing of books. his mutton and potatoes might grow cold. They'll just bin what you send them. He invariably sallied forth.. and with their work widely published in anthologies and magazines. reading to himself. even though I know some people think it is arrogant. You might think about tormenting editors. An anecdote of Thomas Jefferson's. English. and symptomatic of the poetry establishment's perceived need to define what poetry is (not that I am even at the edge of that establishment). Follow the example of Shelley who was always reading. Tea and toast were often neglected. on the table. always follow) of reading them. unless you are willing to torment yourself. you are not ready to write poetry. Read some poetry. This passion for poetry will show itself in the obsessive collecting. and with a kind of passion.. None of them writes . I write this sentence with total confidence. too — but they won't suffer much if you send them poetry that betrays that you haven't read any. Don't just borrow it from the library — possess it! If you don't want to. If you haven't. and read as long as his candle lasted . I don't know one who doesn't own shelves of poetry. The would-be writer must become alert to the sound. of course. open. If you have books of poetry on your shelves that you read every day.. pack in now any thoughts of becoming a poet. foreign. I know many poets with individual collections to their names. his interest in a work never cooled. you know what I mean. and (this doesn't. He took a volume to bed with him. the taste of poetry.. new and old. I'll sum it up like this: ignorance of poetry is a disqualification from writing it. and the friends to whom you show and (infinitely worse) read what you call your poems. Anyone who wants to write poetry must work at becoming increasingly adept at reading poetry closely. his author seldom.

'without wax'. when I used to scrabble through the latest issue looking with a sad desperation for my latest piece. respectively. opinion. their argument and their feeling. a marriage. In contrast. the death of a pet or an aunt. of course. It is positively solipsistic: self-obsessed (solus. or poems about pure feeling. It comes from the Latin sine cera. He wanted to make sure his work was sincere'. are always giving us their opinions. I know that there are exceptions to this rule: Pope's Essays. the job of poets to tell us what they think or feel. alone. even narcissistic. for example. self). a headteacher of a school for children with learning difficulties. are pure argument. or a war spreading — will be of interest to you. sincerity without technique is nothing. Journalists. Emily Dickinson. amongst other things. ipse. and Plath's last poems are feeling tuned to a frightening pitch. and refers to statues that had not been botched together after being broken. In art. 43). I would even say they are resurrected. we will be able to get away with opinion-piece poems. The roots of this lovely word. primarily. in the new poet's heart and brain.will be in wheelie bins or at the landfill site by the weekend. comment. behind them. delusion about. one writer I met. Always the presence is chronic: the old poets live on. Perhaps when our technique is practically flawless. are interesting. though. sincere. I always tried to remember this. But pause for a moment. The temporary . the interest to readers of our own inner lives. Walt Whitman. a divorce. John Donne. told me that he did not read poetry 'because he didn't want to be influenced. Sylvia Plath and many others. Certainly. editorial .news. When I used to sweat over articles about education for a national newspaper. a reaction to public news about an earthquake. and then. or about football for a local one. Sincerity is an indispensable condition of being a civilized human being. it is tempting to imagine that what has just happened to you — a falling in love.Introduction xiii without the examples of Shakespeare. Sometimes this presence is acute: the poet reads to limber up for his or her writing. But both Pope and Plath produced poems in which amazing craftsmanship is hidden to the casual reader by the intensity of. Why should it be important to anyone else? Who cares what I think or feel? It is not. George Herbert. but to make satisfying art: to build poems (see my Interlude on the various definitions of poetry later on in this book — p. I doubt it. However (this is where this paragraph turns an important corner) a belief in mere sincerity in the business of writing poetry represents a sentimental. But their Wednesday copy .

absurd.. . Eddie Lang. The headteacher quoted earlier also exposed a delusion about what poetry is. He even missed out — I wish I had — on Bert Weedon and Hank Marvin. if you have followed certain principles. She has never seen any of the old masters' religious paintings.) Imagine: a man who has never listened to guitar music walks into a room where there is a guitar on a chair. of which I am so proud. Eric Clapton. It simply doesn't exist without Shakespeare and the others and. if. how we cringe — he picks up the guitar with a confident remark to the company: he will now entertain them . it's impossible to write poems if you don't read them'.. one terrible day. John Williams. will be dumped in a few days. in a good book that covers some the same ground as this one. because we will need them. As Sweeney and Williams (1997) put it.. or of a crowd of men walking to a football match. Both Shakespeare's Sonnets (which we should learn off by heart now.. Nevertheless. But — oh. Edward Hopper. Although they may. Although imagine this: a man or a woman decides that she/he is a poet. or of a bowl of sunflowers. She has never seen a Van Gogh. you want your words to last longer than that. 'just as it's impossible to be a professional footballer if you don't watch any football matches. Charlie Christian. He has never heard Segovia. What she/he writes is of no more value than the violinist and the painter I have described above. This stuff. Or imagine a woman who decides to paint a picture of the crucifixion. She/he has never read a poem.xiv How to Write Poetry nature of what I was doing was salutary. If you want to write poetry. I tried to reflect.. she picks up her brush . if you are lucky in your education. worse. we become blind) and Paul McCartney's ersatz verses (which no one will ever need) are unknown to her/him. (You weren't lucky? Be an autodictact and educate yourself. Virgil. of which this is the first: know poetry. Homer. are unknown to her. of course. Ovid. like Milton. Django Reinhardt or that wonderful American. who played behind Bessie Smith. He missed out (not so serious) on the Beatles. Horace. or of a miserable city bar at night. or a Lowry picture of Salford. The paintings of the twentieth-century American. your feelings about them. Dante. or Spanish classical guitar music. You felt bad about BSE on Tuesday? About foot and mouth on Wednesday? The insincerity of politicians annoyed you again on Thursday? So what? Even terrible things will not matter to your readers by the time they come across your account of them and. He knows nothing of flamenco.

edited by Tony Curtis (1997). and the struggle between words and meaning.. it is merely to suggest that without knowing about them.' Writing takes time. written a poem. he goes on to say something derogatory about how-to books. He is right about that. The sense that inexperienced writers get. Douglas Dunn. who wrote... We should think of writing poetry as the intellectual equivalent of breaking stones. so I'll miss that bit out. I would quote the American poet Billy Collins. Carol Ann Duffy. Indeed. Collins is quoted in an absorbing little book. that they have. is often a painful one. The struggle with words and meanings. He continues: 'every fine poem is a how-to manual'. The modern poems I will refer to in this book will be in well-known anthologies like Heaney and Hughes (The Rattle Bag. That word 'toil' is central to our project. 1997) and the Norton Anthology. 108-9). This is not to say for certain that the work of these writers will last forever. At the end of this book. the would-be writer is writing in a self-imposed vacuum. Giving those feelings 'a loose impressionistic language adequate to record them for [ourselves]' will make poetry. 1982 and The School Bag. and is difficult. Paul Muldoon and Derek Mahon in Ireland.'. To sum up this point. typically measured. TOIL The second principle about writing poetry is summed up in Samuel Johnson's typically blunt.Introduction xv Apart from the tradition I have sketched above. Geoffrey Hill. and Americans like Maya Angelou and Mark Doty. making a perfect needlepoint and scoring a goal with a volley from . therefore. the would-be poet must read (this is my personal selection) living writers like Seamus Heaney. De Selincourt goes on to say that Wordsworth was a craftsman 'who must toil'. typically elegant words: 'What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. Those who want to write good poems should be reading good poetry . is a seductive and dangerous illusion. by those facts.. 'But such language [is] not poetry .' The quotations come from De Selincourt's (1993) introduction to his edition of Wordsworth's The Prelude. The illusion goes something like this: We have strong feelings. there is a basic list of anthologies (pp. when they have written something truthful and sincere. Simon Armitage in the UK. with a note of reservation about relying entirely on them. it is not restricted to inexperienced writers.

and they suggest that we should be 'particularly suspicious of adverbs and adjectives'. and the perfect sailing of a boat down the estuary without accident in a high wind. S. Put it away for a day. Part of this principle is the great word 'integrity': being true to the experience. First. in terms of sense. much as inspiration is central to some of them. Add the cooking of a perfect lemon souffle. than they are to make it clean. check how the poem sounds. they are hard sounds.xvi How to Write Poetry forty yards. muscular. and see if any parts of it are unnecessary. The Latin poet Horace (quoted in Roberts. It is also important to take time between writing the first draft and the second draft in order to do several things. Sweeney and Williams (1997) call this the 'frisk' draft. None of those come only with inspiration. and. 'Metrics' in The Interpreter's House No. 1986) advised fellow writers: 'Superfluous words simply spill out when the mind is already full. or awkward? For example. when it is about something soft? Whatever the b's and d's are there for. only / that it keep faith // with life's rhythm . the order of the words in a poem is an important element in the writing of it: why should we assume that the first line that occurs to us is the first line of the finished poem? I sometimes find that. a year. strong and beautiful. In Kipling's words. 16. that makes it difficult to say? Or has it too many b's and d's.' In schools. They might simply be wrong for what you are writing about. children are often taught to find 'interesting' adjectives. Say what you have written to yourself. in a lovely late poem. even a decade. the development of an immaculate herb garden. ensure that you have avoided wasted words. a week. changing the order of the stanzas causes sparks to fly that make the poem more interesting. has a line got too many s's in it that make the poem hiss inappropriately.. dump them. It is sometimes hard to resist telling a flashy lie in a poem. This teaching is mistaken. . See if any parts now look as though they are from a different poem: you may get two poems out of all this work! See if there is anything else you might write here that was hidden behind a dark glass when you started.. Does it sound good? Does it feel good in your mouth. And third. Second. let the poem 'drain'. quite late in the drafting process. if you haven't. a month. and then check how it tastes. These parts of speech are more likely to clutter a poem up. that often lead to more lines.' writes R. and leads to obese poems awaiting a fatal coronary. 'Ask no rhyme / of a poem. to fatten it. Thomas. but it is vital that we do resist. Years of practice are even more important.

repeating Pound. I cannot find out how it has come to mean 'inflated.)' 'Song of myself. poetry as it is conventionally conceived. ('Poetry and Religion' in Murray's (1991) Collected Poems). the poet Wendy Cope said on Radio 3 a while ago 'the first question to ask yourself is "Am I telling the truth?'" (Curtis. No one may use these phrases ever again! Sweeney and Williams (1997) quote the phrases 'life's vale of tears' and 'autumn sadness'. at least. by that inelegant. verse 2). In his poem The Guardians'. Poetry has got to be poetry without necessarily sounding like poetry. that you can no more be untruthful in a poem than you can in a prayer. 2001) a constant 'war against cliche': why should anyone want to write a sentence that someone else has already written? The tension is there to write something both intelligible and fresh. like yellow flames' may look all right on a first draft. little word. One way of dealing with cliches is to subvert them. Avoid the fustian: this useful and interesting word derives from Fostat. I contain multitudes.Introduction xvii The daffodils. the shapes of daffodils are nothing like flames. (Whitman.' (I know that I contradict myself here. Although further consideration should suggest to us that while we're OK (but only that) on the colour front. in Christopher Ricks's phrase about the poetry of Geoffrey Hill. Shakespeare compares his friend to a 'summer's day' ('Sonnet 18'). Avoid cliche: I call this the 'verdant pastures' issue. a suburb of Cairo. the Australian poet. The writer of a metrical version of Psalm 23 uses this phrase to translate the Authorized Version's 'green pastures' (Psalm 23. invented. inappropriately lofty language. Huckleberry Finn says that you can't pray a lie. to 'rinse' them. bombast' (Shorter Oxford English . All true writing is (in Martin Amis's excellent phrase about all writing. / (I am large. while insisting that the friend is better than that. 1997). imagine how unspeakable it would be to ask God to believe a falsehood. 'When a poem doesn't work'. but for a moment I will be like the great American Walt Whitman. turgid. or. or. Geoffrey Hill (1959) writes about how the victims of a shipwreck near a coast 'scrape home': a cliche (we 'scrape home' in an exam. who wrote: 'Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself. adds 'You can't po one either'. Ezra Pound said: 'Make it new. He means. where this rough cloth (fustian) was made. 1997). Les Murray. or at the end of a running race) rinsed by the terrible literalness of its truth: the corpses are flayed by the pebbles as the tide pushes them on to the beach. If you are not telling the truth.

uncorrupted by cliche. Yes. Wordsworth and Coleridge startled their century with their diction in the Lyrical Ballads. I suspect. though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadfull. they play with words. This may seem to contradict the hard work principle outlined above. Now it has to be translated into the language of the art — for him. maybe a powerful one. Having lived for a time in Cambridge. Much as writers enjoy their gins and their lager. PLAY The third principle is play. a poet has to be a good crap-shooter. That was the easy part. it can look like diamonds. While others have to break stones all week. Unfortunately. Her fellow judge tried to explain to a young man that his 'dream etchings' needed to be 'translated' into the language or elements of art. 2001). Let me take an example from art. We must startle readers in our century with our poems. My favourite example comes from a poem someone sent to me once for comment. To put the point crudely. for. for us. This is the centre of an important issue that I have already touched on: sincerity is not nearly enough. who says that he recognized . or even playing one. he wrote about how he had 'sojourned in that fair academic town'. Margaret Morgan. where 'crap' is worn-out language. but sounds strange. The artist kept 'doggedly saying "But my dream was like that'". poetry — it must be the language of today. much crap that we write (and we all do — very few poets. thou are not soe'. and play at the weekend by watching a football match. be not proud. Incredibly. avoid crap in their first drafts) doesn't look like crap when we write. This is an insight of Auden's. 1970) 'the creative writer does same as the child at play'. Poetry has to be written in current language. we have had the experience. fuelled with lager. John Donne startled poetry readers in his century with his daring language: 'Death. The writer had sensed that 'sojourned' was poetic in a deeply debased sense of the word: it means 'lived in'. The educationalist and writer about art. painting. Others have to broke stocks during the week.xviii How to Write Poetry Dictionary) but it has. fuelled with gin and tonic. She was helping to judge a competition. As Freud says (Vernon. Tyro verse is full of fustian. Yes. but poets are lucky: their play and their work meld when they sit at the desk. and play golf at weekends. A relish for the language comes before a relish for the subject. told me a story (private correspondence. we have dreamed the dream.

W. 1973). and we build a wall between it and work. to show one element of play that poets engage in: they are not only interested in words as they are now. I am trying. a means of learning rather than a record of it:'. we should ask. Auden. with its Judaeo-Christian inheritance of the doctrine of original sin. 'Has enough making gone on here?' Obsession is a constant theme throughout this book. their knowledge and experience. for example. Poetry is not self-expression. When we have finished a poem. We can play with puns and half-rhymes. Grigson (1982) asked: 'How many of us in fact discover our . you change the way you think'. as several writers (Doris Lessing. This book is based on the assumption that readers want to learn not just about writing. Underneath all this lies the sound educational principle that poets are supremely active learners. random and patronizing. on the other. reform of the world could come later. It takes us to the roots of what we are when we call ourselves (if we dare) poets (from the Greek. Auden put it best: 'How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?' (in Bagnall. and in what they mean now. not with ideas and abstractions. This is a difficulty that all artists (especially poets) and lovers must overcome. but self-discovery. But even the serious aspects of poetry are concerned with play. It is an affair with words (phil = love. among others) have pointed out. you change as you write. 'maker'). lingua. as we play with our loves and hates.. We can play with obscene limericks and chance rhymes. meaning tongue.. This is Doris Lessing. we find a difficulty in foregrounding play. with assonance and alliteration. In Western culture. A knowledge of origins (etymology) is not a mere hobby. Everybody knows that in love. 1973). Writing is. or keeping your houseplants alive. reducing writing poetry to the level of house decoration.Introduction xix a potential poet by observing whether he or she liked hanging about with words. Be obsessed with language and what it can do. as I write this book. There is only one trait that is common to all poets without exception. as quoted in Harrison (1983). Such a list without a rationale would be unprincipled. their words and. and the main obsession is not with things. Readers of this book should not be merely expecting tips on writing (though I will supply many of those). on the one hand. you change yourself. a passionate love for their native tongue' (Bagnall. ready to make connections between. but with words. Geoffrey Grigson. logos = word). there must be play. H. but also about their relationships with the world they live in. from the Latin. they are also interested in their derivations: language.


How to Write Poetry

convictions from what we write, instead of writing in obedience to known convictions?' When we write, we are concerned with increasing our understanding; with exploring. As the British poet John Cotton has put it: 'I write as a way of exploring what I experience, and what I think and feel about that experience ... I find the process of immense value' (Chevalier, 1991). The Czech scientist and poet, Miroslav Holub said in an interview: 'Every poem is an experiment with a possible yes or no answer' (Harrison, 1983). Or, to put it yet another way 'every poem is a little research project into the relationship between myself and the rest of the world' (Sedgwick, 1997). A WORD ABOUT INSPIRATION Don't wait for it. It is a daft post-romantic notion than poetry only comes when we lie on a couch clutching our absinthe. I have tried the couch and the absinthe many times, and I have always been too drunk to write anything. The best way to be inspired is to address yourself to writing at a good time of the day — for me it is early in the morning — and do it. Write something. When you can't write, write down anything that comes into your mind. Lock into the subconscious, write down what thoughts arrive. The poet Gavin Ewart said this to me (and several other members of an Arvon Foundation Creative Writing Course) in Devon in 1978. BAD NEWS I began by saying that there is good news: we all have the wherewithal to be poets. I summed this wherewithal up in terms of, first, our experience; second, our senses, and third, our curiosity. Not everyone would agree, however, that the human race wants any more poets. W. B. Yeats famously looked around the Cheshire Cheese public house and remarked 'we are too many', and the nineteenth-century evangelical Hannah More said 'Poetry? oh! As to poetry, I foreswore that, and I think everyone else should forswear it, together with pink ribbons' (Lindop, 1981). Poetry is a word that rouses terror in many people. 'I have seen it', wrote Arnold Bennett, 'empty buildings that had been full.' I once wrote three light rhyming stanzas about my local pub, and when I told John about them (the best landlord who has ever pulled me a pint) he raised his hands, palms outwards, and called for the garlic.



'No man ever talked poetry, e'cept a beadle on boxin' day' said Mr Weller, in Pickwick Papers, speaking for almost all the Anglo-Saxon race. Is it worth fighting against that numerical enormity, that association of poetry with pink ribbons, that terror, that pompous beadle, tipsy with cheap port? You won't make money. Poetry won't make you popular. You'll worry your landlord. Vladimir says to Estragon in Waiting for Godot: 'You should have been a poet' and Estragon replies: 'I was. [Gestures towards his rags.] Isn't that obvious?' (What a wonderful stage direction that is!) The other item of bad news can be summed up like this. When I typed the title of this book into Google, a search engine on the Internet, I was appalled to be offered about 26,000 entries. There are all those people thirsting for this information, and all those people supplying it! Another statistic: a fine book called Poems — Fleur Adcock (2002) - sold about 300 copies in a year. There are too many would-be poets, and not nearly enough poetry-readers. Still want to go on? You'd better have a good reason: you want to explore yourself, your world, your relationship to your world, and your language. The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne' wrote Chaucer (The Legend of Good Women, Prologue), the first master in the language: a daunting thought.

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'manage') classrooms where learning is seen as fulfilling. In drama. Freud says that we should 'look for the first traces of imaginative activity as early as in childhood . despite all the mechanistic puritanism of more recent years. You only have to look to know that they are fulfilled. A cook is making a dinner. Adults seem to be at their most fulfilled when one of two conditions are met.for truth. daunting or not. or a writer has sudden surprising knowledge of which way he is going to go. or a woman practises a dance. Playing with words is what poets do' (Vernon. (Emily Roeves unpublished PhD thesis) The last adjective at the end of my introduction was 'daunting'. or their work can reasonably be seen as play. words. Either they are at play. it was believed (in my opinion rightly) that children learned through play. Note that 'play' also has another meaning.. Montaigne. after weeks or months of barrenness. relationships .human beings. the writing of poetry is an honourable activity. for the time being. their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity'. . A man fishes alone at the side of a reservoir. But. Indeed. From the early sixties until the late seventies.1- Poetry games If you can't play with words.. every child at play behaves like a creative writer. Play is an interesting word. you can't write. 1970). writers explore their surrounding data . many teachers still successfully teach in (or. as the mechanistic puritans would say. I have written that one of the necessary conditions for writing poetry was a felt need to play with language. While the French essayist. enjoyable and serious in the way that children themselves see play. put it like this: 'children at play are not playing about.

well into. mattered a great deal to the players. too. Note. their middle years. either. Don't try to write while listening to music or a radio . their history. So be like children (advice I've heard from another quarter — and indeed. from other people. I asked them to supply definitions for words like 'Jub-Jub bird' ('a budgerigar that flies backwards'). Paradoxically. the Kingdom of Poetry has some things in common with the Kingdom of Heaven: see Crossan. 'vorpal' and 'utfish': We might learn something about the nature of creativity by watching young children (and older teachers) at play. and simultaneously intensifies our experience of it. How serious a matter it was! When the ball steepled into the Andalucian sky. and invent definitions for all the nonsense words in it: those given above. playing with a beach ball in a swimming pool in Spain. and 'brilling'. 1995): play. This is a truth you can understand from word association games. Play is never for them a trivial matter. Exercise: Re-read 'Jabberwocky' (it's in Chapter 1). 'slithy'. 'Bander- snatch'. or even beyond. 'mimsy' ('a delicate muslin-like fabric worn by women on special occasions') and 'tumtum tree' ('it drops delicious fruit whenever hungry people are passing'). Play with words is serious. It isn't for adults. Dangerous? Why? Because playing with words can expose elements in our subconscious that we might prefer hidden. I watched a group of holiday-makers. 'borogoves'. to judge from their facial expressions and their gruntings. catching it.2 How to Write Poetry JABBERWOCKY I have watched teachers playing with words and I have read to them 'Jabberwocky' from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There. and from ourselves. the more she or he will understand that playing with words frivolously could be both an exhilarating and a dangerous business. their application. as well as their concentration. their seriousness. A writer has to be able to concentrate (the second part of this word derives from the Latin for 'centre'): just look at children's intense focus on their game. play takes us out of the world. 'wabe'. concentrate and be serious. and the more a person who wants to write studies words and the subtle variations in their meanings.

He was reported to have told his students 'You have hissed my mystery lectures and tasted a whole worm. I'd better admit that I've written about some of these games before. less tolerant opinions and greater needs of adult writers. when children are young. or on a bus or train. I believe. I have just had a book reviewed. Watch children playing. This chapter should be seen as a collection of warming-up sessions: writers need to break themselves into the serious business. Many of these ideas are best done in groups of more than three.' That example is almost certainly apocryphal. or in the lavatory. but always in books about children writing. You must leave by the next town drain. Trivial Play Many people play with words in small ways anyway. The piece was complimentary up to the last quarter of it. dignified with the title 'study'. adapted to the harsher requirements. however. or. All the exercises that follow in this chapter offer opportunities to play with language. for example. pronouncing all vowels as 'o'. William Spooner was an Oxford don who habitually transposed sounds in sentences. odd playful usages in language. as I am now.) .Poetry games 3 drama. where the writer commented that I sometimes repeat myself. can also be done by one person on his or her own in a sitting room. Other writers . or adding the syllable 'by' to the middle of every word. not just the ten minutes before bedtime when you are exhausted. a fact that should warn us against seeing play as trivial. I make no apology for including them here. My best time is early in the morning. The instinct that impels us to play with language in ways like this is a low form of the instinct that impels us to write. invent. but his after dinner toast To the queer old dean' is more widely attested. (I wonder if my reviewer ever repeats himself. and copy them. James Joyce used this technique (properly called 'metathesis') in Finnegans Wake. Many families. Since they are about freeing the soul to make poems. in a little fourth bedroom in a semi.mostly teetotallers — will be able to work well late at night. Some of us are addicted to Spoonerisms: the Rev. with a mug of tea. just as sports people need to break themselves into a game. All. Put good times of the day aside for writing.

incredulously. grass. 'Blackbird'. away. 'choreographer'. My twenty-year-old son (I have just hoicked him in from the garden where he is playing keepy-uppy with a football) says his favourite words are: 'rupture'. I do this exercise on courses with primary-school teachers. are writers of one kind or another settle to the task with concentration. The meaning of a poem inheres not only in the outward meaning of the words. but in something inside them that is not so obvious. and 'besprent'. I wanted to say. and 'path' constitute an alternative list. 'wanker' ('great sound') and 'posterior'. silver. 'chrysoprase'. it often turns out. 'rhyme'. Edward Thomas says somewhere that we should never use a word until it is 'truly ours'. 'foredone'. This . 'Dad'. the more the two elements come together. mostly in schools.' 'What'. 'chemistry' ('because I could never spell it when I was at school'). The teachers who. the more you reflect on words. kite and wave'. Powys writes that his six favourite words are 'key. to the whole group 'I don't have favourite words. from some words of the novelist John Cowper Powys.4 How to Write Poetry SIX FAVOURITE WORDS This exercise grew in my practice. Your favourite words are already 'truly yours'. At one extreme. 'sunlight' and 'beer'. at the moment.' Robert Graves (quoted in Drury. 'cresset'. I ask them to write down their six favourite words. 'cerveza' (Spanish for 'beer'). 1982). When children do this exercise. and something in your relationship to them. 'picture'. are 'poem'. So it is risky. a teacher said. how ugly a word like "bulk" or "slab" or "onus"?' Other teachers say 'Do you mean the meaning or the sound of the words?' The answer is. 'chamber'.see Keith Douglas's poem "Vergissmeinicht" in Heaney and Hughes. It is a way of beginning to explore what language means to each of us. 1991) says that Walter de la Mare compiled 'lists of mellifluous words. I had better admit straightaway that their reactions to this task say something immediately about whether they are truly interested in words. 'you've never though how beautiful a word like' "Ghirlandaio" or "cadenza" or "faith" is. grumpily. they are potential poets. such as 'bergamot'. in other words. He goes on to say that he 'hesitate[s] a little between grass and earth. it is not pretentious to say that they expose something in their souls. What a beautiful sound EARTH is and also AIR. 'Jewess'. 'jazz'. I just use them. whether. My favourite six words. 'vergissmeinicht' (German for 'forgetme-not' .

It leads to discussion of words. LISTS If words seem trivial to you. Now make that sentence into a short poent containting all your favourite words. are everything. 'pound'. The cats hunted. that many poems in English are developed from lists. sinners towre. because it makes us think. Do not worry about making sense but concentrate on the mine intherent your words: I have had a go: The Jewess in the Granada sunshine sang jazz songs in memory of her Sephardic father. The soul in paraphrase. I have cheated. I know. I would point out two things: first. Angels age. 'bonus'. . that you have wrong aspirations. in this business. heart in pilgrimage. Reversed thunder. 'bulk'..Poetry games 5 exercise is valuable in itself. And speaking of lists . Gods breath in man returning to his birth. Engine against th'Almightie. and.. second. finally. which is no more (and no less) than a list of epithets for prayer: Prayer the Churches banquet. But. Now write a sentence containing all those words was well as obviousily some others). it can also lead to poetry. because words. The six-daies world transposing in an houre. One great example is George Herbert's 'Prayer (I)'. 'basically' and 'emotive' will start my list. Exercise: Write down your sixfavourite words. We sipped St Miguels under the trees. What about your least favourite words? 'Onus'. Christ-side-piercing spear. The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth. That is legitimate.

the bird of Paradise. and /w/y-Flowers. Of Bride-grooms. and I write How Roses first came Red. Greece and Spain. It is an odd fact that it is not easy to answer. my son. Birds. of Twilights. and piece by piece Of Balme. and joy. uninterested in small talk) 'You're a writer? What's your obsession. beer. I sing of May-poles. I sing of Times trans-shifting.Wantonness. May. which all things heare and fear. Obsession is a useful word for a poet. 1648) Exercise: Write list of the twenty things that you feel you must write about your obsessions. after some thought. London. something understood. Wakes. to sing of cleanly. water. Hock-carts. like this: God. man well drest. I write of Youth. When I try. I write of Groves. and I hope to have it after all. of Raines. . sex. and a party. education. (Herbert. songs .it was James Berry . he said (like many artists. I sing (and ever shall) Of Heaven. I sing of Dewes. and blisse. Exalted Manna. and Lillies White. the souls bloud. Wassails. Church-bels beyond the starres heard. and as we shook hands. and of their Bridall-cakes. and have Access By these. The milkie way.. Softness. gladness of the best. books. and Amber-Greece. of Oyle. of Love. I met one . I write of Hell. of June.. Brides. children. poetry. 1961) and so is this. art galleries. the poem that Robert Herrick put at the beginning of his book: I sing of Brooks. of Spice. of Blossoms. and Bowers: Of April. Heaven in ordinarie. and I sing The Court of Mab. and of the Fairy King.6 How to Write Poetry A kind of tune. (Robert Herrick. man?' I have been thinking about that question on and off ever since. the list begins. and peace. The land of spices.

cucumber and mint — raitha to cool the tongue. The poem was written for a time capsule project: it is buried somewhere. garam masala. to give the finders of the capsule. in the year 3000. Sometimes you see where the shop darkens Mr Khan. his wife and their children round the table. There are bhajees. There's rice. The smells have come alive. There are parathas. samosas. yoghurt. garlic. with other poems. it is possible to make something resonant out of a list of the most ordinary objects: such as food served in Bangladeshi restaurants. . Shiny emerald chillies lie like incendiary bombs. aaloo to eat with hot puris and mango pickle. and all the take-aways that I have collected. ground cumin seeds. a little picture of life in England in 2000: Mr Khan's shop is dark and beautiful.Poet es 7 At an infinitely lower level. dhal. nan breads full of fruit. When I wrote the following poem (initially for children) I was thinking of all the curries that I have eaten in restaurants. There are bhindi in sacks.

Cyclops. smiles. and aphasia. And thrush. Furies and suchlike. Demigods. Alysoum. 'in which the sufferer finds it difficult to remember nouns. (Sedgwick. Chimeras. funny novel Ending Up. dhall.poets. common terms. 1999) I wrote this next poem by imagining what it would be like to recover from nominal aphasia ('that condition' as Kingsley Amis describes it in his unremittingly bleak. coriander. goldcrest. I'll give him this poem: Sit down young man. And snow rotting into the spring and blue tit. kinds of apple. re-enters the dark. wine. samosas. As you recover from strokes. your loosened mouth murmurs over and over lists . Zodiacs. Bedstraw and Crosswort and Common Meadow Rue.cloudshapes and breath flowering in winter. murdering snails on the path. the names of familiar objects'): The Lists Heroes. wild flowers.8 How to Write Poetry He serves me puppadums. and weather. Perhaps one day he'll ask me to dine with them: bhajees. he'll say and eat your words. . pakoras.

for me.Poetry games Resigned. Cyclops. and some proper names of Heroes. Furies and suchlike and common meadow rue. Chimeras. a wonderful list poem: Love meet me in the green glen Beside the tall Elm tree Where the Sweet briar smells so sweet again There come wi me Meet me in the green glen Meet me at the sunset Down the green glen Where we've often met By hawthorn tree and foxes den Meet me in the green glen Meet me by the sheep pen Where briars smell at een Meet me i the green glen Where whitethorn shades are green Meet me in the green glen Meet me in the green glen By sweet briar bushes there Meet me by your own sen Where wild thyme blossoms fair Meet me in the green glen Meet me by the sweet briar By the mole hill swelling there When the west glows like a fire Gods crimson bed is there Meet me in the green glen (Clare. Demigods. 1996) . 9 'Meet me in the green glen' by John Clare (1996) is. you stare at the lawn and rosary flowers that die out of sight.

Wet roofs beneath the lamplight. Arguabiy. carpentry. was obviously inspired by Brooke's poem.. 'My favourite things'. Or mix two obsessions: The back row trombone joke of the lupins makes me smile: they blare into the garden. Exercise Write an assignation poem like Clare but set in a contrasting environment: a city. newspapers. birds. gardening.. clean-gleaming. faery dust. and feathery... all poetry (like all art) stems from obsession. the solar system. or in a desert. Once the list has twenty or more component parts (the bricks of the poem) add the mortar: words to stick the bricks together. rivers. the strong crust Of friendly bread. dance. philosophy. say.. philogy. Ringed with blue lines. The important thing is that the subject you choose must be something that (here is that vital component in writing again) obsesses yu. Exercise: Write a poem that is a list of things you have always hated. music. or at sea. art. and many-tasting food.10 How to Write Poetry And Rupert Brooke's (1912) The Great Lover'. and the blue bitter smoke of wood. Think Mary Poppins here: the song. which is merely a list of ordinary things that he has always loved: White plates and cups. And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers . Such vulgarity! The scents . the weather a foreign country. Exercise: Make a list of words from an area that interests you: golf. Rainbows..

recognise and respond the days end with my family and friends. crotchets. Keats) Mixing words from different senses will often provoke unusual effects. and the country green.. Then I mixed in a music list: blare. and sunburnt mirth! ('Ode to a Nightingale'..Poetry games of the herb garden. I soak up that sinful sun scorching through my skin with sun and water soon appears at my ankles. Then I put in another mix.. She has been asked to use alliteration as freely as she can: Wake and wait wondering why. Synaethesia (Greek for 'feel together') is the description of one sense in terms of another: thus my lupins 'blare' like trumpets.. A painless party with tangy tastes and frightful colours. rays of fruitful colours. I long to tie a knot in that neverending bow of nothingness. and Provencal song. Here is a teenage girl making a list of things to do on the first day of the summer holidays. In these lines. . who and how shall this day end? It's a long stay suffering in school but now a break. 11 These notes began as a garden list: lupins. song and feeling: O. The starlings black as crotchets . for a draught of vintage .. the bliss of boiling bubbles a refreshing rest to wake with water. I hope the night doesn't end. I soak up the stinging drops staining my back. sweet as Benny Goodman's clarinet . and more or less outlaws cliche. cold cobbled pebbles patiently waiting to penetrate my feeble feet. starlings. a synaesthesic one.. as long as it is not over-used. And before I realise. movement. herb garden. what. Keats's wine is described in terms of colour. Tasting of Flora. Dance. Synaethesia can be a very useful technique for a poem. clarinet. That long lake of water I imagine down the garden path.

1974) 'I know your name' . and therefore I know the essence of what your parents hoped of you. but closer. Auden's A Commonplace Book.. yes. My name'. more threatening. I know your name. the Cherokee Indians chant: Listen! Now I have come to step over your soul (I know your clan) (I know your name) . 'I know where you live'. Well. In groups. Auden's book: Names for Names for Names for shire Names for the green woodpecker the Cuckoo-pint the Lead-mining district of Tideswell.. that sentence tells us everything about the importance of names to humankind. 'Giving a name. Finally. A list of things listed in W. H. on the subject of lists. Use material from it to write a poem with the same title. My readers who have named children will understand this.12 How to Write Poetry Names In 'a spell to destroy life'. 1981). Derbythe Genitals (Male and Female) . It's like that cliche of violence. (Causley. H. indeed.. Brownjohn (1989) quotes Auden as saying that 'imagination is the ability to name cats'. tell each other stories of your names: who gave you your name? After whom are yu named? Do you like/didlike yur name? Why? Do you know the meaning of your name? Write a 500 word essay on the subject. look up 'Names' in W. although naming children is even more creative.. Exercise. is a poetic act' said Thomas Carlyle (quoted in Fairfax and Moat.

favourite fonds. in your titiled aunts and uncles. because they make us think about words and the shapes in which we might place them. Here are three examples of my own: A Golfing Success one one one one one one oe oe oe one one one one one one one one one one one . and add to each item. achool friends. Take your list inflict on it. a sight a factile feel. Make your list into a poem by putting cement between your brich words that hold the whole together.Poetry games 13 Exercise: Make a list of proper names from you childhood and or adolestence. this. I think they can be useful. early girl and boy friends. They make us play. a smell a taste a sound. places lived. SHAPE POEMS These were fashionable for a time.


How to Write Poetry

trickles almost nothing

up high in the

mountain's snowy heights then grows

to a steady flow over rocks like green pillows under water

descends to the plain all silt and mud silt and mud silt and mud silt and mud moves through green vegetation past men with umbrellas coffee in flasks and tins of maggots then the estuary widening widening widening open sea open as sky sky open as sea sky sea
(Sedgwick, 2001)

Poetry games After Giacometti (1901-66) Look this man is very very thin but still standing upand I for one believe that is some sort of achievement. (Smiths Knoll No. 9, 1995)


George Herbert wrote a shape poem called The Altar' (see his Poems (1961)). Probably the classic example is in Alice in Wonderland, where a mouse's tale is shaped like ... a mouse's tail: a lovely visual pun. But my favourite is in Keegan (2000). It shows that this idea is not as new as one might expect. It is an inscription found in a Dorset church, and dates from 1609: Man's Life Man is a glas: Life is A water that's weakly walled about: sinne bring es death: death breakes the Glas: so runnes the water out finis.


How to Write Poetry

Exercise: Write a shape poem aout one of the following subjects, tree; man woman, wall glass, rain or ose.

Six Ways of Looking at the ...

This comes from a marvellous poem by the American, Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird' (Stevens, 1953). He sees the creature in terms of its eye, its whistle, its absence and in other describable ways. Find this poem, and study it.

Exercise Look (until it hurts) at a commonplace object a book for example. How does it look as you give it that first

glance? Look it from underneath from the side look at it open on a desk. Look it from the poit of view orf a spider caught in it, or a book mite. Look at it from the point of view of he writer when he start it, when he is in the middle of it, when he has finished it), or the publisher.

Other subjects are 'table', 'chair', 'daughter', 'cloud',

'mirrer'. Take a risk and go for 'wife', 'husband' or 'painter'.

The Furniture Game

I came across this idea in Sandy Brownjohn's first book (1980) on teaching poetry to children, Does it have to Rhyme? That was back in the early eighties, when Brownjohn changed, at a stroke, the teaching of poetry in primary schools that were alert to poetry. In groups of three or four or more, each person has to think of someone famous - a historical figure, a politician, an actor — and then write down the answers to the following questions: • What animal is your person, and what is it doing? Say something about its habitat. • What weather is your person? • What music? Include the genre of music (rock, jazz, classical, folk etc.), and something about its speeds and its instrumentation. • Is your person made up mostly of earth, wind, air or fire? When

fuelled by red wine. 'hate'. and like poetry. add 'because' and say why you have made your decision. And some smells. In the middle of the paper. Get some colour into this. and see if the others know who have they been writing about. we all know a preposition when we come across one. like defining love and poetry. wrote that his colleague was a 'tapeworm'. and have been since Anglo-Saxon times.Poetry games 17 • • • • • you have answered this. 'a field'. 'belief'. the work of the . poetry and love have in common?) Exercise. 1979). (What else do prepositions. the sewer'. write down some article noun combinations the street. and she was not mollified by his explanation that tapeworms are 'resourceful creatures'. Down a column. What drink is he or she? Anything from a cup of tea forgotten and grown cold. 'derangement'. write other nouns. 'agony' Down the right hand side. Make a list of prepositions down one side of a street of paper. one item from each column and write down the resulting sentence. or some nouns without articles: 'love'. What meal is your person? What holiday? What tv programme? Then each participant should read out their notes. What growing thing? Anything from a tiny weed to a huge tree. But like love. See The Exeter Riddle Book (translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland. One headteacher. 'the universe'. PREPOSITIONS Defining prepositions is difficult. It is possible to play this game where the writers write about each other. to a glass of Moet. but this can be dangerous. RIDDLES Riddles are a vital component part of English poetry. NOw choose. Do this quickly.

often of ordinary things. An enthusiast for riddles. Kevin Crossley-Holland (1982) has written about this form of poem: These misleading descriptions and mind-bending word-plays' are 'powerful because they contain secrets'. We understand straightaway its hardness. and what follows is a revised version of those earlier notes. and thus all poetry has the quality of a riddle. All of different voice and features. a riddle teaches us about the subject of the riddle and the language in which the riddle is . The poem — for that it what it most definitely is — depends on a fresh perception of an ordinary event: water freezing and the formation of an icicle. The word 'secret' is important here. This is a free translation by Emily Roeves of an ancient AngloSaxon riddle. The answer is 'ice'.18 How to Write Poetry Martian poets of the last part of the last century. and much in between. One of us you'll find in jet. If the fifth you should pursue. It can never fly from you. All poetry depends on fresh perceptions. puns and catch questions. 1989): We are five little airy creatures. or 'icicle'. Among all things wonderful I saw this. the most wonderful of all. As Crossley-Holland also tells us. Jonathan Swift wrote at least one (in Sedgwick. see Crossley-Holland (1979). (answer: the vowels) I have written about riddles at least twice before (1997. and by means of jokes. because all of us enjoy sharing and guessing secrets. And the fourth a box within. Poetry too depends on getting things right: 'bone' is more exact than at first appears. For a more accurate translation. Slightly surprisingly. the word 'riddle' comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'raedan' which means to teach or instruct. 2001). T'other you may see in tin. but the colour is significant too. water becoming bone. and many of us are tormented by the non-possession of secrets that we feel we should possess. especially Craig Raine (1979). One of us in glass is set.

a vibrant orange. I challenged them to make up riddles. through more pointed conversations in the class. three and four: I am the eternal light. (Moon) Note that these were teachers on a course hoping to find ways of . They composed these in groups of two. We have playfulness and versatility in riddles too. and. and golden as the sun. I leap and pirouette as if I were the principal ballerina on a never-ending stage. My less fashion-conscious relatives wear the same outfit. through casual conversation at breaktimes. I met teachers on a course in Durham. I bring warmth like the inflamed anger of a person crossed and despatch darkness by bringing light. year out. once we had got to know each other. I melt like cheese in the morning dew.Poetry games 19 framed. year in. I leave my attire on the floor prior to revealing my new spring collection. (Fire) I am an emerald umbrella opening towards the clouds. and (even more importantly) through writing and sharing some of the things we had written. and both of these are encouraging for all writers. (Tree) I am there the whole day through (unseen by you) drawing the face of the waves in the midnight sky.

• The riddle should almost certainly contain either a simile or a metaphor. In other words. cloud engine. and gurgle even though I have no mouth. ice. Exercise: Write a riddle. either name or in a group. I follow my path wherever it may go. skin. child or ship. Note the run-ons. Riddles about mirrors (a good subject) should avoid the word 'reflects'. a metaphor! • It is better that the riddle should be too difficult rather than too easy. necessarily. Basic Rules for Riddle-writing • The answer to the riddle should speak the riddle. Use like. then try dumping it: if it works. have T somewhere in the poem. I babble even though I cannot speak.20 How to Write Poetry helping their children to write better: they were not. for similes. marriage. on one of the following subjects: bone. . Riddles about the sun should avoid the word 'shines'. They show here what quality can be achieved by those who are prepared to look imaginatively at some object. the poem should either begin T. See nearly all the riddles quoted above. Here is a fine riddle written by a child: I run steadily shaping myself differently wherever I go Over sharp and smooth never scratching myself because I don't have skin. for example. or use the word 'my' or 'me'. Making images of wherever I may be. aspiring writers themselves. The word 'like' always helps here. (Water) Note the long lines: they are like a river. while ready to play with language. Note the hint (no more than that) of reflection in the last two lines. river. and riddles about rivers usefully avoid the word 'flows'.

damned saint. and which Juliet uses of Romeo after she has been told of her lover's murder of her kinsman Tybalt (the last four). A new poem in a magazine that looks at first sight to be like innumerable other poems. heavy lightness. they often have a startling and truthful resonance. like innumerable other poems. coward valiant . arguably.Poetry games OXYMORONS 21 An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which contradictory terms are brought together in what is at first sight an impossible combination. sick health. beautiful tyrant. usually of one of their own books.. cold fire. feather of lead. At second sight. Oxymorons can help us to make poems that are different. old young. I wrote down some oxymorons of my own: soft nail deep lawn weighty cloud feline reindeer hot moon sweet pain gentle glare heated glacier doubtful faith miserable optimist tedious excitement . no student should be) offers 'cheerful pessimist'. and sometimes startle. you were right. bright smoke. Two examples are 'I burn and freeze like ice' and the 'darkness visible' of Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost. Hi we find Thus much of this will make black white.. The second edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage (1926) (without which. Shakespeare uses them to powerful effect. 'harmonious discord' and 'faith unfaithful'. One aspect of poetry is that it should surprise. fiend angelical. base noble. yes. as university lecturers say.' Parts of Romeo and Juliet depends on the effect that they can have: 'brawling love. foul fair'. Wrong right. not really a poem at all. the reader. loving hate. and which turns out to be. honourable villain' are all terms that Romeo uses about his fragile (and soon abandoned) love for Rosalind (the first seven). In Timon of Athens IV. The word itself comes from the Greek words for 'sharp' and 'dull'. is boring to say the least and.

and Grief. the surprising. and let it lie Speecheless still. (John cleveland. . such as why some don't seem as contradictory as we thought at first. yet wanted all Reliefe. yet a Calvinst. and study of the oxymorons that we produce throws up interesting issues. The Prop and Ruine of the State: The People a violent Love. or in a word. Here lies Blood. and 'terribly sweet'. One in extreames lov'd and abhorr'd Riddles lie here. 1647) I found this poem (which is also a list poem — see above. pp. These examples should be a warning to us. His Prince a nearest Joy. they usually prevent cliche. like 'glad rags'. the paradoxical. by their nature. who was hurried hence 'Twist Treson and Convenience. He had. because they show that their use can lead to cliches. Exercise: Count oxymorons in this poem: Epitaph on the Earl of Stratfford Here lies Wise and Valiant Dust. A course in reading and writing poetry in English in two words might be written in three words: Read Keegan's anthology. 5-11) in Keegan. 2000. and Hate. and never crie. They train writers in looking for the unconventional.22 How to Write Poetry dull radiance immaculately derelict Some oxymorons seem to have entered and become accepted within the English language. Huddled up 'twist Fit and Just: Strafford. A Papist. But: oxymorons are useful for writers because.

they can attune our ears to the traditional metres of English verse.Poetry games 23 Exercise: Invent as many eoxymorons as you can. Or combine two oxymorons. The first line rhymes with the second. Choose the best one. Ezra Pound Counselled: Make no sound Unless you're certain it's not only true But new. and didn't think Ezra Pound an improvement. SOME LIGHT VERSE FORMS Clerihews A clerihew has four lines. obvious humorous verse forms is that they can coarsen our ear and make it difficult to write with the subtlety that more important work requires. They can be of any length. it was hell again by Friday. As an example. 1991). The first line is usually a name: Walter de la Mare Didn't care For the modernist movement. My son Dan Was never a fan Of keeping his bedroom tidy. the third with the fourth. and played with it Under he gentle glare / of many hot moons / there was such sweet pain'. wrtie it down again. On the other hand. Then add another oxymronic phrase. He liked the Georgians. Gavin Ewart composed serious limericks (Ewart. Sorted by his mother on Monday. and add the word 'that'. Limericks The problem with light. Wendy . I have taken my oxymoron from the list above.

As the designer of the Sun's front page knows more about design than many a professional designer. or socks. 'Pierce with a pin and push off. it seems to me. My dear Mrs Featherstone Brown. Here is a limerick about my son's bedroom: This room is an image from Hell And what is that unpleasant smell? Is it boxers. copywriters for advertising often know more about the rudiments of poetry that would-be poets... 'Lively Minds read the Guardian': T>on"t be vague. Advertisments 'Go to work on an egg'. the commitment to exploration .. The Colgate Ring of Confidence'. Eliot's The Waste Land in one (1986). If his or her surnae is difficult.24 How to Write Poetry Cope memorably summed up T. or impossible. but also with their sounds. Things happen after a Badedas Bath'. so. Exercise: Write a limerick with one of the following first lines: There was a young man from Torquay. Or a hint of the pox. ask for Haig'. 'If you clean your teeth with Pepsodent you'll wonder where the yellow went'.. to rhyme. 'Beanz meanz Heinz'. They are a kind of debased poetry. These are all advertisements that I remember from my own youth. They all have something in common: a tricky facility with words: not only with their meanings.. A girl whom I knew on the coast.. Or empty beer cans? Who can tell? Exercise: Write a clerihew about a friend. S. use his or her first name. Top People read The Times'. They don't have the need to learn.

but they do understand elements like internal rhyme. Add to it. a ten-year-old girl I know wrote 'A lie wearing pink bows can be believed'. the glint of bright sunlight on fresh Lies This is a useful warming-up exercise. Go on to make a poem of ten lines. Another young writer wrote . Some examples.Poetry games 25 and truth that poets have (on the contrary. As an example of what can be achieved with this idea. simile pums for something you would never see normally advertised. But dirty stories about wanderings in deserts. ten words in each line. What does the watch tell? This watch doesn't tell the time. love. But that is only a fib. Think of an object — a watch. night. a dream. and the novelists Fay Weldon and Salman Rushdie. with fifteen lines in it. day.and write down a lie about it. metaphor and puns. moon.a poem loves a clout a clear sky. alliteration. Exercise: Write an advertisement suign at leat two of the following techniques. Subjects for lie poems: sun. say . So it is no surprise to find out that at least four creative writers of the last fifty years have begun their careers in advertising agencies — the poets Peter Porter and Gavin Ewart. but stories What kind of stories? And about what? This watch doesn't tell the time. Internal rhyme alliterating metaphor. a cynic might say that they are characterized by a commitment to falsehood). This watch doesn't tell the time Fine. lies.

This is in part because while the mind is concentrating on techniques. . One hour spent with one of these activities may well lead you up an interesting road. something else goes on subconsciously.26 How to Write Poetry Lies About a Rainbow As I look at you oh stormbow With your dull as ditchwater browns With the red indigo at the bottom leading up to The indigo in the highest heights I long to sit in your dish The semi-circular ends where your ends reach up to the sky Once when the world began I climbed your sides I reached the top and met A bird in the clouds One day I'll climb you again Stormbow in the sky I am going to return to the risky business of lies later. Don't underrate the playing of games.

1906). at the seventy-third word. sin. (I for one breathe a sigh of relief when I get to the end of the first sentence of Paradise Lost. redemption and all the rest of the complicated (and. (Russian proverb) Mkgnao! (Mr Bloom's cat). It does not arrive until the middle of the tenth line. This is a chapter about small things..) . It only takes one mouthful to discover the taste of the ocean. It is by studying little things that we attain the great knowledge of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible. I have hinted at some of the subject matter in the previous chapter. especially in my discussion of lists: Rupert Brooke's poem already quoted is exclusively about the beauty of tininess. he sets (not 'set': poets are always written about in the present tense when we are quoting their poems) a standard for much of the subject matter of poetry in the Anglo-Saxon JudaeoChristian tradition: humankind. to me. of insignificance. frightening) theology of salvation. In this poem. quoted in Boswell. I would like to develop the idea here. whose mortal taste Brought death into the world and all our woe . (Samuel Johnson..2 'No detail too small': The stone There is nothing so little for such a little creature as man. John Milton famously began his epic poem Paradise Lost with the sonorous lines: Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit Of that forbidden tree.

in Ulysses by James Joyce (1992). for example. They have to be translated into the elements of art. and long poems full of these huge ideas often remind me of Churchill's vicious comment on Ramsay MacDonald: 'He could squeeze less thought into more words than anyone I know/ We might say. are not enough. 'Mewing' appears twice. . Above all. it doesn't matter. the phrase 'stalked again stiffly'. thus a 'fall from the sublime to the ridiculous. 'Life'. for three reasons. and the artistic use that the poet has made of them. the results are almost always embarrassing. The first reason is that small subjects matter. Poetry need not. such as good and evil. (Greek. but when modern. love and hate. is a stiff and stalking phrase. Look at the word order. Abstract words in tyro verse are dud: the space gapes between their meanings. understood. for reasons of his time and his place in history. mewing. 'love' —. in all its details. says 'Mkgnao!'. We know about the 'm' and the 'n'. 'God'. Mr Bloom's cat. inexperienced poets address these issues. a performance absurdly below occasion' COD). The third is an allied reason: that small subjects may look as though they are trivial. Try writing about small subjects first — and if you are stuck with small subjects. both at the beginning and the end. I have judged poetry competitions. among many other things. but the 'kg' helps us to discover a truth that we hadn't heard. This is because the power of the idea is not carried across to the poem. depth. to suggest that the cat goes on mewing. the concepts alone. The second reason is that writing about small subjects will lead to writing about big ones. betraying the author's obsession with getting the world right. be about the huge issues. Milton's lines imply that poetry is exclusively about life experiences. at least at first sight.28 How to Write Poetry I quote this passage here in order to make a point that Milton would not have. in this case poetry. note the selection of the right details to convey the cat's behaviour and Mr Bloom's intent interest in it. and the result is unintentional bathos. The words. Joyce continues: The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round the leg of the table. a handbook for anyone who would like to write poetry. but it sometimes turns out that they aren't. sin and redemption. that too many writers squeeze too little observation into too many words. for the purposes of this chapter.' Everything about this sentence has much to teach a poet. Seamus Heaney chose this novel as his desert island book on Desert Island Discs: it is.

. as Gerard Manley Hopkins does in his lovely poem 'Pied Beauty': 'Glory be to God for . even when it is poised to move on to the big and inescapable guns (you were right. Also. make a poem of them. Bruce Chatwin.'No detail too small': The stone 29 We should not. depend on it. death and the joys and pains of being human. Much successful modern poetry comes to these big issues through the ordinary small things.' Look at William Carlos Williams and his famous poem about the wheelbarrow. See the work of Paul Muldoon (1980). They don't have the amount of experience. all trades. their gear and tackle and trim. he will be forever naming the contents of his territory. In that great poem by Vladimir Nabokov's character John Shade. or in the garange When you have got to twenty or so items. Poetry. then. an ampersand . So much does. the tools people use in their trade. John Milton) begins with the ordinary. indeed.. it is impossible that he will not become a poet. Adam . comments how Richard Lee 'calculated that a Bushman child will be carried 4.. during this rhythmic phase. and smells their smells. Try to ensure that the reader of the poem (you in the first instance) feels the fexture of the items... and are therefore closer to God than we are.' (Nabokov. Exercise: Make a list of the gear that you use to perform an ordinary job – in the garden in kitchen. assume that poetry is always about love. in spite of Milton. in his freewheeling. Look again at the work of Elizabeth Bishop (and keep looking): 'our boarding house was streaked / as though it had been crying' ('A Summer Dream'). the access to technique. We have to delight in what is conventionally considered banal: for example. poetry is there first in the act of naming.' There are some very important truths embedded in this. but they have come into the world more recently trailing their clouds of glory. Since. Children are poets. and makes a beautiful couplet of it: 'this slender rubber band / Which always forms. where a parked Volkswagen becomes an image of Ireland and its 'troubles' ('Ireland' in Why Brownlees Left).900 miles before he begins to walk on his own.. or the sophistication that adults have. the poet notices the almost ultimately trivial. when dropped. after all. // . 1992). absorbing book The Songlines (1987).

Somebody's slippers sit in the foreground of a picture.. As I write the first draft of this chapter. the berries on the cotoneaster. and. and to every beast of the field . quoted in Roberts (1986). A pearl ear-ring glints with hidden (to us. it is difficult to see the pictures. so I look through... anyway) significance. The predominant feeling in the galleries is irritation. This is Chatwin (1987).30 How to Write Poetry became both man and poet in the twentieth verse of the second chapter of Genesis: 'Adam gave names to all cattle. but also by the stones under our feet. apparently. in the world's childhood. men were by nature sublime poets. as visitors stoop and stretch over each other. A servant pours milk timelessly from an earthenware jug. again. I haven't seen the exhibition.. Sunlight lights up a linen basket. the broadsheet newspapers in London are full of reproductions of the work of the 17th-century Dutch artist. A girl's right hand makes lace.. He is obsessed with what Wordsworth calls 'the life / In common things' (The Prelude Book One.' Can we as writers. the etymologist finds the deadest word to have once been a brilliant picture/ I have tried to make this point a constant motif through this book. quoting Giambattista Vico's The New Science: The most sublime labour of poetry is to give sense and passion to insensate things. Wordsworth (1933)). and to every fowl of the air. become like children again? Absorbed not only by big adult concerns. Vermeer's work makes the point I am labouring over. This is because there is an exhibition of his work on display at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. as people who want to write poems. when you get there. Jan Vermeer. ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom of Heaven . Tor though the origin of most of our words is forgotten' wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. The poet is a namer.' Picasso once said that he had learned to draw like an adult when he was young. A cello lies on a checkered floor. All these lovely images (and a few dozen others) show us how Vermeer knew about the importance of the . and it is characteristic of children to take inanimate things in their hands and talk to them in play as if they were living persons. on a young girl's ear. a book of reproductions. and that he had spent the rest of his life learning to draw like a child.' He named ordinary things.. and makes it silently and brilliantly (perhaps the more brilliantly because it is silent). the thrush violently tugging a worm from the grass.. It is hard to get tickets for this show. yet again. 'Except ye become as a little child. 'each word was at first a stroke of genius . ..

. running back. chattering his teeth with frustration as he stares at the uncatchable birds. sitting on the conservatory roof. lapping up milk. possibly.he has since died). A girls right hand makes lace: Hidden somewhere the artist works There is more on looking at art for inspiration later. There is the cat stalking in the garden. god). In facts are the beginnings of poems — unless. and The world is troubled with a lack of looking' the poet George Tardios tells us (quoted in Pirrie. we look at God too. A servant pours milk timelessly from an earthenware jug. my son's filthy white trainers neatly placed together on the landing outside his bedroom. despite that anonymous voice from the 17th century. the god is in the details. this latter Latin word is related to divus. Whoever it was is wrong. Here are my shelves. 'Common and quotidian thoughts are beneath the grace of a Verse' wrote someone in 1665 (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). is valid for poetry. A lines basket is lit by a ray of simlight. Somebody's slippers sit in has foreground of a picture. A cello lies on a checkered floor. the brick wall opposite (that my neighbour repaired . Here is my desk. one higher than the other. dies. with hidden significance on a young girl's ear. as Milton was. Famously.'No detail too small': The stone 31 quotidian (quot [as] many as. sleeping. both Latin. All this. Here are my first notes on Vermeer. we are geniuses. A pearl ear ring glints. 1987). As the Latin etymology of 'quotidian' suggests. my carnations (who gave them to me?). days. Very strangely. when we look at ordinary things. walking with left paws higher than right paws in order to negotiate two fences. Exercise: Make a list poem using details in a favourite picture. leaping on to the garage. clambering through the cat flap.

to incline the head (Hoad. All art. He clambers through the cat flap. The truth is great. that the search for truth. For a second he is like Blake's Tyger. He runs. they are also rarely materialistic. He leaps on to the garage. 1986). your son's trainers. I learn from his obituary. no less. however trivial its subject matter may seem. the lie shall rot. and God? John Drury (1991) quotes the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales: There are gods in all things'. and shall prevail. we might say that it is the poet's job (among all other artists. That is why. Sits on the opaque glass roof. one higher than the other. and love. Coventry Patmore. sleeps. or divine will. is an act of worship. More to the point here is the fact that writing about small things is often a shallow-end experience for writing about the big subjects. coming from the Latin numen. of course) to find the numinous in the everyday. like a lord of the garden. And even atheist-poets (Adrian Henri. meaning god. But if you can't write about bookshelves. to nod. which I found in Keegan (2000): When all its work is done. Magna est Veritas (Truth is great') The search for the numinous may be no more. rarely atheists. walks with left paws higher than right paws to negotiate the parallel fences' tops. was one) worship something: the truth. More prosaically. Here are three heartfelt lines from a Victorian poet. or your cat. nibbles tuna. 'Numinous' is an interesting word. a brick wall. As the Jewish-Christian philosopher Simone Weil . however rarely poets are conventionally religious. the spray of carnations someone has just brought from the flower shop. and related to nwre. When none cares whether it prevail or not.32 How to Write Poetry These are notes for a poem using those observations of my cat: The cat stalks in the garden. how can you write about sin.

and it was published in a magazine called Smiths Knoll (2000). with silvery points of light as I moved it about. as for me. I tried to write clearly and honestly about it. The stimulus that bump-started the poem at long last was a suggestion by a friend that I should perceive the stone in terms of the five senses . I remember being frustrated.even taste: Stone A missile in the air. I felt sure that this stone was significant to me. Now. and giving up several times. I took it home and put it on my desk. one will not go far before falling into his arms ' This is because. It was roughly the size of my right hand. it's a cool weight in my palm that smells of earthworms coiled on rainy mornings. other stones veined like that one have brought the experience back to me. and pinkish-white veins. crossing it in two places. I was attending an Arvon Foundation poetry writing course in 1977 at Totleigh Barton. in Devon. I finished the poem last year. I wish now that I kept those early attempts at my stone poem. I felt so strongly about it that I thought about stealing it. Over the years. and then in an anthology for children. grey in colour. I saw one in a girlfriend's room. At first this significance lodged in how beautiful it was. though. it will break bones. I know this sounds pretentious. I would taste earth. when I found a stone outside the front door of the house. half an inch wide. The Stone I have been writing a poem about a stone for over twenty years. . near Okehampton.'No detail too small': The stone 33 said. for Weil. but it is true. 'he is the truth'. 'If one turns aside from [Christ] to go towards the truth. If I licked it. but I haven't.

23. almost without my noticing the fact: the way the literal possibility of tasting the earth becomes a metaphorical possibility. the leaf. there is always a temptation to get to a resonant ending quickly. Other suggestions for close examination are: The branch. where the bird runs through the water on a beach 'watching his toes // Watching. before the product looms large. Are we versifying . a wardrobe. which is here. There are marvellous examples of this kind of writing in the work of Elizabeth Bishop. We should concentrate on the process of writing for as long as possible. an empty wine glass. the spaces of sand between them.making shapely stanzas — or are we trying to write poetry in the search for a kind of truth? At first. We should not look forward too soon to what the end or purpose of the poem might be. when we feel that we will never write a poem again. and look until it hurts. a pillow on a bed. the example of the numinous. 174 and 131 respectively). We should want to learn. (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains . a reasonable definition of metaphor. 2000) The poem had come to be about something more than the stone. perhaps: to taste the earth. that I have already quoted. presumably.. the metaphor. a knife. Often. a loaf of good bread broken in half. the starling on the lawn. The lesson was first taught by Blake. That is. the grass. a mirror. being to do with death. There may well be something more to be said than what we thought was to be said when we began. and 'Sandpiper'. on the meaning) of the poem. (Smiths Knoll No. more importantly. But looking too soon towards the end of a poem may foreclose on the strength (and. This is especially true if we have been going through a dry period.' (Bishop (1991).. we should simply write. in fact. rather. There almost certainly will be. in two famous lines: To . See the description of her desk in '12 O'Clock News'. When we have started on something that is beginning to sound a possibility.34 How to Write Poetry That won't be so bad. It may take years. We should look at something closely. We should trust the language and what we can do with it. / where. It may take some time. a spark leaps in poetry between two disparate ideas.

Watch the smallest children at the seaside jumping in inches of it and howling with delight.'No detail too small': The stone 35 see a World in a Grain of Sand. or the man caught in a thunderstorm. Think of yourself in the bath or the shower. younger people getting their 100 metres in before work. The raging warrior. partly because we came from it . / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower' ('Auguries of Innocence' Blake. I am an artist. after a hard day's work. meanwhile pouring water over their shoulders and arms. or scrambling in a tiny panic back from an incoming wave. Rupert Brooke (1912) has a lovely line about 'the benison (blessing) of hot water'. And the quiet decoration I am the caring father . fire. We love water. The watchman. Use all five senses in the making at this poem. 1958). Exercise: Write a poem about your most recent experience of water. green weeds swirling and magical creatures. or the baby having her face washed. except the drowning woman. A burning good Or a captured slave I am the craftman. Watch the keep-fit brigade at the public baths: old ladies stopping in the middles of lanes to chat.we crept from the sea aeons ago — and partly because it cools us and buoys us up. speaking in her poem as though she was each of the three elements. Exercise: Do the same with the other elements. A cook and a magician. wind and earth if you are not proud use the model that this gifted twelve-year-old girl used. all slimy water. and we all know what he means. Watch their slightly older brothers and sisters gazing into rock pools. ELEMENTS Everybody likes water.

I am fire. I am a divener. Ignis I am a historian. Aqua . I am the ruthless beast And the silent conjuror. The bantering child And the furious foe. The mother. I am the steely destroyer And the ctouching beggar. I am the caterer. A mystic and an idealist. The lowering immortal And the humble labourer. A nurse and a provider A hearty sailor or A gushing maiden. I am water. I am air. I am the dreamer The wandener The mourning widow And the sallying lover. A gardener and and a farmer A throaty orator or A jantling gypsy. Aer. I am Earth Terra I am a dancer. I am the gentle saint And the merciless enemy. A luring siren or An innocent Amazon.36 How to Write Poetry And the indiffernet youth. I am the musician The singer.

myopically they inspect the glossy surface like picture restorers. already cited. A family of ducks attempts suicide. Note that the Scots poet Norman MacCaig (1990) was doing something similar to this thirty years before Raine. written. they muss us their lapels unwilling to own up anything has happened. hard look at what surrounds us. two adults and their family of ducklings. from a different tree. with their mouths open. Or be a Martian. Nevertheless. I saw a red vest hanging from a tree. Imagine being a baby. in the early 1980s. and then ducks. but with all the language gifts of a mature adult. this imitative exercise has a liberating value in helping us to write fresh lines. as I type this): At the Canal Someone's red vest blossoms spiritlessly from the willow. when Martian fever was at its height. They leapt from a dock gate some twelve feet above the water. one by one. and. Raine's work has been brought together in his Collected Poems (2001). all the while. dropping off the lockgate. I should say. expose themselves. evidence of a fresh. The following is an attempt at a Martian poem. the amphibrach (dadaaaa-da) sounded from a tree (as it does now. Rightening. in a different part of the country. especially 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home'. or of what anything is for. A pigeon morsecodes the news: .'No detail too small': The stone THE MARTIAN 37 One way of looking closely at the world is to look at it as if you are a stranger. Get hold of the poems of Craig Raine. Survival means a fresh look of the world: regrouping. a pigeon's characteristic metric foot. Walking a familiar canal path. Look at the world as if you are an intelligent but Earth-ignorant spy. dipping their flat heads. innocent of what anything is.

or insisting no. and full of tears.38 How to Write Poetry incomprehensible and tough. She re-appears to find the world the same. Headland) . I was watching. The first one changed begins a queue. When I began the next poem. if you look and concentrate for long enough. and is for ever. legs a tense attempt at straight all imperceptibly refracted except the glossy. swinging a bag marked LIVERPOOL. toes dancing. children at their swimming lesson. like love. was teaching the children to swim: Swimming Lesson Seven mixed metaphors are struggling through the impressionistic water butterflies like one back of the beast with two. a stamen in her sudden silver flower. The splash's smallpox vaccination mark disintegrates to calm. in the same spirit of close observation. a fierce instructor. (Originally published in The Living Daylights. but I was more interested in their behaviour as I could describe it (and interpret it) as a writer. Someone else. insisting no. I was their headteacher. Canker contaminates the EXIT sign. optimistic faces that make the shaking glass opaque. and as though you are having to report on it to someone who has never seen it either. hair darkened like Ronald Coleman's. Rachel stands to attention in the slippery air and buries herself. (Originally published in The Times Literary Supplement 26 June 1981) The trick here is to try to see the scene you are writing about as if you have never seen it before. The noise is spilled crushed glass. This will lead to fresh metaphors. and going on and on.

are crossed out roughly. Some are neat.. though. I have already written about this. and really begins to grow. I would argue that the second draft is really born. Indeed. They seem to be sheets of oldfashioned. The twelve pages were printed in the little magazine Phoenix in 1973/4. the sheets are a mess of deletions. A NOTE ABOUT DRAFTING I have in front of me Philip Larkin's worksheets for his poem 'At Grass' (1973/4). others obliterated by thick lines. These twelve pages of notes were eventually boiled down to a poem of five six-line stanzas. of course. The next draft grows out of the creative muddle of the first sheet. It is almost certainly . Imagine that you. on top of the first. What I want to add now is something about what it is to be professional in writing poems: the constant worry about finding the right words. and one can see that the first attempt at the first three lines remained intact. the voice or eyes of a supporter at a football match a face talkig in a swimming pot a child's movements as he or she play in the park a tree in a garden in the rain the running engine of a car with the bonnet up. Words that seemed right are dumped and replaced. we often feel a temptation to believe that the sheer sincerity of what we are saying is enough. the first draft of a poem should become a mess before we move to the second. Some lines. a determination to get the words right. Others. Somebody told me at school that the only good English poem that was written in a single draft was Sassoon's 'Everyone suddenly burst out singing' (Larkin. and your reader have never seen it before.'No detail too small': The stone 39 Exercise: Observe soemthing clsely with the world 'like' IN mind. Larkin's neat handwriting is mostly easy to read. If we are working in notebooks rather than on a screen. What shines out of these sheets is a professionalism.. though. Suggestions. a single line still leaving the earlier thoughts clear. narrow-ruled foolscap paper. four-beat lines: iambic tetrameters. persist in draft after draft. After that. 1973). The only constant factor is the metre: eightsyllable. When we begin to write. There is a lesson for us all in this. Others are criss-crossed. that didn't make it to the final version. reduced to fit the smaller size of the magazine.

In defence of this line of thinking. It is when we are being critics of our work. and no one who has not had a feeling of despair when correcting is not.. do not put them through sufficient drafts. 'frisk' your poem for excess baggage — or worse — just as 'international air travellers are frisked before they board the plane'. or simply cross whole lines or stanzas out. before the process of writing has been completed. and never has been. Frisk it for repetitions. a writer. A man orders . in which can be found the seven drafts of Sylvia Plath's poem Thalidomide'. I need to go back to the toil rule in my introduction. does your poem about the sea have hard 'd' and 'g' sounds that work against the effect you are aiming for? Frisk it for sentimentality and pretentiousness. for a conclusion arrived at too soon. and for cliches. S. because those things are inherently interesting to me. in this practice is that when I am on holiday in Greece. and severe ones at that. or Suffolk. Eliot called this work 'frightful'. the larger part of the labour of an author. that we work hardest. most of our work is not in making the first draft. This is a mistake. There is good practical advice about drafting in Sweeney and Hartley Williams (1997). I should keep one all the time. After the first draft. such as it is. or France. or drag lines over it to show additions. THE JOURNAL I only keep a journal when I am on holiday. Eliot wrote that 'probably . however much they are everyday to the people in that bar.and in Newman (1971). Most of our work comes when we jot in the margins of that first drafting. more interesting things are likely to happen to me that are worth noting in a journal. frisk it for inappropriate sounds and tastes. My thinking. Be prepared to find that the best-loved phrases and cadences that you wrote in your first draft may have to be dumped. it is easier to sit in a bar in a remote village in Andalucia and write down descriptions of commonplace things. T..40 How to Write Poetry true that this is unique. or Cornwall. by saying it aloud: for example. Other examples of poet's drafts can be seen in Owen (1963) the poet's four drafts for 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' .. In other words. Wendy Cope has said that one reason why poems fail is that we are not telling truth (in Curtis (1997)). that part of our work that feels most like writing. or Spain. Another reason is that we simply do not work hard enough at them. is critical labour'..

'No detail too small': The stone 41 wine. It was its normal tarmac when I fell asleep half an hour ago. That context. 30 December.. gets sherry. As a little library of these books grows. Who knows what won't come in useful? Have faith in your small observations. Things that happen to me in my East Anglian town are no less interesting from my point of view. and more and more like an educational biography. both about poetry and about whatever you have decided your passions are The exemplary commonplace book is Auden's (1971). Later. if I think of myself as a writer.. they look less and less absurd and pretentious. from their little boys . Outside. Put into it: • Poems that you like seen in newspapers and magazines • Poems that you like on the Internet • Quotations. The house across the road where the eighty-year-old couple have lived for over thirty years is dark. but their foreignness to me. Pasting the first entry in feels absurd. The road outside is suddenly white. even pretentious. more closely seen. A television blabbers in the corner ignored. cars' headlights show up a sparkle that goes again as they pass. THE COMMONPLACE BOOK This is no more than a scrapbook. Sunday afternoon. I find that my frequent visits to this book offer me challenges and comfort. From next door come the cries. The trick is to see everything as foreign. Write the tiniest things in an everyday journal. a boy with Down syndrome dressed immaculately in fawn slacks and matching shirt steps carefully around the electric wires laid out in the square in preparation for the village fete. but rather than ephemera. the book will look more and more like a resource. In the gloomy dark of early evening. Even their decorations on the trees in the front garden are dark. Keeping a journal helps us in this vision. It . it should contain writings that will help with our writing. But these things are especially interesting because of their context. alternately delighted and distressed. isn't Spain. the windows roughly scraped for just enough vision. to see everything as a writer.

.. of course. Taste mouthfuls. 'smell'. .42 How to Write Poetry is full of Auden's opinions. (1997). and look again at the little elements around us that make up our world. 'Don't start' they continue 'with the idea that you're going to write an epic for our time. My current commonplace book has quotations from Simone Weil. Exercise: Keepe a journal and a commonplace book The way to start a poem . too: 'hear'. I often read them when my writing is not going well. This is good advice not only in terms of subjects. And for 'look' read the verbs that stand for the other senses. but often it has entries that he doesn't comment on. one day a light that is exact proportion to them will flood the soul. She is saying something in these words that is central both to everyday life. and to the business of making poems. 1947] There is one word that those two quotations have in common. look. Taste the ocean': that Russian proverb teaches us that we can learn about huge things simply by learning about small ones. 1977] The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. 'feel'.' Start small in another way — 'with the scraps or fragments you've accumulated in that notebook'. is to begin small' write Sweeney and Hartley Williams. [Panichas. We have to get out of ourselves with the aid of our senses. an idea with which Weil was obsessed: attention. and to encourage my readers: Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result. she talks about love as being complete attention paid to the other person. and I use them to end this chapter. [Weil. 'taste'. and look. In another place.

I might have put this chapter first. 'maker. because we will not find in the history. And (let's dig as far back as we can. an arranger. heaps up. cinoti. And I repeat them here. But it is also a cliche to begin by 'defining terms'. (Wallace Stevens. which means to arrange. After all. to 'make. play. first: the word 'poet' comes to modern English. the heritage. which is a very recent understanding of the word . or principles. poet'. create'. of the word any evidence that a poet is an expresser of his feelings. teachers and parents in schools often ask me. through Latin. because writing a definition is a relatively easy shallow-water experience for a writer about anything: a way of dipping one's toes in. composer. ciniti. Old French and Middle English from the Greek word poietes. with the help of Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1986)) this is related to a Sanskrit word. meaning 'he gathers. because they seem so central. There is a related Slav word. 'what is poetry?'. I felt it was more important to get on with the practice. Some lovely etymology. for once. So a poet is a maker. though.Interlude WHAT IS POETRY? It is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.) Now I must address the definition issue. This is worth emphasizing. 1951) Conventionally. but in only three words: read. For these reasons. and pause later to address this question. piles in order'. the etymology. toil. do. And definitions can also be boring. This comes from the Greek verb poiein. but with the basic meaning to 'pile up'. (I note. that I could not persuade myself that certain rules. shouldn't stand at the gate.

as Marx said in a different context (quoted in Rex. Perhaps their attitude is understandable. 'garlanded a nosegay' of definitions. It is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right. Finding the structures for making those obsessions public (the root for that word is obviously the root of 'publish') is the main thing. It is a mere drug. that piling up is already there. I have. Think about those events of the sixties. have to be technically assured. no man ever talked poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin' day. It is the newspaper of the world to come. Poets. simile. when poets and others were encouraged to tell the world about what they felt: they were not concerned with poetry. they have to pile up what they want to write about. Sometimes. the Quintessence. but it might well not be. Poets are makers. like carpenters and musicians. metaphor. Indeed. 1973). Then. It is relatively easy to define a novel. It is simply the most beautiful. a suggestion that a poem is merely a piece of writing that isn't very long.44 How to Write Poetry that we might identify as 'fag-end' romanticism. I always have trouble responding. It is the best words in the best order. Weedy people say la and fie and swoon when they see a bunch of daffodils. rhythm. It is the crown of literature. often in a slightly aggressive way. and usually end lamely by saying that poetry is like prepositions and love: very hard to define. In contrast. For the purposes of this book. but it might well not be that. This probably doesn't help those people who are always asking for definitions of poetry. only second. the Marrow of Art and the very Phrase of Angels. and here it is: It is sissy stuff that rhymes. as though anyone concerned with the art is in some necessary way a charlatan. and widely effective mode of saying things. and which doesn't go to the right-hand side of the page. We already have these obsessions before we start to write. It might be a story. there is a story there. It might be a song. even more basically. or a play. poetry's evasiveness is seen as suspect. but you know them when you see them. alliteration. and hence its importance. But pilers-up of what? First. with a kind of public therapy. either. It is the Honey of all Flowers. impressive. It is a pheasant disappearing into the bush. It's unnat'ral. a mountebank (Italian: a quack mounted on a bench). assonance. I hear in those sceptical voices. It is the revelation of a feeling . 'pilersup'. or. the elements of poetry: rhyme. It is the opening and closing of a door. but with emotional self-aggrandizement.

It is literature reduced to the essence of its active principle.and 20th-century American jurist. Marianne Moore. Mr Weller. Christopher Fry. It seemed to Geoffrey Grigson (1982) that all poets' precepts about poetry were true. Louis Aragon. 20th-century French poet. Thomas Nashe. and Robert Frost. This garland. Alexander Pope. Chesterton. 20th-century French novelist and poet. two 20th-century American poets. G. It is a quarrel with ourselves. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is a way of taking life by the throat. It is the achievement of synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. Oliver Wendell Holmes. It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence from without. quoted by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers. and yet everything in it seems to be true in some sense or other. 20th-century English novelist. It is hey nonny nonny and bloody daffodils. 20thcentury American poet. W. poet and educationalist. I know that there are only two women there: that fact reflects the lack of prominence in magisterial pronouncements women have had until very recently. I have nothing to say and I am saying it and this is poetry. It is the language in which man explores his own amazement. 20th-century American poet. gathered mostly from Stephens (1990) and Kemp (1998). 20th-century English playwright. Gwendolyn Brooks. It comes from the following writers.Interlude 45 that the poet believes to be interior and personal but which the reader recognizes as his own. quoted by his creator Geoffrey Willans. All metaphor is poetry. 19th. 17thcentury English comic playwright. Salvatore Quasimodo. K. is contradictory. in no particular order: minor public schoolboy Nigel Molesworth. 16th-century English playwright. B. John Cage. Carl Sandburg and Wallace Stevens. It would appear to me that there are the following three categories of definitions: . 20th-century man of letters. Jean Cocteau. Yeats. George Farquhar. 20th-century American composer. Paul Valery. 20th-century Italian poet. Victorian critic. 20th-century American poet. It is what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed. It is a place for the genuine. 20th-century French modernist in several artistic fields. Somerset Maugham. Matthew Arnold. even when they contradicted each other. a child overheard by my grandmother-in-law. It is the ashes of a burnt-out passion. It is a religion with no hope. It is life distilled.

sissy and unnat'ral. Oddly. vague definitions. defining what poetry is for you. or romantic in the popular use of that word.. these definitions seem to me to be helpful: that pheasant. It is a matter of getting your world right: daily. though not very surprising. a mere drug. I don't think that 'beautiful'. Also. Enough of definitions. Romantic views: Poetry as magical. .46 How to Write Poetry 1. 'impressive' and 'widely effective' get us very far. a kind of touchstone for the perceived preciousness of poetry.. first by Nigel Molesworth. even obscurely: 'the opening and closing of a door . and that amazement. that Wordsworth's 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' is referred to twice in the list. and second by my grandmother-in-law's pupil. Obscure views: Poetry defined rather gnomically. as well. Though I will go for the epigraph I have put at the beginning of this interlude: it is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right: 'daily'. 3. That poem has become. 'right' perfect. Exercise: Write a sentence. ring true to me. On with the real work. Negative views: Poetry as precious and unnecessary. a pheasant disappearing into the bush'. It is curious. for example. slightly dangerous. 2. gushy. unfairly.

about the deaths of our most loved. Writing about the moments when we do not understand our children. we believe. 1975) You might think that the last chapter was all very well. Perhaps we haven't got. to write . is difficult too. (Ben Jonson. facing the same defeats. whatever. we have children. Big events do happen. (Aristotle) A poet writes things like the Truth. we mourn.. And then we watch our children. or the moments when we face up to hopes dashed. above all. and surely a poet is no poet if he or she does not begin to address them. I know about the glories too. scoring the same victories. It is hard even to start poems about these things. Writing about our relationships and their despairs. we understand for a moment that cliche of the review: This is brave novel/a brave collection of poems. we muddle on or we divorce. is difficult. the 'moral fibre' to do it: certainly. we work. we are born. We are conceived. When we try to write about these painful things.- Writing about relationships Many are the lies of the poets. because happiness. notoriously. we . but it didn't go into the great field where poetry traditionally plays: love and pain and death. we marry. and they do not understand us. but they are not the subjects of this paragraph. we celebrate. we disbelieve. what my old headmaster called. is difficult.. writes 'white'. we court. because facing up to them requires such courage. only in different ways. Writing. or the failed elements and unbearable regrets in our relationships with our parents and then our children. we often find the poem coming to pieces in our hands.' Once we have started on these subjects. we stumble and swagger through adolescence.

respectively. thou child of my right hand. The poem about the death of my mother is still to be written. just after my thirteen-year-old son had spent money that my mother had left him on a reproduction of an ikon. Like the poem about the stone in Chapter 2. or when I am holding her Bible. and lie unpublished in a file. in a more intense way than was usual. Imagine the bravery it took for a man to write these lines about the death of two of his children: Farewell. it may take years to grow. I am glad I have written them: they helped me to learn. say here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry . I know the truth of Simone Weil's . asked. and. Thinking about this. Everything seemed to bode well for these poems. (Ben Jonson on the deaths. and joy. and they gave me an opportunity to think about my mother. Some of that growth will not necessarily happen while I am sitting with a notebook. My sin was too much hope of thee. Rest in soft peace. in an inverse proportion to how my mother's death boded for me. They show pain.48 How to Write Poetry about something that still hurts requires courage out of the ordinary. gentle earth. Which cover lightly. It may well be that we might attempt these poems for reasons of personal satisfaction. but when I am walking in places where I walked with her. I was travelling between the islands of Samos and Patmos. that they have never been published.. for psychological reasons. See his Poems. I am also glad. or when I am looking through photograph albums. and not make them public. This grave partakes the fleshly birth. loved boy.. in something like the voice she used to have. and my relationship with her. however. of his son and his daughter. But they failed. I have a sheaf of six poems written in a flood after the death of my mother. I wrote one of them very quickly in my notebook on a boat in Greece. or when am I reminded of her by my brother or myself saying things she used to say. They show labouring attempts at marrying that pain to an appropriate technique. 1975) But writing about these huge things cannot be avoided if we are anything like serious about writing poetry. or at a keyboard.

if the danger is still there. When a poem seems to be dangerous in one way or another — it may hurt someone — write it for the sake of your own emotional health. A bag carried to the car park: night-dress.Writing about relationships 49 comment (in Panichas. Suggestions the last meeting with a parent now dead the end of a marriage Leave the sentence in drawer for a few weeks. dumped African violet. A poet who taught me on a course once said to me something like this. Our anger and grief at a failed relationship may wound someone. '[her] absence is [her] manner of appearing'. So tell the truth. A form dictated to. 1977): after someone's death. perhaps. a manner of appearing'. poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity: we might be better off recalling the anger or the grief and reflecting on it later. Then. 'an absence. but we have to tell the truth. Also. but only to yourself. I note now that this is another attempt at a list poem: Ikon A startled baby that can't cry. no more sadistic than anyone else. Exercise: Write a sentence about an event that caused you pain. The only lines that have survived from that attempt are the ones below. Eighty years history husked and drifting distances between each of our returns to St Thomas's. Concantrate on facts leave discussion of feelings out. and to God. when the danger of wounding has. wedding ring. and poets are no less. don't send it out. passed. then retrieve . Make every effort to tell the truth about it. Another problem is that writing poems about the difficulties in a relationship can cause pain for the person about whom we are writing. We do not want to wound. I include them here because notes for an aborted poem are rarely seen. as Wordsworth said.

five words or eight syllables in each line. concentrate on facts –leve discussion of feelings out. if we tell the facts. Look at these two lines of the Victorian poet W. or won't let us a sleep a full night. and if we too are growing old (I am writing this on my 57th birthday) we think and feel what our ageing means to us: I warm'd both hands before the fire of Life. and remember his or her own. The rest we seem to expect to fend somewhat more for themselves. 2000) How. the poem should be in fivelines.50 How to Write Poetry it. set yourself a strict form first. we leave the reader free to recognize our predicament. We allow the reader to join us in the making of the poem. It sinks. the less we are able to convince our readers of the authenticity of those feelings. The reason for concentrating on facts depends on a paradox. The more we express our feelings. Why should this be? Babies can of course present acute problems when they cry and cry for no apparent reason. S. he tells the irrefutable truth. This is because if we tell what we believe is the whole story . We worry about their health continually. but assonance is. Exercise: Write a poem about a moment in a close relationship. (Keegan.the happiness. . No other rhyme is permitted. and think how weak they would have been had he explicitly told us his feelings about growing old. and I am ready to depart. Instead. and the last word should rhyme with another word in the poem. it should use alliteration. the misery — we prevent the reader from bringing his or her experience to the poem. and make it into a poem. Landor. then. for example. Again. especially our first-born. but try to write the poem from the other person's point of view. can we get into the business of writing about relationships with as little pain and as much chance of success as possible? I suspect that the easiest relationship that most of us have to write about is with babies. On the other hand.

and she. at a photograph of a baby panda in today's newspaper. and Our freakish mallard pair Dashed to the other bank. for that very purpose: nature seems to have made all infants in the animal kingdom somehow attractive in a mute. vulnerable way: cute. It was later broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Poetry Now. They are designed. Fresh from the wash. the baby—adult relationship is normally the least problematical of all. You know what I mean: I am looking. The birth of my son was then and is now the most memorable event of my life. who'd pushed you through The bewildering gap into The swimming lit-up world. soft bundles of need. Homed in and waited there. I suppose.Writing about relationships 51 But in spite of its difficulties. Love. Moorhens and water-voles Spent their neither happy Nor unhappy lives. Your slithery upward dive Replaying and replaying In my jumping mind On your first day alive. or dislike them or. rapid learning and inarticulate emotion. in part. those cuddly. as I write this. and was published in my collection The Living Daylights (1986): Ascension Day (for Daniel) The morning you were born I walked the river bank. They also appeal to a basic instinct of care in us. damp. and only under very strange and terrible circumstances do we resent them. Most of us like. . Wrinkled nutlike and curled. It is all eyes and vulnerability. I wrote this poem just after it. But all I could see was you. at the very least. face the horror. feel the need to hurt them.

with our own situation. especially when we are dealing with the biggest subjects. we must . inside twenty minutes. I want to emphasize the importance of the rhymes and the metre. In this instance. as the dawn came. we are at the mercy of our emotions. as it flows through Ipswich and out to sea. When you can write anything. and thoughts of these' imprisons us. and holding him. the mental film of the moment of my son's birth. how it played. I left the hospital. rhymes and strict metre and all. I suppose now that we associated them. and becomes the Orwell. I remember how my mind wouldn't be still. And more to the point. while I was supposed to be supervising a class of junior-age children whose teacher had had to go somewhere else for some reason. a mile or two before it changes its name. After watching Daniel's birth. about a week later.30 a. Later. The drake was small and. the day (according to the gospels) that Jesus went back to heaven. half-consciously. they were vital. The ducks were there. My son was born at 3. And then white mallards flew Out of human reach. 'separation — marriage. At the time. / And death. insofar as I could. I walked on my own along the familiar river bank. was Ascension Day. time and time again. The rest of the poem took some time. the female was albino: completely white and with pink eyes. so are our readers. that he and my wife were all right. said. (28 May 1981) During the later stages of my wife's pregnancy. and birth. We had noticed a pair of mallard ducks. as Though you had not been born And the world wasn't new. When we write without technical constraint.52 How to Write Poetry Here the river lifts and falls Between the trodden banks. always glad when we saw them. you write nothing that is worth anything. and he me. I was to discover later. we had often walked along a river bank: the Gipping in Suffolk. wouldn't settle. I wrote the first stanza of this poem. because the phoney freedom of free verse. and making sure. If we inflict on them our unrestrained emotion. I rarely used regular forms. on a morning that. We watched these birds often. as an ornithologist friend who walked the bank with us once.m. and making sure that I knew him. 'less than classical' in his markings.

Because a setting. Auden. This is a lovely paradox. reconsider. our memories and imaginations — words.' — big issues. no I won't go on. The prison cell of metre and rhyme sets us immaculately-rhymed seven nine-line stanzas ('Church Going') Larkin (1988). that one of the greatest English poets of the last century. Philip Larkin. It makes us search for the right words for what we feel. The reader who wants an exhaustive account of the traditional metres of English (and. or an event. These notes on metrics draw on Stillman. its makes us select. we are tempted to assume that we have conveyed all of it to the reader. but are far less full. is so vivid in our own minds as we write. best expressed by a remark of Leonardo da Vinci's in one of his notebooks: 'Art must be imprisoned before it can be set free. wrote that every . discover . and perhaps this is good moment to discuss English metres. You make it harder. whom I have quoted above.. If you reject rhyme and metre. A NOTE ABOUT METRICS This poem is written in fairly regular iambic trimeters. understood this so well. and stanza shape. God knows . I should say. it makes life less embarrassing for our readers.marriage and birth. when all we have done is to convince ourselves. who do not want to see our feelings floating untreated like . as is often thought. the words that make music and truth with their rhythm and rhyme. not. you simply reject most of the tools the poet has to make his or her poems beautiful. easier for yourself. consider. W. classical) verse should find a copy of Frances Stillman's The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary (1966)..Writing about relationships 53 think we are pretty fine fellows.' Structure is critical. however.. It sets us off on a search for words. dressing his meditation on 'separation . This is a common problem. noted. rather than the first words that came to mind.. H. More practically. come to that. / And death. and alliteration and assonance. Their relevance to the situation that the poem describes is left all too implicit. The mallards set up a problem . I think that someone aiming to write poems should have a basic introduction to this subject.with the help of dictionaries and Thesauruses and. and thoughts of these . I haven't managed to make the mallard lines interesting one — which the poem doesn't resolve. In other words. reject. There is a serious flaw in 'Ascension Day' which one editor. who rejected it. above all.

thereby. set free by the iambic pentamenter. S. especially. the skills . can she or he give vent to her or his passion. Neil Powell (1982). There is another point of view. the composing legalism does nothing else than err. as though shape is more important than feeling. But she must have the Form first. then. only then. it will be noticed that the so-called free verse is not free at all. Walt Whitman's. but a conscious effort to make an important point to the young poet. 1969).54 How to Write Poetry aspiring poet should know everything about metre . once the tyro poet has mastered the rudiments of metre. and give it a capital 'P'. When that happens. which would have fallen apart without the beat of ghostly iambic beat behind it.. has written that '. as encapsulated by his or her imagination. I am always slightly shocked that Ruskin gives 'Form' a capital F. Your sister should exercise herself in the severest commonplace of metre . Try. The only genuinely free verse that is undoubtedly great is. the structures.. This is the kind of advice followed by the man I quoted in the Introduction. This is John Ruskin writing to Dante Gabriel Rossetti about Rossetti's young sister Christina's early work. can he or she risk free verse.. The imagination is always right. the poet should simply trust his or her feelings. The same goes for 'Portrait of a Lady' (see Eliot. Look at the poetry of T. usually an iambic one. And here the 'metric ghost' is the King James' Version of The Bible: .. Perhaps we can resolve this difficulty by saying that. 1963): a relatively accessible poem. Alfred Prufrock' (Eliot.. less experienced writers. . Then if she puts in her observation and passion all will become precious. The Love Song of J. 1949). John Ruskin! (quoted in Hourd. but 'passion' a lower case 'p'. arguably. This view is echoed time and time again by English poets giving advice to younger.even classical ones rarely used in English verse.. for instance.' This is by .. who didn't read poems because it might corrupt his vision.the forms. It is quoted in Grigoon (1982). And it seems to be in direct contradiction to his advice for the young Christina Rossetti. But I am sure that this is not a slip. There is always a ghost of a strict metre inside should start with the fascination of what is difficult . According to these words. Eliot. It isn't free: it is constantly both constrained and.'. which might at times look free. Then... It evidently cannot err . and only then.

or leaves work. the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck. and then re-read the night the party of young fellows. Those of mechanics. Or we can say ti-TUM. or of the young wife at work. An iambic foot has two syllables. each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong. the hatter singing as he stands. the varied carols I hear. or at noon intermission. and the second one is accented. The mason singing his as he makes ready for work. The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat. spend an hour or two reading the Psalms in the King James' Version of the Bible. The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench.Writing about relationships I hear America singing. the ploughboy's on his way in the morning. Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. . robust. The day what belongs to the day . So please you step aside. or of the young girl sewing and washing. Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else. friendly. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ENGLISH METRES Iambic We think of metric units in terms of feet. The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam. where ti is the unaccented syllable. or at sun-down. We can express an iamb as where the dot represents the unaccented syllable and the dash the accented one. TUM the accented one: See where he comes. 1997) 55 To appreciate what I have called the metric ghost in this poem. The delicious singing of the mother. The wood-cutter's song. ('I hear America Singing' Whitman.

The iambic is the basic metre of English verse. that Shakespeare had to go through the process of strict iambic line in order to write the looser one later. Pope and Wordsworth. where so e'er you are (King Lear. Let that be a lesson to us! Also. more complex. By the time Shakespeare comes to Hamlet. King Lear and The Winter's Tale. as in the example from Romeo and Juliet given above. however. Think Shakespeare. Shakespeare) Poor naked wretches. An iambic line that has no such tension will be banal: . Keats. less easy to scan as a typical iambic line. Some iambic lines are stricter than others. Look through early Shakespeare — Romeo and Juliet and Richard III for example . or not to be: that is the question: (Hamlet.56 How to Write Poetry This is an iambic line from Romeo and Juliet. and you are thinking iambic. there is always a tension between the strict scanning of a line. Here is another from the same play: Oh then I see Queen Mab hath been with you Count them: and ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and FIVE. Shakespeare) Note. and the natural rhythms of human speech. and write out the scansion thus: or like this: tiTUM tiTUM tiTUM tiTUM tiTUM These lines each have five iambic feet.and you will find iambic lines easy to scan. Milton. the line is looser. To be. mostly.

and may be left till later. the fool. Tent' is from the Greek word pente for five. Now write a quatrain of such lines. the line is only perfect in the sense that it could hardly be scanned in anything but a strict way. and I thought. banal famble line. four). but here the accent is on the first. If it had two feet (The MAN had GOT') it would be an iambic dimeter ('di' — from the Greek word dimetros. Grasping the iambic metre is like grasping the cooking of the meat and veg. three). Exercise: Write a strict. If it had four (The MAN has GOT a BIRD in HAND) it would be a tetrameter (Greek. I was a poet. sweets. The bird has got some feathers on its head. The line has five iambic feet. but it is not poetry. therefore. The rest is pastry. I like the man. It is slightly shameful to recall now how long it took to become disabused. but it helps to get the iambie pentameter into out composing mind. and the second is unaccented: . having two measures). I have just produced this rubb The man has got a bird in hand. Of course. tetra. if it has three (The MAN has GOT a BIRD). Probably most us have this feeling. I found that when I was eighteen years old I could write iambic pentameters like this more or less at will.Writing about relationships The man has got a bird in hand. the fool 57 may be a 'perfect' iambic pentameter. yes. sauces. it would be a trimeter ('tri' from the Greek Ma. Trochaic The trochaic foot also has two syllables. The feathers are as black as black can be. But following are the pastry and the sweets and the sauces. the feathers and the bird Rubbish.

emotional verse. that was intending to convey speed or urgency. It is much less common that the iambic metre. Stillman's (1966) example is from Byron: And the SHEEN of their SPEARS was like STARS on the SEA That was an anapestic tetrameter (four feet again). Count it: ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR Anapestic Each has three syllables. from Longfellow: A trochaic line would go: TELL me NOT in MOURNful NUMbers. It would be difficult to use for reflective. I am going to quote Stillman's (1966) example. Counted.58 How to Write Poetry or TUM ti. . with an accent on the third: or ti ti TUM. it looks like this: And a ONE and a TWO and a THREE and a FOUR You would probably only use this metre if you wanted a line that galloped along. This is a tetrameter (four feet). They jump in The above is a banal anapestic line. Into large gardens great doggies will hurry.

Writing about relationships


Exercise: Write a banal anapaetc line

Dactyllic Three syllables, again, but this time the accent is on the first one:

or TUM ti ti.

GO for the Evil, you LARGE stupid MAN, you Count it: ONE and a TWO and a THREE and a FOUR and After all this, it is important to say that some lines can be scanned in different ways. There is always a tension between scansion and everyday speech.

Exercise: Assuming you are a parent, write notes about the birth of one of your children: Try to be objective about it Try to be accurate. Use as many of the five senses as you can in your notes. Now write a poem about that birth addresed either to the baby now a child, or a seenager, or a grown po) or his or her faller or mother. Aim to make at least me last word in the last line rhyme with another word, And try to make the poem compossed of lambs.

First Thing Today First thing today Before the cockerel crowed A baby's cry From across the road.


How to Write Poetry Hi there baby Damp and furled Hi there and welcome To our world Here's the little finger Of my right hand And his a teddy You won't understand
Yet And

Here's flowers for your mummy And what about this Here's my first hug And my first kiss. (Sedgwick, 1999)
Exercise: Identity the metre of the above poem.

A NOTE ABOUT WRITING FOR CHILDREN To write for children is not to write down. When a writer condescends, he or she will be detected by children, if not by adults. The signs of condescending writing are: diction from the writer's childhood; diction gleaned haphazardly from the subculture of modern childhood; tweeness; feyness. But, nevertheless, the verse has to be relatively simple, in the following two ways: Subject matter Children do not read poems about quantum mechanics, cathedral architecture, calculus, or English prosody. This is not because they are less intelligent than adults; it is simply because they have experienced less. (Do adults read poems about quantum mechanics, cathedral architecture, calculus, or English prosody either?) I mention this here because much of the poetry written for children seems to have been written by writers who think that children are, in the pristine sense of the word, simple. Poems about underpants, bottoms and pimples line the poetry

Writing about relationships


shelves of my local Waterstone's. But certain subjects that have usually been deemed as unsuitable for children are not so. They do read poems about death and divorce, for example, and love and pain. Charles Causley, who writes beautifully for both adults and children (1992 and 1996 respectively) says in an interview with Brian Merrick (1989) that he doesn't know what audience, adults or children, his current poem is for until he has finished it. Diction Some words are unsuitable for children, like 'diction' itself, and 'prosody'. Otherwise, children are ready to read the words that most adults use in everyday speech. I am going to write something about getting published later on, but I might as well say here that getting poems suitable for children published seems to me to be easier than getting mainstream poems published. There is no need for me to list editors and publishers who are open to new children's poems they wouldn't thank me anyway - because the names are available on the shelves of any Waterstone's bookshop. Write with quality, and the same commitment that you would write any other kind of poem.
Exercise: Write a poem for a new-born child. Obviously it is g
oing to be very simple, so that he or she can get something from it soon - within six years, perhabps. Write the poem in one of the metres described above.

Exercise: Write a poem addressed to your child - say between five and fifteen years old. It could be inggered by one of tthese events: first girl/boyfriend going o secondary school, first time abroad, first flight.

Exercise: Write a poem about your relationship with your child – but see it from your child a point of view.

Here is a short list of poems about babies that might inspire us:

baby's neck has a neck in creases. 2001). In the wild Using the metric section in this chapter. and second try to follow it in your poem. 1988) Christina Rossetti. The fact that there are some excellent anthologies of animal poems should alert us as to their value to poets as subjects as well as friends (Adcock and Simms. Yeats (1961) 'A Prayer for my Daughter' John Cotton (1984) 'Daniel' in his collection. Because I have written about teaching children to write animal poems (1997. I am not going to enlarge on the subject here. 2000b and c. 'Frost at Midnight' (in Holmes. 1996) W. . baby kisses and is kissed. maker your note into a poem. 2000a): My My My For baby has a mottled fist. B. if you are lucky. or. actually do it! Write a poem beginning with Colendge's line 'Dear Babe. he's the very thing for kisses. Muldoon 1997). better. except to suggest you read Muldoon and Adcock and Simms.62 How to Write Poetry Philip Larkin. write about a pet. 'My baby has a mottled fist' (in Sedgwick. ANIMALS Another unproblematical relationship most of us have is with animals. that sleepest cradled by my sid eFirst identity the metre of Coleridge's line. and the principles about observation In Chapter 1. The Storyville Portraits Exercise: Imaginge yourself looking down at a cradle where a baby is sleeping. Tor Sally Amis' (see Larkin. Or. 1995. and try the following exercises: Exercise: Using one of the games in Chapter 1. or an animal seen in a zoo. Coleridge.

Tony Harrison wrote that in the Observer. There is. or we are trying to tell it 'like it is'.. stubby and stained brown By cigarettes and the toadmoles of age Is reaching out to me . All relationships have difficulties. Either we are writing to amuse. that were written thirty years ago. Exercise: Find Christopher Smar's pem My cat Jeoffry (from Jubilate Ageno): It's in Heaney and I highes (1082) an invaluable book for poets limitate.. . may be comedy. a la Pam Ayres. no choice for a poet. one should not be a poet. OTHER RELATIONSHIPS Parents Exercise: Write a short poem about your father's mother's hands Find a moment when you noticed on of them and write about that. but it is also true about the intimacies of our private lives. This is. He may have been thinking about public life. Writing to amuse. Here is a line or two of mine. My father holds out his right hand to mine when I get back from college at the end of a term: Your hand. going back to those suggestions that I made in Chapter 2: concentrate on small things. If one is not brave enough to speak one's mind. And writing about problems has to be done. For I will consider my –' etc. and those difficulties often seem to be the most important parts of relationships to write about. of course.Writing about relationships 63 Exercise: Write a poem addressing your pet: Include complaints. in fact. but it is not poetry.

because the laws of copyright are fiercer when it comes to popular song than with anything else. it takes courage to write honestly about it. a husband with dead. necessary. first. This is. If I say here that it is healthy to do that writing. WRITING ABOUT MARITAL LOVE The reader is directed to Seamus Heaney's poem The Skunk' in his collection Field Work (1979). and rhyme. in which every poem is about his late wife. Second. they assure the reader that they had to be written. They were necessary. any writer in this situation should be reading Hardy. the most unlikely title. When we are frightened about something in our marriage. The tender eroticism of the last stanza is magical. and not guides to the writing and publications of poems. in a structure that will set the truth free. or in our relationship with our children. I do not mean that writing is in any way therapeutic: psychological explanations have no part in my world. 1997).64 How to Write Poetry If some things are too dangerous to write about. Porter and Dunn. Cole Porter wrote a song in which the singer compares his or her . But it simply must be done. in other words. Douglas Dunn published a book called Elegies (1985). on the face it. This poem is unusual in its subject: happiness in marriage. loved wife — have in common is. The subject of the book turns out to be something dark. an intense commitment to poetic technique: metre. a book of poems appears that is called 'brave' or 'courageous' in the reviews. when they are read with attention. frankly. simply. The poems are. and so is 'An Exequy' in Peter Porter's (1978) The Cost of Seriousness. What these poems — all of them about that most intense relationship. This book is exemplary for anyone writing out of this sad situation. 'Poetry is a way of talking about the things that frighten you' wrote Mick Imlah in the Daily Telegraph (quoted in Curtis. Sometimes. especially. I have to cut the ground from under my feet here and say that. but do not try to publish them. and the poems Thomas Hardy wrote after the death of his first wife (Emma). The key to its success is the choice Heaney has made of possibly what is. and shows again how gentle effects often achieve far more than pyrotechnic ones. RELATIONSHIPS: A LESSON FROM COLE PORTER I have to be careful here. write about them anyway.

Let's not Worship Mars again. Let us hide Under the thick breathy cloak Of Venus . even soppy. Without you I would be A black hole A wandering asteroid As cold as Pluto Or the wrong side Of Mercury.. Here are notes for a love song for a lady astronomer: You are The rings of Saturn. Mix them together int he above manner. of course. ('You are the National Portrait Gallery. the Sainsbury Centre at the University of Anglia. the objectivity that this exercise imposes on the writer. . but to compare the person to something else prevents that. but it is also romantic..Writing about relationships 65 beloved to famous buildings.) The effect is partly comic. You are The perfect orbit Of Jupiter And I would like to be Your favourite satellite Mooning around you. Exericse: Choose someone you are fond of choose a subject you know something about. The romance comes from the distancing. Portman Road [the home of my football team]' I might write. To write how wonderful someone is will usually sound sentimental.

a set of objects . they can pay their way . Construct a poem about them. quoted in Gray (1984): The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'. But you can also invent schemes. like this one. 'gulped' and 'writhed' (see my poem below) might seem melodramatic in a heftily rhymed. the adjective and the adverb. from this passage. These objects.say five or six syllables . the third six.. They are 'objective correlatives': that is T.the fishing. Planted in a cooler poem. the fourth seven and the final line nine. Let the facts stand for the feelings. I have already discussed haiku and tanka. 'Most days that summer we fished in the reservoir' says more about a relationship with a dead father than 'I loved my Dad'. out of facts.the death of professional footballer on the pitch moved me very much. I hope. Counting syllables for a fairly short line . and Sylvia Plath are notable among them. 'I can still smell the drop scones she made' says more about a relationship with a dead mother than 'I loved my Mum'. Also. these facts .. not feelings. Thorn Gunn. It took me a long time to write the poem. Eliot's ugly but useful phrase.makes us think twice about those elements of often unnecessary baggage. little poems using a syllabic count. S. heftily metric poem.. The first two lines have four syllables each.. because it built a tension between . The subject matter . Here each stanza has five lines.. words like 'died. in other words. the scones — stand for the emotions the poem is about. The syllabic count was a gift. DEALING WITH OTHER 'HOT' SUBJECTS Syllables Many modern poets have noted that writing in a syllabic count takes heat out of subjects like love and death. which shall be the formula for that particular emotion .66 How to Write Poetry MEMORIES Exercise: write about a memory of a someone you are fond of.. the reservoir. Marianne Moore.

died. or Heysel. The crowd. Distant friend. four-square. ready for assembly. and a coolness of tone that I needed: Match Abandoned That day was not the day sun shone or we stood swallowing beer in the pub garden. legs crossed. video-vivid. Stripped to football's heraldry. In this photo you sit like a good schoolboy. imperfect stranger. statistic ungraced with Hillsborough. writhed. never to joke in the communal bath. you collapsed in the afternoon sun. or swear at referee. you gulped the tip of your tongue. fullback. but the day you. Small boys worried to their parents. never to magnetise the crowd to its feet again. hands clasped. Stretcher bearers swapped looks. please from touchline for the ball. The world stopped. and to the lads all was slow-motion.Writing about relationships 67 the event and my reaction to it on the one hand. . Bradford. hushed at one match no one could take as it came.

. 1992) Exercise: Be brave. write a free verse poem about a g randfather or grandmother who has died. I must dye: Lord. have mercy on us. But yours. that caught you in the centre of this appalled rectangle . I am sick. Redraft the poem in one of the matrics I have described above.Boys cry out of the ground hands once more in their fathers' hands. or a moment of misunderstanding between you and your children . farewell earths blisse. Phisick himselfe must fade. Rich men. I am indebted to Roberts (1986) for the fascinating information that one poem in English. None from his darts can flye. The plague full swift goes bye. I have written more about syllabic counts in the Glossary. Write a poem about a marital row. Death proves them all but toyes. has no regular scansion. I am sick. and is written entirely in syllabics. published as long ago as 1600. This world uncertain is. have mercy on us. I must dye: Lord. Gold cannot buy you health.68 How to Write Poetry I can understand like everyone no death. It is a song from Summer's Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe: Adieu. (Originally published in Spokes Magazine. Or Invent your own syllabic count. trust not in wealth. Fond are lifes lustfull joyes. All things to end are made.

the bells to crye I am sick. 2000) 69 It is also possible to get a cool tone by restricting yourself to a certain number of words to a line. I must dye: Lord. Strength stoopes unto the grave. I must dye: Lord. Mount we to the sky. Earth still holds ope her gate.Writing about relationships Beauty is but a flowre. Haste therefore eche degree. Brightness falls from the ayre. have mercy on us. have mercy on us. Dust hath closde Helens eye. Wormes feed on Hector brave. I am sick. To welcome destiny: Heaven is our heritage Earth but a players stage. Exercise: Write a poem with a syllabic or a word count Make the subject loveor death but do not mention either word. . have mercy on us. Swords may not fight with fate. I am sick. come. I must dye: Lord. I must dye: Lord. I am sick. Which wrinckles will devoure. have mercy on us. Come. Wit with his wantonnesse Tasteth deaths bitternesse: Hels executioner Hathe no eares for to heare What vain art can reply. (Keegan.

may mean that poets. one hand up skirt'. except about one thing: whether it is his round or mine. and one invented by a poet (the greatest poet in the language!) . and work out the paradox further by remembering a remark of Wendy Cope's that I have already quoted: when a poem isn't working. similar wisdom: 'the truest poetry is the most feigning'. in As You Like It.70 How to Write Poetry 'Many are the lies of the poets' said Aristotle. No. 'one hand on bottle. lie. poets may seem to lie. am I telling the truth? Exercise. of course. on the face of it. the first question to ask is. they tell the truth. . Touchstone. I suspect that both Aristotle and Touchstone (mark that name!) mean that in the making of poetry. And that in that lying. You can put this paradox to a test with the next exercise. as a character in a novel puts it. I would trust a poet to the end of the earth. Never trust a poet. and I would trust most of them about that. offers. Both men — one real. by their nature. Write a poem composed of lies about someone wo matters to you. or in that attempt at lying.

Write such a poem of your own about your own ouse. 55-60).. It need hardly be said .. as we go through this preamble. (Fleur Adcock (2000). the attic. If you cannot lay your hands on the Auden.. Auden wrote words that should encourage any poet.' (The Cave of Making' in Thanksgiving for a Habitat). even marginally published. and one to set against the fact that no one will make a fortune out of poetry. which sees being 'hung as status trophy' or heard 'as background noise' as things to be desired. make even a living. It is indeed a privilege. try to writhe your poem from a point of view not your own. the spare room. // but stubbornly still insists upon / being read or ignored . the bedroom . the dining room. 'After all. H. Refer back to the section on metres (pp.. Serve poetry quietly. it's rather a privilege / . 'Leaving the Tate') W. and there is reward. the kitchen. if any.4 Using paintings to create poems Art's whatever you choose to frame. In the part of the poem about his study.. / to serve this unpopular art which cannot be turned into / background noise for study / or hung as status trophy by rising executives .. read Auden's poem first. the bathroom. or a burglat. and the fact that very few.. Auden (1976) wrote a poem about all the rooms in his house in Austria: the cellar. and write with one of them in mind. the lavatory. Or use a different metre for each room. Auden's lines turn on its head the conventional view of privilege and success. a visitor.. whatever his or her status. Exercise. If possible.

while we can live our lives without ever kicking a ball. In a beautiful book published by The Tate Gallery (Adams. never quite natural. but often seeming. or don't bother. Might we not do the same? Which artists any writer will find useful depends. is what makes us human. is a useful tool in a writer's workshop.72 How to Write Poetry that the reward will not be The fame and the girl and the money / All at one sitting' as Larkin puts it in his poem Toads' (Larkin. This will sound contentious to anyone not concerned with poetry. lifting a weight. on postcards and in artbooks. What are the men and women saying to each other? What are they thinking? What is in the atmosphere of those streets? One way to begin a possible poem is to look at one of his pictures. to be natural. Language. Epstein. Tracey Emin. the Turner Prize and the Saatchi brothers) and the innocence of the other (sales usually counted in their hundreds). of course. Pauline Stainer (1992) acknowledges Paul Klee. 1986) writers respond to paintings in the gallery (from one of which I take my epigraph). And note that. In her book Sighting the Slave Ship. Auden (1976)). Henry Moore as inspirations for her poems. I have already written about Jan Vermeer in Chapter 2: his obsession with ordinary things chimes with my own. Yeats'. believing that Time worships language and forgives / Everyone by whom it lives' ('In Memory of W. The American artist Edward Hopper is especially useful for me. but this is an area where those of us who try daily to make poems will always be in a minority. greengrocers and businessmen look askance at this point of view. These two books remind me that a collection of reproductions. Leonardo. or pretending. The empty streets seem to be so eloquent of blankness. I love the unspoken dialogue between the women and the men in his pictures. Paul Durcan wrote a sumptuous volume inspired by paintings in the National Gallery of London (Durcan. Van Gogh. body-builders. selling an apple. I love his light. it inspires poets. Painting and poetry have a vibrant and powerful relationship. on personal taste and experience. though painting. 1994). Stanley Spenser. Rembrandt. less of a privilege to serve. and therefore. Auden suggests. and to write words for one of the . Take poetry as seriously as this. they simply cannot live their lives without language. rather than time. an unlinguistic art. too. Auden had a very high view of the poet's calling. or making a deal. Watteau. is 'hung as status trophy by rising executives'. B. 1988). But. in spite of the worldliness of one (Damien Hurst. however much footballers. for Auden.

Celebrating a birth. This next poem is about an imagined picture. Or. as we look through the windows of the maternity department of the hospital. It is certainly a woman. There are important props.. people living life as though nothing has happened. we have to go back again to W. more likely. catch.I/sing paintings to create poems 73 figures in them to speak. I think. Everyone turns away from the joy and the horror. at 'a boy falling out of the sky'. knowing nothing about either. as another winter morning develops her face and hand and that damn coffee cup how her hair's done differently for someone else. taxis are picking up fares. Find a painter that you admire. He looks. or simply to begin with a description of some aspect of a picture. perhaps. Bruegel's Icarus. and notes 'how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster . a frightening thought: Interior with two figures They've been becalmed so long soon there's be some change neither will understand. young couples are kissing. Hopper. cultured. I see it as made by some early 20th-century painter — Gwen John.. Write about that painter. . middleclass room. Auden (1976). where he reflects painstakingly on a picture. The colours are mainly blues and greys. remembering that art's whatever you choose to frame. someone is (Auden) 'opening a window or just walking dully along'. There is a couple in a dark. however.'. He might gently erupt into action. much as Bruegel has looked. People are buying papers. or mourning a death. H. rather Bloomsbury. Look at his 'Musee des Beaux Arts'. For a marvellous example of this way into creating a poem. unremittingly. Is poetry prophecy? The couple I was thinking of when I wrote this poem broke up soon afterwards. as anyone who is serious about modern poetry must go back. The poem is about a ubiquitous experience. I don't think that their relationship has very much longer to live. like Vermeer. like an empty coffee cup. often. doesn't turn away. Auden. we find. This poem is an exemplar for any attempt at a poem about a painting. is obsessed with the everyday. or of the car following the hearse carrying our father or our mother.

the songs. than an imagined picture. licking his or her (who can tell?) fingers. A musician. or a picture seen in reproduction. Exercise: Go to a gallery. (Sedgwick. is a picture seen during a visit to a gallery. But look at the child in the red cap. of even lower social status than the bride and groom. and the plates are being carried around on what looks like a door taken off its hinges. when we are armed. Later use the notes to make a poem. S/he is in the left-hand corner. choose one picture to describe. among the empty jars. Write down as many details as you can. The wedding breakfast looks like soup: we are not looking at rich. 1991) Exercise: Imagine a painting. The bride sits under a bridal crown. find the details that matter to you. of course. or even middle-class people here. Later. gazes hungrily at the food passing his eyes and his nose.74 How to Write Poetry She'll glance out from the frame for the first time in months and speculate about gardens and exotic vegetables. and write a poem about it. . cloudshapes and studies of them. The Peasant Wedding Banquet. I wanted to be her (or him): A Country Wedding (Pieter Bruegel the Elder) Oh the noise! The clatter of plates on tables. of course with a notebook and pencil. Spend ten minutes in one room. She'll map when and where she might go. Even better. Two Poems About Paintings I have been drawn for years to Pieter Bruegel's picture of a country wedding.

Cafe at Night OK. What would you like to drink? Have you anything like that bright heaven colour the gas lights throw on the wall? I might never be thirsty again. What's going on here? Under a cloth of sky marked with stars and brush-strokes and evergreen shutters and trees there are tables like kettle-drums and chairs on a brown rug on the cobbled pavement. Van Gogh's Cafe at Night: a starlit sky. the smells of burning meat. a tree looming in at the right of the canvas. a lurid yellow. I find these pictures that could start a poem: . a few tables. (Pieter Bruegel the Elder) 75 Or look at another painting. of ale spilled.Using paintings to create poems the jokes. of coarse wine I shuffle along the floor at my auntie's wedding and eat myself nearly sick. I will snooze through the afternoon in my father's arms. till I wake to 'Show me the way to go home' sung in Dutch by my Uncle Pieter. and. cobbled streets. the laughter. almost at random. I am looking through Michael Levey's A Concise History of Painting from Giotto to Cezanne (1964).

Finally. However.I'm thinking about summer holidays in Greece and Spain.without a journal. specially bought for the trip. Exercise: Choose a picture that encapsulates an obsession of yours. and write a poem. Third. or on the unhelpful dark green of the last page of a cheque book. describe Gisz's study with as much concentration on the detail as you can manage. it is even better to have an old-fashioned reporter's notepad to hand all the time. collecting data all the time. but you will think what you like . Second. Sometimes it is necessary to write observations on the back of bus and train tickets. or write frankly about what you think of them. give the Tahitian women words about what they feel about this strange man painting them. I think that poets should behave like journalists. and read your notes to yourself. write notes about what the Andrews couple are thinking as they are painted.76 How to Write Poetry Georg Gisz by Hans Holbein Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough. write about Madame Recamier's thoughts. but at this stage it doesn't. NOTEBOOKS This seemed too obvious to write about at the beginning of this book. her hopes and ambitions. in the quiet of your living . In it you will write down the most banal of observations. I will go further: never go anywhere interesting . All these pictures are portraits. Madame Recamier by Jacques Louis David Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin Exercise: First. If you are serious about any kind of writing. go nowhere without a notebook and pencil. which betrays an obsession of mine. and when you get back.

Apart from the dressing gown. But also like hard ivory. but I think it is a valid method of making poems: The colours are a gentle orgy of beiges. apart from her lower right leg. admire it for its honesty. You could. Am I therefore a predator? The eroticism is in the hidden breast. of marital love. because they will trigger memories of smell. whether temporary or permanent. For me the picture is sexual. in its very everydayness. and the warmth of the dog's flesh is almost palpable on her calf. the only thing the girl wears is her simple. The vulnerability is in the exposed one. Write as much as you can about the picture's mood. and vulnerable to so much: male predatoriness. slightly voyeuristically the miracle. and an obsession with people. There is a fear in the girl's eyes for private reasons.Using paintings to create poems 77 room or your study. buffs. I promise you. and on what will happen afterwards. affecting wedding band. Choose one of the figures in a picture. of hearing. It isn't easy for me to imagine liking anyone who wouldn't get something from this picture. Many of the best writers about art featured in the magazine Modern Painters are poets. the girl's hand firmly on it. you will find. Think about what you can detect about the relationship between the artist and sitter (assuming that the picture is a portrait). perhaps. for example. slightly guiltily. You could admire the technique: the expected mastery of Freud's depiction of human flesh: like soft honey. yellows and mustards. The following is a commentary I wrote on Lucien Freud's painting Girl with a White Dog (1951/2) for a Channel 4 documentary. that your notes were not banal after all. perhaps. The girl. This is keen observation. I have never made this prose into verse. Approaches to Writing Inspired by Pictures Describe the picture: the construction and the colours. Perhaps there is a link between art criticism and poetry. but . Take photographs as well.far from some idealized porn image of an exploited model pretending to desire — is central to anyone's looking: the folds of the curtain and the dressing gown cord all direct our eyes towards it. for example. Speculate on what has happened just before the scene depicted. and write down what they are saying. The exposed breast . covers the right-hand side of the canvas. and the cold objectivity of the knife. We are confronting. of taste.

Those eyes are the eyes of a woman who has seen the world in its extremes. I am frightened of you.78 How to Write Poetry certainly for public ones as well: the artist offers us a look of edgy pain which convinces because (as Emily Dickinson nearly said) the look of pain is always can't help it At my exposed breast Honey or ivory — And you think about the one I protectively hold. Family albums are. and address a poem to someone in it. the memory. not art in the public sense. 1992). Parodies. You are dangerous to me. The dog's flesh is warm on my calf. and is frightened. You are looking . imitations. provoking as they do that necessary friend of the imagination. This poem should be as strong at you dare: write about someone who it now dead or to someone with whom your relationship has broken down. Wedding photographs of our parents are especially potent. . pastiches. and knows she is right to be. 66-8 HONOURING NON-VISUAL ART This part of my book is about responding to other poems. but they represent a kind of art in a family. See Charles Causley's lovely poem 'A Wedding Portrait' (Causley. obviously. Now subject your poem to one of the metric systems described on pages 5360. I wish you would go away. Exercise: Get out the family album. Here is an attempt at notes towards making a poem using this material: I sit in a gentle orgy of colour. homages. All the above applies to writing about photographs: the family album is another resource.

We should take this hint. Exercise: If you have the smattering of a language French of example. in the Introduction that his 'first two Sappho poems are really new poems based on hers'. Parody (Greek: 'Burlesque Poem') A parody is not usually affectionate. Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Imitations Imitations is the title of a book by Robert Lowell (1962). It is made up of versions of poems by writers like Homer. 'You are old Father William' by Lewis Carroll (1978) is a parody of a longforgotten poem by Robert Southey: The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them'. a poem as lumpen and uninspired as its title. as I said in my Introduction. still makes most readers smile. in translations by Peter Porter (1978) and . use an English–French dictionary and an anthologya of French poetry to make imititons of French poem. Villon. and stands as a poem on its own. or poems.Using paintings to create poems 79 The ideas that follow are here because they represent creative responses to poetry itself. frankly enough. These are words with similar but different meanings. often with satirical or ridiculing intent. because they require intimate knowledge of someone else's poetry and. I was reading Catullus and Martial at the time. the biggest fault of aspiring writers is that they do not read enough poetry. no doubt. It is a comic impersonation of someone else's poem. Pastiche (Italian: 'Pasta Medley') This is a work of art made up of bits and pieces of an original. Sappho. that exaggerates the original's style and content. on the other hand. All of them are useful to writers. They may be springboards to send you off on poems of your own. The Carroll. Lowell (1962) says. the editors preserved it for scholarly reasons rather than for anyone's pleasure. To imitate a poet is an honourable thing to do. Below is an imitation of a Latin poem. It can be found in Opie and Opie (1973) where.

this classic sunshine and this dark Falernian wine that you've indulged in . I recommend these two old Romans. It's disgusting! Why? I'm not there. The shires' blossoms moulder where The church's bells were rung. Make a homage to a poet you admire. and parody one of them.. by choosing typical phrases from a poet's work. E. Sullivan and Boyle (1996). Exercise: Get to know the poems of one poet. He was right.. of all places. When I read it now. with pictures of debutantes and country houses: Lycoris. Housman. I was also reading an invaluable book. if you haven't come across them: wonderfully filthy stuff. in Country Life. Which of them was at the forefront of my mind then I cannot remember.80 How to Write Poetry James Michie (Martial. It cannot be done unless you are steeped in that poet's work: I had a tutor at college who said that there should be one writer whose whole published work you have read. . it feels not so surely parodic. Make a pastiche. And you're not mine. Here is my attempt at a parody of A. 1978). (Sedgwick. and mostly short. The poem was published. You make one by imitating a poet's style. 1987) Homage A homage is a tribute to an admired poet. I think I like Housman's poems more than I knew at the time: Bredon's no longer lovely As it was when we were young.

Only one thing's the same. (Sedgwick. Ghostlike. I simply admire the man. Truly Yours Elderflower creams along the bank and sunlight fills the air like butter.Using paintings to create poems The ale is thin. whey-shaded. 1991) 81 Here is an attempt at a homage. you could make wine of that: fizzy of the flower. not The snowy cherry tree. I hope both feelings come across in these lines. But I stayed in the hearthlit gloom. slack. And my face. Would be casting from side to side To re-live that heart-lurching ride — If I had walked tonight — My face. (Sedgwick. in satin gown. My Helen says.. the valley We can no longer see Is scored by car and pylon. And wandered the precincts where You'd often a mind to career If I had walked tonight I would dream of that wagonette. and love the poems.. An old man's totter from your tomb. and later red . lad: The Maker of Earth and Mars Still hangs aloft gay lads whose hearts Break under the stars. 1999) And here is an attempt at a parody of Thomas Hardy: If I had walked tonight And seen where. My dead mind racing back . Edward Thomas is a poet about whom I have no mixed feelings. toad-moled and wet. you walk the town.

(Sedgwick. This was not a stretch of your road to France. The subject is music.82 How to Write Poetry from the berries . sorry I've none of your poems off by heartsmelling on my hand the elderflower. the New Statesman and the Spectator (the TES no longer runs one). I treat them like commissions. The poem must contain imagery from your garden. and later I lean on the car. and this reminds you that it is worth keeping an eye on competitions set at the back of the Oldie. At Bramford Church I remember your quiet honesty. CORRESPONDING WITH A FRIEND A similar way of kick-starting writing is to correspond with a friend.. The last word in the poem should be a full rhyme with another word in the poem. or a local park. You should be as specific as possible. They can get you going when you are uninspired. who also beckoned his lover to see goldfinches flit along the thistle tops. think in terms of recipes: Write a poem in nine lines. a language not to be betrayed. words not allowed till they were truly yours. 1991) COMPETITIONS The above poems were written originally for competitions in The Times Educational Supplement. On the one . asking each other to write poems on a certain subject. SOME EXERCISES INVOLVING RHYME 'Rhyme' is a central issue in any talk about poetry. even though there is nothing like a certainty that the editor will publish them: also. with either a syllable count or a word count for each line.. whose mouth was filled with earth before you were the age I'm now. the fee for winners is pitiful. and it must contain alliteration and an internal rhyme in every other line.

This leads to the sort of error very young writers make. Two examples are Hodgart (1965) and Grigson (1975). they can do without it. When readers of local newspaper send jokey or sentimental little verses to their paper. When comedians talk about their poems. Alexander Pope (1956) wrote. We have to avoid the pitfall of rhyming merely for the sake of rhyme. as in this example: . if it doesn't rhyme. It is 'what people first associate with the pleasures of verse'. On the other hand. for this reason.) Exercise: Make a list of rhymes you can no longer get away with. as Sweeney and Hartley Williams (1997) wrote. they always mean execrable. Greeting card verses always rhyme. to be avoided. I have garnered these from Cliff Richard's Elvis Presley's and The Beatles' Songs respectively. Many tyro writers think that. or 'creep' and 'sleep' and get away with it.Using paintings to create poems 83 hand. unfunny rhyming verse. In the next line it 'whispers through the trees': If crystal streams 'with pleasing murmurs creep': The reader's threaten'd (not in vain) with 'sleep'. it isn't poetry. There is cliche rhyme. The real reason is because it is difficult. A hint from Pope: you simply can't rhyme 'trees' with 'breeze'. when they write dreadful couplets like 'As I walk out in the rain / I think this is such a pain': rhyme that is forced. Any pop song of the sixties will supply some walking/talking. My mother certainly believed that. NARRATIVE POETRY: WRITE A BALLAD There are many collections of ballads. about bad poetry: Where'er you hear 'the cooling western breeze'. and inadequate. The problem with this genre is that writing one makes it almost impossible to think in more subtle metres. 'away/day'. too. (These lines also say plenty about the mockery you will cause with cliche. too. rhyme is old-fashioned. 'tight/night'. Begin with 'June' 'and' 'moon'. But the ballad is useful for telling a story. they always rhyme.

Young Darren leaned around the back Of the Star and Garter Inn While his Daddy bought his Auntie Chris Her seventh double gin. Down by the condomy canal In Cavinistic weather Darren reached the start of his youth And the end of his short tether. Gently tickled in him one day His tendency to riot. and found no going on For the death in Darren's eye. knowing the school was built For her own peace and quiet. She said. He's taken from a new display Of farming implements A horse mane docker. His teacher. and it's aimed At Mrs Muriel Spence. Big Darren's Daddy picked him up When the lad was two foot tall And swung him by the ankles hard Against the bedroom wall. Nobody loves you Darren Cullen And I will tell you why . And when the boy was five foot tall They caught him in Grigson's Yard Driving a forklift truck around The piles of packing card.84 How to Write Poetry The Ballad of Darren Cullen This is the case of Darren Cullen (Blue eyes. six foot three). His Dad... his teacher (Mrs Spence) And his headmaster (me). .

The poem has to have four stanzas. After a vivid afternoon They found out what you've guessed The horse mane docker hardly got Beyond Mu Spence's vest.The word Kyrie is Greek for 'Lord'. This is the case of ____. with four lines in each one. KYRIELLE Here is another strict form. These days the lad is six foot three And he takes his revenge on all His women nightly. going . but it doesn't have to he subtle. Thank God. and it doesn't have to be full-rhyme. (First published in Harris. Sandy Brownjohn pointed out this structure to me. and this form usually has a religious subject. the kyrielle.Using paintings to create poems Oh bloody hell the headmaster thinks And his lunge is rather tardy The thing is sticking neatly out From Mrs Spence's cardy. beginning with the line. 10 June 2001 . Darren was carted Off to special school For scaring a teacher witless with An agricultural tool. Kyrielle for Rebecca Moore on the occasion of her first communion. Rhyme is imperative here.four feet in each one. 1993) 85 Exercise: Write a ballad about someone who has had an evenful life. and the little lad That he bangs on the bedroom wall. The lines are iambic tetrameters . we said.

Lord of all gardens. Whether in air. pray for me. pray for me. (Sedgwick. and in memory of the trumpeter/singer Chet Baker. am. a wedding anniversary. Lord of all gardens.86 How to Write Poetry The garden's soaked in sunlight where.rhymes. As this tapped into one of my obsessions. Exercise: Write a poem in this form about a divorce. and I will let my poem speak for it. . o. 2002) Exercise: Write a poem in this form celebrating an important domestic eventa a child going to university or a first job. I stand and murmur common prayer: Lord of all gardens. at. grass and tree. So are my hands. pray for me. My heart won't turn to sand or stone Lord of all gardens. or all alone. Where the sky above me stands Clouds' silent music's drifting free. pray for me. Mysteriously float the scents Of herb and flower. I wrote this for him. The same restraints about rhynes apply RHYMING COUPLETS This is a basic exercise. Marooned in my mortality. But at the same time. Make sure you choose words that rhume easily in English oo. or sea. in etc. The cat hunts slyly by the fence. With the wide world. on land. avoid cilcfie. and for his mother. My friend's son had got into the habit of playing jazz loudly in his room as soon as he woke up. My mind is still.

Repeat them as you nod your head only seconds out of bed.. really. an off-beat knocking on the floor and goes to grind a fresh new roast. Bond on bass . Connie Kay behind the drums . lolls the beat . jazz is only heaven when played with Mocha after tactful as Charlie Mingus never was and for a solo. Stan on sax. the voice has nothing left to lose.m..Using paintings to create poems To a Twelve-year-old jazz fan (For George and Margo.. George.m. frankly. for much later. and i. It's music. Chet Baker) Blurred with fags and coke and booze. here he comes. 1991a) 87 .. light a fag and burn some toast .. Much as only tea can cater for teatime. You read the inlay card's bare facts: Chet on trumpet. He rests to let the drums control the piano player's fol-de-rol and bends to Bourbon at his feet and lights a Lucky. behind the door. Your mother notes. wickedness can stem from playing Chet at 6 a. (Sedgwick..

Remember that 'art's whatever you choose to frame'. in each example. 'comes' with 'drums' and 'later' with 'cater'. In To a Twelve-year-old jazz fan'.88 How to Write Poetry Exercise: Write a poem in rhyming couplets. Note that one way of making rhyme fresh is to rhyme different parts of speech with others. the parts of speech are different. . I rhyme 'booze' with 'lose'. 'control' with 'fol-de-rol'. 'as' with 'was'. The subject can be anything: your partner's taste in food or drink your child's spech. If could be a letter to a member of your family. the garden.

is that whereas with most categories of books you are aiming to make as much money as possible. It will be about ourselves. quoted in Stephens. It has nothing to do with the word 'taste'. the world around us and about our language. 1990) If our first objective is publication. be found out. (Thomas Campbell. This last word was once the most insulting in the poetry world — aster is a Latin suffix meaning 'incomplete resemblance'. and we will be poetasters. I suppose: the three that signify most are good (even great) poets who get recognition. and with concentration. the learning will be powerful. tomorrow or in a century's time. and poetasters. S. I was tempted to put the whole chapter in brackets. we have got the whole business the wrong way round. In many cases. There are many ranks in this 'craft or sullen art'. with poetry you are aiming to lose as little as possible. today. The compulsion to write. good poets who don't. learning will be the only pay-off. 'a rhymester': a poor imitation of a poet. they may get published.5 How to get it published The most important difference between poetry and any other department of publishing. and through writing to learn. quoted in Stephens. must come first. If we write to learn. as we open another envelope containing another rejection slip. 1990) Now Barabbas was a publisher. . and they may not. The other way round. so a poetaster is a writer of 'trashy verse'. and will then. Many of the last group will get recognition. That is why the title of this chapter is in brackets. The fourth group is the group that stays true to what learning is. (T. That is a massive pay-off for trying to write poems with intellectual and spiritual energy. Eliot. It may not look much of a pay-off.

When people say to me. or on paper with pretty designs in the margins. I want to say.each judge does not. I think. Or going the other way. 'I want to see my name in or. Do not send poems on scented or coloured paper. do not send then on lined paper. is 'I want to be published' or even more crudely. she showed me a sheaf of the entries which had been assigned her for preliminary evaluation . read everything — and what follows now is advice based on what I saw on that unholy Sabbath. and they follow now. often. There is a notion in the air that poets .90 How to Write Poetry Many poets will not be found out until after their deaths: Gerard Manley Hopkins. One Sunday morning. Graphomania may most subtly infect us in the belief that being published is more important than writing. 'Write'. I want to be a writer. to fill that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch. with three other poets. Exercise: If you want to be published. write down your reasons. SENDING POEMS OUT I knew a poet once who was spending. But what they mean. and it leads. whom posterity will consider great. only two were published before she died in 1886. Wanting to be published more than wanting to write. I discovered. for example. mania = madness) by. I suspect. and of Emily Dickinson's 2000-odd poems. I don't. to vanity publishing (of which more later). But there are practical suggestions about getting published. who will not be published in their lifetimes. all her leisure time. was largely prohibited from publication by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. and to learn through writing. for some weeks. Robert Herrick's first collection was published when he was nearly sixty. is called 'graphomania' (Greek: graph = writing. saying 'yes' t° every publisher's suggestion that we change lines that we think are good. on a book'. There are poets writing now. the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. It may be that some readers think that I exaggerate by implication the condition of many of the poems and their presentation. Its symptoms are writing anything to get on the page. better. judging a national poetry competition.

and. include photographs of you with your children / dog / cat to show how nice you are. Send the poem itself. Go to a local store.a. the editor is interested in your poems. and what it says is bad: it says that you think poetry is an oldfashioned thing. H.shambling drunkards with beer stains all over their jackets. and avoid the giants. The one I am working on.How to get it published 91 can be eccentric . Editors probably chuck letters out. in the false belief that old-fashioned printing suits poetry. it is usually unnecessary to have copies returned. it'll be £300. a short covering letter and a stamped addressed envelope if you want your poem back. Get a cheap computer. it irritates him to bits.e. (These days. without. like PC World. anyway. Send nothing at all. detached from the real world. unadorned. and he is a fine .) Type the poem conventionally. Auden. which gives me access to the Internet and emails. and you are lucky (luck plays a part in this. but it applies to you and me. They can — but they must not be eccentric in the way they submit poems. cummings. when he commissions poems for anthologies for children. as it were. And do not type in italic. in a vain attempt to emphasize your work. and so on. Do not follow the example of the American e. or if you want to receive news of your poem. That is enough. who was not very good at what successive governments call 'the basic skill' of punctuation. who will want to sell you loads of games. for example. who rarely used upper case. Do not. Handwriting will almost always put an editor off. This advice does not apply if you are W. I can tell you. cost me no more than £400. when most of us have poems preserved on disk. Put your name and address on every sheet: often poems become separated from each other and your submission letter. boy. In a year's time. make-up — but smart. as in everything else). Do not use fancy fonts like cursive. But if you want yours returned. and the mucky inky days of carbon copies are over. Another friend of mine swears that unknown writers do this. Would you want your desk littered with correspondence from total strangers? If your poems are good. loony bank clerks and advertising copywriters power-dressing all day and cruising clubs all evening. reasonably enough. except the poem. because even the best is less legible than typescript. Avoid putting anything in the envelope that you might think adds to the interest of your poem. send an s. This says more about your attitude to poetry than you think. e. He had his reasons.

of course) As I was going down Treak Street (Traditional) Your letter should be simple: 'Please consider the enclosed poems for I also enclose an s. And while the attack will stay news for a long time.a. This might work at the office. Do not send poems about current events. but please use the enclosed s.e. Think very hard about the first line of any poems you are submitting. With poetry it is different because poetry is only news in the sense that it stays news. or imply how charming you are. Just imagine how many thousands of poems were sent out to magazines during the days after the attack on New York in September 2001. elegies for the dead will have to have something special about them to be considered by little magazines. Submitting poems for publication is not like asking for a rise in salary: do not plead incipient poverty. you almost certainly won't. they were left in pews in cathedrals.e. for correspondence' will do (don't write 'return': it displays a lack of confidence in your work). led to thousands of what their writers called 'poems'. All this applies to any big news story: the death of Princess Diana. H. bald. This advice is in direct contrast to advice for a journalist: any freelance scribbler with an interesting angle on Islam was fought over during that time.92 How to Write Poetry poet. You could say 'return of the poems is not required. . for example. They were pinned up with flowers on fences and sent to local newspapers. If you don't catch an editor there. and pick out these at random: all of them have something striking to capture the reader almost before the poem is underway: A lizard ran out on a rock and looked up. to let me know of your decision'. Magazine publishers are not in a relationship with you that is anything like a relationship you might have with superiors whom you know through day by day contact.a. I look down the index of first lines of Mitchell's anthology The Orchard Book of Poems (1996). Lawrence) A messenger. Editors do not even have to be kind. his skin burnt onto his bones (Anselm Hollo) And did those feet in ancient time (Blake. listening (D. Do not include reasons why you think your poems should receive special consideration. and so will typing '&' instead of 'and'. another cummings trick. For the rest of us. Was one of them any good? Probably not. never hitting the caps key will look like unforgivable tricksiness.

'But he was tyrant. we too must be businesslike. control. A sheet of A4 scrunched up and forced into a little envelope looks bad. we should think about the impression our submission gives. 'Yes — but he once shot a publisher.. Almost certainly. Thorn Gunn. if only for a moment. S. Above all. however desperate we feel about getting our poems into print. Most struggle. They are sentimental and wrong. and lousy royalties and payments. being poets. 1990). Campbell also parodied the gospel: 'Now Barabbas was a publisher . But we had better remember Eliot's reply: 'Perhaps. and are in the blissful situation (so it seems. a nebbish (Yiddish for a person who. and see the business of publishing poetry. and we can revenge ourselves on our rejection slip tormentors with this thought if we like. we are immune from the usual congress of work. The editor Robert Giroux once said to T. reflect on those remarks from Eliot at the beginning of this chapter.are not in the business of doing you — or me — any favours.]. but so are most writers' (Sutherland.. They suggest that they are the kind of person who can't catch the eye of the waiter in their local Tandoori restaurant. Even the kindest of publishers . We should try to work against the post-romantic sentimentality that.' [Murmurs of assent. our poems are unsolicited mail. you feel that somebody has just gone out). 1975). Try not to be discouraged by rejection. A clean sheet of A4 folded once and put in an C5 envelope looks good. I know some people think that this is trivial. that art is beyond such minor courtesies. to the rest of us) of being with the same publisher thirty years later.' (both quoted in Stephens. Eliot 'most editors are failed writers'. that. If you see a couple of poets talking together. or bribe (though offers of sexual favours may work in some cases). and will simply send your poems back without any comment at all. it is likely that they are discussing how awful editors and publishers usually are. In submitting poems. when he or she walks into a room.mine . cries of 'Hear hear' etc. they look on them with no more affection than you or I feel when we see that the morning post is another pile of advertising junk. Some poets — Seamus Heaney. anyway. from the publishers' point of view. Torn-off strips of paper also look bad. . and Ted Hughes are three examples — find recognition early. They are in business. Instead. To them.How to get it published 93 Many are simply rude. and. Sylvia Plath kept her poems circulating. a monster and a sworn foe of our nation' someone said. The poet Thomas Campbell once proposed a toast to Napoleon. we should never try to coax.

by the way. These are useful to poets because. Do not be resentful. You need to send your work out to a magazine that is likely to be amenable to the style and content of it. or the New York Review of Books. This is a good example. They will distress the editor with the volume of work you are offering him or her. They will welcome your envelope. even if you do not win one of the prizes.94 How to Write Poetry When they came back from one place. People tell me at readings that they have sent their short stories for children to a publisher who. Look for small magazines first. Send it out again.a. Do not send poems to a magazine unless you have read some of its issues with close attention. Only then. or for a long time. Don't send out a collection until you have had a few acceptances in the larger magazines. think about the major places. all poets are influenced by other poets.e. Know the market. there is no point in sending. organizers of such competitions do not dread the post as magazine editors do. Enter competitions. Other Suggestions Think about how many poems you should send in one submission. Also. This leads to a healthy feeling that you are not talking in a world occupied only by yourself. Always send an s. Even better are competitions run by altruistic local poetry societies. Even if the editor is drawn to your poem he or she will be irritated by having to find an envelope to send it. like The Times Literary Supplement. Watching carefully what other successful poets are writing is not trend-following. Be businesslike. for example. either ever. If you have faith in your work. I have already mentioned the competitions that are set weekly by popular magazines. the best entries are often printed in a booklet. Read the magazines. One is not enough: it makes it look as though this is the first poem you have written. or right-wing political poems to a left-leaning one. look in the library. they went off immediately to another. free verse to a conservative magazine. . by reading books. Information about what kind of work certain publishers publish is not a secret. simply never publishes short stories or literature for children. you will not mope. Ten is too many. By the same token. or a letter back in. it is open to all: look in the bookshop. or won a major competition. I know.

B. I decided to publish a collection myself.' and so forth. they will accept your poems. It is often forgotten that William Blake was entirely self-published. Slightly to my surprise. which is more than I can say for some printers employed by a normal . at present unrecognized: WANTED: UNPUBLISHED POEMS FOR NEW PRESTI GIOUS COLLECTION . sent. STOP Shouldn't publishers be paying you! These firms are called (not. by themselves) Vanity publishers'. 1996) as long as the money was forthcoming. it will come as no surprise that there are firms who will offer to publish your poems if you pay them. One researcher. of course.How to get it published 95 VANITY PUBLISHING In a world that spins for the sake of money rather than love. Typically. I tried to place a collection with publishers . When I had about forty or fifty poems for children printed in anthologies. Have nothing to do with them. unexpected new costs arrive. and then put them in a badly printed book. needless to say. and only print enough copies. usually with glowing . probably. They won't promote your book or poems. I found a local printer. Quite often.. Johnathan Clifford of the National Poetry Foundation.. because they thrive on the graphomanic desire many writers feel to see their name in a book. He did exactly what I asked him to do. The novelist J. I chose the poems myself. these ads seem to suggest the twin possibilities of unlimited no avail. Vaguely. getting the book printed was not much of a problem either. no problem. Carr published all his later novels himself. Editing it was. for each mugged contributor. somewhere. in the interests of research. of the next genius. They often advertise in the literary magazines asking for manuscripts.and grossly insincere . SELF-PUBLICATION There is an honourable tradition in self-publication. and the existence out there. and basked in the lack of interference from a conventional publisher. three hilariously dreadful poems to fourteen vanity publishers. All the poems were accepted (see Turner.compliments.

this is not publication at all. and finding a distributor willing to deal with poetry is not worth bothering with. Print and paper are not expensive.96 How to Write Poetry publisher. and looked respectable. . I simply carried the books about when I worked with children and teachers. I would certainly have preferred conventional publication with all that interference. The problems were distribution and publicity: both of these are very expensive indeed. and what Mo saw as an inadequate advance. arranging for publicity and distribution and all. but most of them are novelists. Arguably. Whether poets can manage. and sold them. or afford. Many writers have published themselves. became exasperated with his publisher. for example. The successful writer Timothy Mo. I wrote these problems off. I was further surprised that the cost wasn't excessive. this sort of operation is another matter. The book came out. and he did the job himself.

Although in most poetry sense is paramount. Y is a sea sound.Glossary ALLITERATION The repetition of consonantal sounds in a line. no one who would write poetry can be unconscious of the elementary musical notes that alliteration can offer. The Tempest). we can hear the sounds described in the words. The murmuring of innumerable bees' is a famous example. it is a commonplace to say. Stereotypically. but the very shortest of lines — that would be a onesyllable line — has a caesura. This is a musical effect: the letters V and 'd' (among others) contribute to violent music. the letters 'm' and 'n' to a very different. In this line. especially. Assonance plays a part in the lines from Shakespeare and Tennyson. as in 'Full fathom five thy father lies' (Shakespeare. gentler music. CAESURA Every line. ASSONANCE See above but with vowels. Exercise: Write an absurd alliterature line like ' A shelk's silver sword sounds. It is the natural break in the middle: . the music and the sense work together. Now write serious alliterative line about something in your garden. from Tennyson. In other words. the way the "\l 'y' sounds prepares for the finality of 'lies'. Note.

it is. Arguably. or at least a sense of rhythm.98 How to Write Poetry 'I'll give my jewels / for a set of beads'. In 'Sonnet 66'. I think that this is a mistake. It is prose. in fact based on hidden regular rhythms. where one of the rhyming words is in the middle of a line rather than at the end of it. the tyro writer attempting free verse is attempting the near-impossible: playing tennis with neither net nor court-markings. IAMBIC PENTAMETER See pp. And when verse looks free. One is in the use of internal rhyme. many attempts on poetry betray a delusion that you don't need an understanding of metre. or the rhythms of a hidden text. But much new poetry of any standing rhymes in subtle ways.. Often. FREE VERSE This is poetry that has no regular rhyme or rhythm. or even without rackets and balls. the careful reader will trace an intricate pattern of rhyme if he or she examines the .. what appears to be eye rhyme was full rhyme when the poem was written. and they often have the same rhythm. INTERNAL RHYME Modern poets use full rhyme less often than their predecessors (see Rhyme). EYE RHYME This is what the eye sees. In any case. In spite of this. Shakespeare rhymes 'cry' with the last syllable of 'jollity'. but which depends on the natural rhythms of speech. like the Old Testament. printed 'ie' originally. They often rhyme. COUPLET Two successive lines of verse arranged in a pair. 55-7. there is no such thing. for example. . but the ear doesn't hear: 'cough / bough'. Often in an apparently non-rhyming poem. Here the / marks the caesura in a line from Shakespeare's Richard II. It is rare that a caesura is as obvious as it is here.

See Simile. A metaphor doesn't contain the word 'like'. and of no use to poets or writers of halfway serious prose either: 'Culturally. and of sex ('spirit' in Elizabethan times could mean 'semen'). which contains resonances of energy. for example. or para rhyme is the kind of rhyme that is not as solid as full rhyme. not just the ones that end lines. (Psalm 3) PUN The use of a phrase or word that has more than one meaning. this town is a desert'. it is becoming increasingly difficult to use full rhyme regularly in serious poetry. of religion. they have a serious effect. but in Shakespeare. . such as 'bang' or 'cuckoo'. where the same idea is expressed in partial repetition in consecutive lines: Lord. In English. Wilfred Owen uses half-rhyme. a young poet wrote 'his head is mainly gold' (manely gold). Conventional metaphors are cliches. to great effect. Or: 'My life's a wasted ground'. The expense of spirit in a waste of shame' (Sonnet 129) contains a terrifying pun on 'spirit'.Glossary sounds of all the words. PARALLELISM See the Psalms. ONOMATOPOEIA A word that imitates the sound described. for example. which does. METAPHOR 99 A comparison between one thing and another: 'My desk's a desert'. how they are increased that trouble me! Many they are that rise up against me. Half-rhyme. RHYME Full rhyme is what is conventionally considered rhyme. In a riddle about a lion. It is usually felt that puns are there for comic effect.

(Owen. Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.. and stared . RHYTHM This is the pattern of weak and strong syllables. deaf even to the hoots Of tired out-stripped Five-Nine that dropped behind. such as French. and I ignored him. Then as. In other languages. not anticipating the imminent gas attack ('Dulce et Decorum Est'). where. Attempt a poem in half-rhyming couplets. such as 'bird/board'? 'crown/scream'. but this man had a tin ear. long since scooped Through granites which titanic wars had groined. I probed them. Other terms for half-rhyme are slant rhyme.. Here is an example from The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (Owen. the rhythms of poetry have to work in other ways. 1963) since it is still open on my desk. 1963) Someone once said to me that Owen used half-rhymes because he hadn't the skill to use full ones. The soldiers are tramping back from battle. It occurs when a sentence runs over one line to another without punctuation. they are far less weak and far less strong than in English. The lines run on with 'hoots/Of tired' Drunk with fatigue. Exercise: Make a list ot half-rymes. off rhyme and approximate rhyme. one sprang up. Yet also encumbred sleepers groaned.100 How to Write Poetry His famous poem. RUN-ON This is traditionally called 'enjambment' (en jambe 'leg' — to encroach). 'Strange Meeting' is written in half-rhymed couplets: It seemed that out of battle I escaped Down some long profound tunnel. if there are weak and strong syllables at all. .

The clouds are like cotton wool'. as I have already written. or in the final draft. 'I am as high as a kite'. Like those. see Thorn Gunn's 'Considering the Snail' (1993). STANZA Stanzas are to poetry what verses are to songs. 1994) identifies two traditions of syllabic verse in English. SIMILE A comparison usually made with the help of the word like' or the word 'as'. and 'desagreable' in French where it is much more difficult to locate any stress). most people still call stanzas Verses'. makes some of the redundant elements in the poem more obvious. conventional similes are cliches and. In a useful essay on this subject. which is written almost entirely in seven-syllable lines. There is disagreement among poems about writing like this. who writes in a consistent line length. with its stressed third syllable. The second tradition that Hulse identifies is one in which the . Also. therefore. 53ff. and doing that isn't a crime. One begins with Robert Bridges. SYLLABICS A poem based on the number of syllables in each line — see pp. 'My curtains drift like a remembered mistress' dress' may be crap. 53ff. which is written in a heavily stressed language (compare 'disagreeable' in English. But. Once again. It certainly doesn't involve the complex issues involved in the metrics discussed on pp. syllabic counting seems to take the heat out of certain subjects. Michael Hulse (in Hamilton. Putting a poem into a syllabic count. Nevertheless. syllabic counting has benefits in that it makes the writer account for every word in the poem. but it is not a cliche. The slow movement of these lines suits a snail perfectly.). Some say that it is used by inexperienced writers because it is easy. whether in an early draft. It is also thought to be unsuitable for English verse.Glossary 101 SCANSION See a Note about Metrics in Chapter 3 (pp. 66ff. For a fine example of this kind of syllabic poem. no use. or later.

Exercise: Inent a syllabic stanza and sttempt a poem on the theme of youth or age.102 How to Write Poetry line length in each line is varied. Exercis: Read Thomas's Poem in October and 'Fern Hill'. 1981) SHORT FORMS Short forms. It is worth reiterating a point here that I have made before: constraints like these actually set the writer free. 5. Marianne Moore used syllables in much of her work. In the latter case. there is a much effective use of assonance .Identify as much assonance as you can find ('rars'/ 'dark' / 'hay'/ 'air are examples"). only with vowels. Identify the rhymes in the second of the two poems. Her poem The Steeplejack' looks like free verse (see Moore. 5 Tanka: 5. 7. Both the length of the poem and the syllabic count of each line were magically appropriate to the subject: a pregnant woman ('Metaphors' in Plath. and a rhyme pair in each stanza. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem with nine lines. 1991). Dylan Thomas uses a syllabic count in 'Poem in October' and Tern Hill' (Thomas. with their syllabic counts: Haiku: 5. 8. 6. Writing without constraints imprisons the writer in his feelings. or or death. It is constrained by a complicated syllabic count. 7. 7 Cinquain: 2. 7. 2 SYNAESTHESIA Mixing the senses: The cloud's slow music / Across the winter sky . It isn' alliteration. 4. There is a syllabically counted poem of my own on pp. the poem is occasionally rhymed. 1952). and with nine syllables in each line. 67-68. make a note of the syllablic count (note that certain words are open to more than one count).

I find this poem very moving. They are far from exhaustive. W. DICTIONARIES 'the very / best money can buy' (Auden. But a poet's study without them is like a football training ground without footballs. their sounds. To change the image. among them are 'a light one / could mend a watch by' and 'dictionaries (the very / best money can buy)'. or a doctor's surgery without medical reference works. But to go back to the dictionaries: I don't recall reading.. Auden lists his workroom's contents. for the journeyman writer . and they do not pretend to be objective. I try whenever I read it to see Auden's surroundings.. is the carpetbag that carries his stock-in-trade: words'. in passing. but only their meanings and pronunciations. . Any aspiring poet should possess several dictionaries. The Cave of Making' ('Here silence / is turned into objects'). any advice on these books. There is no point in owning dictionaries that are not etymological — that do not give information about the derivation of words. the way Auden breaks the line about the watch between 'one' and 'could': someone is studying dials and cogs between the end of one line and the beginning of the other. So I have prepared these notes.. H..Books 1. 1976) In his poem (1976) about his study at Kirchtetten. their histories. It is worth noting. and to quote Fairfax and Moat (1981). because he or she has to be obsessed with words: their meanings. in any manual about the writing and publication of poetry. 'the dictionary .

They contain newer words that the older dictionaries predate. and which contain new words. The latest edition of this book is the New SOED. the etymological entries are full and illuminating. There have been several editions of this book since then. The latest is the tenth edition. and contains meanings of obscure words that the poets you will read as a poet sometimes use. The first kind is a workaday book to check the spellings and meanings of workaday words. I do not possess an example of the fourth kind: dictionaries that appear in frequent editions. Judy Powell. My example of this kind is the Concise Oxford. The Daily Telegraph called it 'the greatest dictionary in any language' . The third kind of dictionary is a more up-to-date kind: The Longman Concise. I don't doubt what poet friends of mine say who do own it: it is the accepted authority on the evolution of the language. or the Collins English are my examples of this type. often to do with cyberspace. ed. there are various kinds of dictionary. I haave never owned one of the latter. 4th edn (1997). It is 'shorter' only by comparison with its big brother. The second kind of dictionary is much bigger. though. and one should own at least one example of each of the following. and also contain proper nouns and the names of famous people: a late 20th-century development in lexicography. I suspect that they have limited use for poets. Given that etymological condition. I have used it. Also. and possessed uniquely by writers for the Telegraph. as well as the petals. My example is the Shorter Oxford. 2001. There is another kind of dictionary. computers and high technology. since it must have been written by someone who knows every language on earth: an unusual accomplishment. 'I include in the meaning of a word not only its corresponding objects but likewise all the associations which it recalls'. Vladimir Nabokov's favourite (Brian Boyd (1999) tells us in Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire) was the second edition of . The Shorter comes in two large volumes. the 20-volume Oxford. but pressure of current usage will probably mean than it soon will) this is the ideal book. you will be interested in the soil and roots under the flower of any word that you interesting comment. and there is only one example of it. given to me when I went to college the following year. As Coleridge wrote in Biographica Literaria. My copy is an example of the old fifth edition from 1964.104 How to Write Poetry As a poet. If you want to check the meaning of a word like 'prevaricate' (it doesn't yet mean 'procrastinate'. in public libraries.

These are like dictionaries. For example. Poetry should aspire to the most important skill required in the writing of poetry: lucidity. if. It suggests that what we are saying is more important than the reader's understanding. There is a sentimental delusion among inexperienced poets that the skills required in the writing of prose are not required in the writing of poetry. citta in Italisn. there is no such thing as 'poetic licence'. Stadt in German. unable to write anything. 1951) are enjoyable and useful. One is the Britannica World Language Dictionary. An edition of Samuel Johnson's is a useful curiosity. 1992). I often play with this list. 'A large portion of the language of every good poem can in no respect differ from that of good prose'. stad in Swedish and shtot in Yiddish. I call as witness here William Wordsworth who wrote in the preface to Lyrical Ballads. 2. for example (Ayto and Simpson.Books 105 Webster's New International I have the third. by that. users of the phrase mean freedom to write how we like as long as we express ourselves. The poet Sylvia Plath used thesauruses: somewhere there is an account of the way she obsessively marked these books in preparation for the making of her later poems. we can learn here that 'city' is ville in French. like light shining across a dark path. 110-15) 'Among other kinds of writing': I mean prose. Specialist dictionaries are also useful: dictionaries of slang. On the contrary. When poetry is . The choice of other more specialist dictionaries will depend on your interests. it is bad manners. 1979) and The Everyman. At such depressing times. There is also another list of 'other languages to English'. as far as I know. of course. an idea for a poem comes. the ground-breaking collection he made with Coleridge. the first is of words from English to other languages. ciudad in Spanish. A LIST OF BOOKS ON WRITING AND PUBLISHING POETRY (SOMETIMES AMONG OTHER KINDS OF WRITING) NOT IN THE REFERENCES (pp. but contains lists of words with their synonyms. This list has been useful to me when I have been stuck. This unique publication has features that no other dictionaries of English have. which contains two lists. then. When prose is obscure. Dictionaries of quotations (The Oxford. Look up words like 'beer' or 'peace' and you get clear glimpses of the social and political history of Europe. I like dictionaries of the Bible. A charming and unique feature of Webster is its relic of American puritanism: its doesn't print words not in polite use.

London: Nelson. London: A. Nottingham: University of Nottingham. Birkett. 3. It does not leave the reader baffled because words have been used ambiguously. It does not break conventional rules about grammar without good reason. A LIST OF BOOKS ON CHILDREN WRITING POETRY THAT ARE USEFUL FOR ADULTS TOO. John Dryden (Roberts. Macmillan. and that involves an understanding of what good prose is. 'swank'. Peter (1985) How to Publish your Poetry. Sandy (1994) To Rhyme or not to Rhyme. Eliot again) between 'words and their meanings'. It does not ask the reader to re-read a sentence because that sentence might mean different things. 1986) said that 'Wit is best conveyed in the most easy language'. Robin (1978) Poetic Truth. The same must be said of the work of the philosopher Wittgenstein who. London: Hodder & Stoughton. John (1989) The Poetry File: Strategies for Poetry Teaching. as T. poets will find instructive for his attempt at lucidity in the face of the most complex issues. it is all too often. Alison (1992) The Craft of Writing Poetry. Skelton. Ian (1989) Against the Grain. AS LONG AS THEY (THE ADULTS) AREN'T PROUD Brownjohn. Chisholm. Eliot bluntly put it somewhere. & C. Thomas. or rather that the journey towards those truths is difficult. London: The Women's Press. Sellers. Cotton. Susan (ed. London: Allison & Busby. I think. Sue (1995) Creative Writing: A Handbook for Workshop Leaders. Of course. Let me write a sentence or two about what good prose is not. Black.) (1991) Taking Reality by Surprise: Writing for Pleasure and Publication. poetry is sometimes difficult. London: Allison & Busby. London: Heinemann. . but I do not believe that he aims to be. S. it is simply that the truths for which he is searching are difficult. A trenchant book on this subject is Graves and Hodge (1947). Fairfax. London: Hamish Hamilton. When we write we should aim at being understood. Finch.106 How to Write Poetry obscure. S. A poet like Geoffrey Hill is hard to read. John (1989) Creative Writing. London: Nelson. That is because it is a painful struggle (T. Julian (1983) Word Power: A Guide to Creative Writing.

how have you got this far? Crystal. Hoad. John (1990) Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins. London: Hutchinson. London: Penguin. Burgess. Barfield. London: Faber. London: Hodder & Stoughton. F. Oxford: Clarendon Press. especially English. One of those books that it is possible to waste hours with. Anthony (1992) A Mouthful of Air: Language and languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. And if you aren't. R. A LIST OF REFERENCE BOOKS FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE Amis.' This book cannot be anything but useful and absorbing. Ay to. Buy this book if you are interested in words. (1996) The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. T.Books 107 Pirrie. Burchfield. Where else can you find The Lord's Prayer in Esperanto? An eccentric and absorbing book. . (1986) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Harry (1989) Good English Guide. W. Look up 'berserk' for example. The Burchfield revision of this old favourite is less eccentric than the first two editions. Fieldhouse. Owen (1953) History in English Words. I like them all. Learn history through etymology. learning all the while something about the English language: what begins like a pleasurable waste of time ends up not being that at all. Jill (1987) On Common Ground: A Programme for Teaching Poetry. It says on the cover: The histories of over 8000 words explained. London: Bloomsbury. David and Crystal. London: HarperCollins. Surprisingly liberal in places. London: Dent. 4. Hilary (2000) Words on Words: Quotations About Language and Languages. Kingsley (1997) The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage.

But a necessary book for anyone curious about English poetry. Two Oxford books. Salter and J. (ed. Martin H. with their navy-blue covers and their gold-tooled spines give the impression of tradition and authority. and many good ones chosen because he would have looked foolish omitting them. The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English (1999. There are books that cover different periods of English Verse. 2000. The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (edited by Philip Larkin. Ferguson. eccentric without being interesting. The ones that cover the whole period. 1995. Stallworthy. as together they expose the changing tastes of the 20th century. London: The Harvill Press) edited by Michael Schmidt. sometimes not. Sometimes that impression is deserved. M. London: Penguin). . A SHORT LIST OF POETRY ANTHOLOGIES The Oxford Anthologies These books. chosen and edited by Helen Gardner in 1970. The best anthology of English poetry is undoubtedly Paul Keegan's The New Penguin Book of English Verse (edited by Paul Keegan. 1973. The New Oxford Book of Classical Verse in English Translation (eds Adrian Poole and Jeremy Maule. London: Book Club Associates. is noneccentric and reliable. Partridge. containing many rank bad poems. chosen and edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1900.) (1988) Bloomsbury Good Word Guide. edited by Christopher Ricks (1999). from the emergence of English from the marriage of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. Looking at these books is fascinating. are described here. Eric (1982) Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English. Now there is another Oxford Book of English Verse. The American equivalent of these books is The Norton Anthology of Poetry. and published by Norton. Once there was The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900. especially how this lovely poet could be so bad a judge. 4th edn (1996) edited by M. 5. J. Oxford University Press) represents the lowest part of Philip Larkin's life as a man of letters: dutiful (he read everything) without being inspired. London: Bloomsbury.108 How to Write Poetry Manser. Then there was The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1950.

Anyone who wants to write poems should examine anthologies on the shelves of bookshops and libraries. by taking into account the translators' usual style. I was reading versions of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado beside a swimming pool in Andalucia. See also James Michie's versions. Both the books I have mentioned are useful in that they supply many translations of a given poem. or African Caribbean framework. It is easy to forget that there is a way of making poems beyond our own Anglo-Saxon. Poets will move on to individual collections by poets as varied as possible. and seeing foreign poems forced into our language. Any poet will probably find a Latin poet who appeals to their temperament. 1980. Horace and Catullus. This is very selective list. But poets have a duty not to be entirely trapped in the culture and language of their own time. of Martial (1978). and then in Porter's Collected Poems (1983). can only be educational. Note that good translations are never mere cribs of the original: they have to be good poems in English. CarneRoss and Haynes (1996) is a valuable glimpse into the poetry of Horace. published as After Martial (Oxford University Press). our culture. Oxford University Press) provide necessary windows on to the world of poetry that is not in English.Books 109 Oxford University Press) and The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation (ed. . The Peter Porter (1972) versions of Martial. so that the reader can get a little closer to the original than is usual. and the English hotelier. Charles Tomlinson. what is the point of reading poetry in translation? She used a version of Robert Frost's argument that poetry is what gets lost in translation. up to a point: certainly the subtleties of any foreign poem cannot jump the gap between languages. who had a degree in Spanish asked me. Michie has also translated Catullus (1972). Both these books could be taken to a desert island and give years of pleasure study. My choices are Martial. That is only a beginning: anthologies are merely tasters. more faithful. Well. too. are entertaining for anyone who likes poetry that is short and filthy. They stretch our definitions of what the art can be.

London: Temple Smith. London: Faber. Brodsky. (1976) Collected Poems. D. W. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. A Tate Gallery Anthology. edited by Edward Mendelson. John and Simpson. edited by J. Fleur and Simms. Martin (2001) The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews. London: Faber. Brian (1999) Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire. Joseph (1987) Less Than One: Selected Essays. London: The Tate Gallery. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Nicholas (ed. Boswell. Ay to. H.References Adams. Rupert (1912) The Complete Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Amis. London: Penguin Brooke. Bagnall. Blake. Newcastle: Bloodaxe. Bishop. (1971) A Commonplace Book. London: Chatto & Windus. Brownjohn. LL. John (1992) The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang.) (1973) New Movements in the Study of English. Adcock. W. Bronowskya. Fleur (2000) Poems 1960-2000. Elizabeth (1991) Complete Poems. Jacqueline (1995) The Oxford Book of Creatures. London: Hodder & Stoughton. H. Kingsley (1974) Ending Up. Sandy (1980) Does it have to Rhyme. William (1958) A Selection of Poems and Letters. Auden. Auden. London: Cape. Adcock. Brownjohn. Amis. James (1906) The Life of Samuel Johnson. London: Hodder & Stoughton. . London: Oxford University Press. Boyd. 1971-2000 London: Cape. Sandy (1989) The Ability to Name Cats. Pat (1986) With a Poet's Eye.

Gibson. Browning. Ewart. London: Macmillan. Crossan. . London: Macmillan. Causley. Carroll. D. Tracy (ed. Crossley-Holland.) (1979) The Exeter Riddle Book. London: Jupiter Books. John (1996) Selected Poems.) (1976) The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy. John Dominic (1995) The Essential Jesus: What Jesus Really Taught. Drury. London: Faber. T. S. London: Bloomsbury. Everyman's Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs (1951) compiled by D.. Tony (ed. S. Charles (1996) Collected Poems for Children. Fairfax. H. London: Dent. John (1981) The Way To Write.) (1974) The Puffin Book of Magic Verse. John (1991) Creating Poetry. Charles (1992) Collected Poems. San Fransisco: HarperSanFranciso. Gavin (1991) Collected Poems 1980-1990 London: Hutchinson. edited and with an Introduction by Roy Gasson. London: Faber. Eliot. Curtis. T. London: Elm Tree Books. From Dennis O' Driscoll's 'Pickings and Choosing' Column in Poetry Ireland Review. London: Faber. London: Faber. S. John (1984) The Storyville Portraits. Crossley-Holland. Chat win. London: Puffin. Fowler. Douglas (1985) Elegies. Cotton. James (ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. John and Moat. Chicago: St James Press. Eliot. Kevin (trans. Cope.. Clare. Paul (1994) Give Me Your Hand. Liverpool: Headland. Kenneth (1996) Horace in English. Chevalier. C. London: Macmillan. London: Penguin. Bruce (1987) The Songlines.) (1991) Contemporary Poets Fifth Edition. Charles (ed.) (1997) As the Poet Said . and Haynes. Lewis (1978) The Illustrated Lewis Carroll. Durcan. Causley. Dublin: Poetry Ireland/Eigse Eireann. Wendy (1986) Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. (1963) Collected Poems. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books. Kevin (1982) The Riddle Book. London: Penguin. (1926) A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.References 111 Carne-Ross. Catullus (1972) The Poems of Catullus translated by James Michie. W. London: Panther. Dunn. London: Picador. London: Macmillan. London: Macmillan. Collins Dictionary of the English Language (1979) London: Collins. Causley. (1969) The Complete Poems and Plays.

Grigson. edited by Ian Donaldson. Joyce. London: Cape. Oxford: Oxford University Press. London: Heinemann. Hourd. Herbert. James (1992) Ulysses. London: Penguin. London: Allison & Busby. London. Ian (ed. Penguin. Ted (1982) The Rattle Bag. F. London: Faber. London: Hodder & Stoughton Harrison. (1949) The Education of the Poetic Spirit. George (1961) Poems. London: Andre Deutsch. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ted (1997) The School Bag.) (1994) The Oxford Companion to Twentiethcentury Poetry in English. Holmes. Hill. Grigson. London: NFER/ Nelson. Gunn. Richard (ed. Seamus and Hughes. Ben (1975) Poems. Heaney. Heaney. Thorn (1993) Collected Poems.) (1986) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Philip (1973/4) Phoenix: a Poetry Magazine.) (1996) Selected Poems. Matthew (1965) The Faber Book of Ballads. Paul (ed. Robert and Hodge. Harris. Philip Larkin issue. Heaney. Robert (1961) Poems from Hesperides and Noble Numbers. Marjorie L. T. London: Everyman's Library. London: Penguin. Keegan. Hoad.) (2000) The New Penguin Book of English Verse.112 How to Write Poetry Graves. Martin (1984) A Dictionary of Literary Terms. Geoffrey (1975) The Penguin Book of Ballads. London: Harper Collins. Robert (1961) Selected Poems. Hodgart. Kemp. (ed. Hamilton. London: Faber. Seamus and Hughes. Gray. Harlow: Longman. Jonson. Geoffrey (1982) The Private Art. London: Penguin. Larkin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. . Herrick. London: Faber. Selected and introduced by John Hayward. Herrick. Alan (1947) The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. Tony (1983) Learning through Writing. London: Faber. Peter (1998) The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations. Rolf (1993) Me and You and Poems 2 collected and illustrated by Rolf Harris from an original compilation by Michael Johnstone. Geoffrey (1959) For the Unfallen. Seamus (1979) Field Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Autumn/Winter. Oxford: Oxford University Press. London: Faber.

Peter (1978) The Cost of Seriousness. London: Everyman's Library. Sylvia (1981) Collected Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. London: Everyman's Library. London: Faber. MacCaig.) (1970) The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium. Plath. Day Lewis and with a Memoir by Edmund Blunden.References 113 Larkin. London. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) (1973) The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. edited with an Introduction and Notes by C. George (ed. Grevel (1981) The Opium Eater: A Life of Thomas de Quincey. London: Faber. Michael (1964) A Concise History of Painting from Giotto to Cezanne. Les (1991) Collected Poems. London: Faber. Muldoon. Longman Concise English Dictionary (1985) Harlow: Longman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pirrie. Charles (ed. Robert (1962) Imitations. Alexander (1956) Alexander Pope's Collected Poems. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Vladimir (1992) Pale Fire. Mitchell. Lindop. London: Dent. Owen. London: Faber. London: Chatto & Windus. 3rd edn (1979) Oxford: Oxford University Press. Merrick.) (1997) The Faber Book of Beasts. Panichas. Opie. lona and Peter (1973) The Oxford Book of Children's Verse. Wilfred (1963) The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Paul (1980) Why Brownlees Left. Norman (1990) Collected Poems. . Lowell. Levey. edited with an Introduction by Ted Hughes. Philip (1988) Collected Poems.) (1996) The Orchard Book of Poems. Brian (1989) Talking with Charles Causley. London: Faber. Moore. Porter. Oxford: Oxford University Press. London: Faber.) (1977) The Simone Weil Reader. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. The. Murray. London: Chatto & Windus. Marianne (1968) The Complete Poems. Martial (1978) The Epigrams selected and translated by James Michie. New York: David McKay. Nabokov. Newman. Adrian (ed. London: Orchard. London: Thames & Hudson. Manchester: Carcanet. Pope. National Association for the Teaching of English. Larkin. Philip (ed. Jill (1987) On Common Ground. edited with an Introduction by Bonamy Dobree. Paul (ed. Penguin. Muldoon.

Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sedgwick. Fred (2001) Teaching Literacy: A Creative Approach. Stevens.114 How to Write Poetry Porter. Sedgwick. London: Routledge. Fred (ed. Fred (1991a) Smiths Knoll. Raine.) (2001) Concise Oxford Dictionary. Berkhamsted: Priapus Press. Fred (ed. Sedgwick. Craig (1979) A Martian Sends a Postcard Home. Philip Da vies (1986) How Poetry Works. Sedgwick. Judith (ed. Peter (1983) Collected Poems. Smiths Knoll (2000) No. editors. London: Mary Glasgow. Fred (1991) Lies.) (2000c) Themes for Poetry. Liverpool: Headland. Dunstable: Folens. Smiths Knoll (1995) No. John (1973) Discovering Sociology: Studies in Sociological Theory and Method. Liverpool: Headland. Sedgwick. Sedgwick. Fred (ed. Newcastle: Bloodaxe. . London: Routledge. Spokes Magazine (Winter 1992). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Powell. Fred (1987) Falernian. Spring. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 4th edn (1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10th edn. Sedgwick. Pauline (1992) Sighting the Slave Ship. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sedgwick. Fred (1999) Blind Date. 9. Neil (1982) 'Making Poems'. London: Faber.) (2000b) Forms of Poetry. Ipswich: Tricky Sam! Sedgwick. London: Continuum. Dunstable: Folens. Sedgwick. London: Viking. Wallace (1953) Selected Poems. London: Thames & Hudson. Meic (1990) A Dictionary of Literary Quotations. Rex. 23. Raine. Powell. London: David Fulton. London: Routledge. Fred (1997) Read my Mind: Young Children. Roberts. Use of English. London: David Fulton. Fred (1986) The Living Daylights. Sedgwick. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles 3rd edn (1965) Oxford: Oxford University Press. Poetry and Learning.) (2000a) Jenny Kissed Me. Sedgwick. London: Penguin. Stainer. Craig (2001) Collected Poems. Michael Laskey and Roy Blackman. Fred (1989) This Way That Way. Fred (2002) Witt There Really Be A Morning?. Stillman. Stephens. Frances (1966) The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary.

William (1933) The Prelude or Growth of a Poet's Mind. J. Matthew and Hartley Williams.) (1975) The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. London: Oxford University Press. London: Macmillan. P. 16. London: Penguin. Sutherland. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (1986). (1970) Creativity. Yeats. E. Wordsworth. Whitman. London: Macmillan. Dylan (1952) Collected Poems 1934-1952. P. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Vernon. Barry (1996) The Writer's Companion: The Essential Guide to being Published. Turner. Weil. The Times Literary Supplement (1981) 26 June. (1961) The Collected Poems. B. (eds) (1996) Martial in English. P. Thomas.) (undated) The Interpreter's House No. translated by Arthur Wills. London: Hodder Headline. S. New York: G. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica. New York: Sterling Publishing Company. J. Simone (1947) Gravity and Grace. Sweeney. John (1997) Writing Poetry and Getting Published. . edited by Ernest de Sellincourt. London: Penguin. and Boyle. Thomas. R. A. London: Dent.References 1 1 5 Sullivan. John (ed. Putnam's Sons. 'Metrics' (undated) in Merryn Williams (ed. W. Walt (1997) Poetry for Young People.

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105 Collins. William 34-5. Pieter the Elder 73-4 Bridges. Billy xv commonplace book 41 competitions 82. 40. James 6 Bible. vii. John 9-10 clerihews 23-4 Cleveland. 35 Brownjohn. 99. 97. 95 Breughel. H. John 62. 78 Chatwin. 23-4. Sandy 16. Joseph ix. Lewis 2. John 22 cliche II. J. Geoffrey xviii children. Wendy xvii. 103 Ayres. Elizabeth ix. 22. xviii—xix. 40. 101 Clifford. 50. 95 Carroll. 70 Cotton. 12. 27. 29. Kingsley 8 Amis. Bruce 29-30 Chaucer. 25. 43. B. 47. 85 caesura 97 Campbell. xx. 50. the 54-5. 71 advertisements 24 alliteration xix. couplet 98 craftsmanship xiii. 34 Blake. Winston 28 cinquain 102 Clare. 62. 92. Thomas 12 Carr. 79 Catullus 79. 97. Maya xv Armitage. 41-2. 82. 102 Amis. Fleur xxi. Robert 101 Brodsky. 15. 83. 11. 98. Samuel xviii. Rupert 10. 90 Brooke. writing for 60 Churchill. Arnold xx Berry. Pan 63 ballad 83 bathos 28 Beckett. 96. Thomas 93 Carlyle. 53. see 'metrics' Adcock. Charles 61. 109 Causley. Johnathan 95 Coleridge. 94 Cope. Samuel vi Bennett. 71-3. W. 53. 99. 105 Bishop. Martin xvii Aristotle 47. 43. 91. xv . Simon xv Auden. 102 Angelou. 70 Arvon Foundation 33 assonance xix. 43. 104.Index For all metric terms. ix.

S. 91 John. Seamus xii. 92 learning 89 Lessing. T. Rudyard kyrielle 85 xvi Crossley-Holland. 81 Harrison. xvii. 43. 5-6.118 How to Write Poetry Herbert. 63. 93. 23. 28-9. 15 Herrick. the 35-6 Eliot. 90 dictionaries 103-5 Donne. Gwen 73 Johnson. D. Ben 47—8 journals 40 Joyce. Robert 79 MacCaig. Douglas xv. 101 haiku x. 109 Housman. 64. 78. 24. John xiii. Norman ix. Lucien 77 Freud. John 11 Kipling. Karl 44 . Geoffrey xv. James 3. 27-28 Keats. xix. Philip 39. 90 Hopper. Kevin 17-8 cummings. A. 23-4 lists. Gavin xx. 28. 90 Hill. 102 Hardy. 6. George xiii. 45 Gunn. Geoffrey xix. 40. 93 Henri. 37 Machado. Keith 4 drafts ix. 63. 32 Larkin. 54. Ralph Waldo 30 enjambement or run-on 100 etymology xix. Mark xv Douglas. e e 91-2 curiosity xi Dante xiv Da Vinci 53 de la Mare. 109 Giacometti. 1 free verse 98 Frost. Tony 63 Heaney. Antonio 109 martial 79-80. Alberto (poem about him) 15 God viii. A. 64 elements. xvi. Doris xix lies 25-6 light verse 23 limericks. 101 Dryden. Walter 4. Miroslav xx homage 78. 66. 66. E. xviii. Gerard Manley 29. 27 Jonson. 106 Hollo. 109 'Martian' poetry 37-9 Marx. Sigmund xviii. 49 Graves. Robert vii. H W 21 Freud. 90 Hopkins. xviii Doty. Edward 72-3 Horace xiv. 72. xv. John 106 Duffy. Robert 4 Grigson. 80 Hughes. 62. Anselm 92 Holub. Samuel xv. 40. 93. Thomas xi. 30-1. 4. xvii. 25 form 54 Fowler. 89. 64. Emily xiii. 53. 40. 93 Hulse. Lawrence. Thorn 66. Ted xv. H. Michael 101 imagination 54 imitations 78 Imlah. 4. 39. chapter 1 49 Lowell. 23 Dickinson. 106 Emerson. Mick 64 inspiration xx Internet xxi. xiv. 103-4 Ewart. Robert vii. Carol Ann xv Dunn. 31-2.

24. Christopher xvii Roeves. Wilfred 40. 29-30 Nashe. 99 shape poems 13-6 Shelley. Patmore. xii. 83 Tate Gallery 72 Porter. 101-2 Plath. 43 tanka x. xix.Index metaphor 24. 82-3. 105 play xviii-xix. 100 Ruskin. 27-9. 44. Neil 54 Thomas. Edward 4. 102 Pope. 44. 29 Nabokov. 99 translation. 52 Porter. 102 102. James 80. Frances 53. 102 metathesis 3 metrics 53-60 Milton. Emily vi. 66. 83 photographs 78 Swift. 109 modern painters (magazine) 77 Montaigne 1 Moore. 37 . William 3 Owen. Matthew ix. 98-100. 99. 13. synaethesia 11. 56 parodies and pastiche 78-9 Sweeney. 23 Thales 32 Powell. 40-2. xiv. 56. Cole 64 technique xiii. R. Thomas 68 National Gallery 72 notebooks 76 rhyme and rhythm 25. Vladimir (his poet from Pale Fire. Pablo 30 syllables 66-8. Ezra xvii. five ix Shakespeare. 44. 62 Rossetti. 56 Michie. 88. 31. 6. 100 Stainer. Christina 54. S. 40. 79. xiv. 102 riddles 17-21 Ricks. Coventry 32 xvii. Hannah xx Muldoon. 53. 64. 40. 102 More. 104 names and naming 12-3. 43 puns xix. 1 Rossetti. 18. P B xii simile xi. xiv. 21. xi. Alexander xiii. 86. 45 parallelism 99 Stillman. 45. Robert 79 Ovid xiv Spooner. or enjambement 20. Christopher 63 onomatopoeia 99 Southey. Craig ix. xvi process and product 34 toil xv. John Cowper 4 Thomas. poetry in 109 Tsvetaeva. Wallace 16. xvii. xiii. 70. 56. William xiii. 99. John 54 119 scansion 101 senses. Marina ix Raine. Marianne 64. John Shade) 29. 93. Peter 25. 44 Thomas. 97-8. Pauline 72 oxymorons 21—3 stanza 101 Stevens. 48. 21. 44 Smart. Sylvia vii. Dylan 102 prepositions 17. 81 Powys. 43. 1—3. Paul xv. 10. D G 54 run-on. Jonathan 18 Picasso. 34. Alfred 97 Pound. 109 Tennyson. 52. 101 sincerity xiii obsession xi. 64. John x. xvi.

30. William xv. 83 Wittgenstein. Giambattista 30 Virgil xiv Weil. Vincent 75 vanity publishing 90. W. xvii. xvi. 54 . 49. John Hartley ix. B. art as an act of 32 Yeats. xviii. 29. Simone 32-3. xx. 72 Van Gogh. Jan 30-1. 95 Vermeer. 42. 56. 72-3 Vico. Walt xiii. xvii. 48-9 Whitman. 105 worship.120 How to Write Poetry Williams. 62. 46. 42. 45. xiv. Ludvig 106 Wordsworth.

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