Writing Poetry

“Her smiles were spiderbites”
-Ted Hughes; Lovesong

I thought it might be good, as this is both a reading and writing blog, to talk through how I go about writing poems. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t really handwrite them, and despite buying a book in which to do so, the results have been minimal. I’m still choosing to write on my computer, or, increasingly, on my phone. It does help me a lot more with structure, and I feel like I’m organising my thoughts, rather than throwing them about all over the open page.

The quote above (which, in quite a drastic change, was originally Lana Del Rey) seems appropriate at the moment. When sitting down to write one of my recent poems, I had the words ‘spider bites’ in my head, and rediscovered them in Hughes’ ‘Lovesong’. I think I’d originally found the poem because it’d influenced Florence Welch. But it’s not often that a poem sticks in my head so much, and is reawakened at certain moments. I often find myself infusing song lyrics into my poems (the phrases ‘take shelter’ and ‘hold you down’ appear line after the other in one of my poems, inspired by Years & Years), but poetry meeting poetry feels a bit different.

Or at least, it does in the lines. The overall style of my poetry, mostly written for spoken word now, is hugely Kate Tempest inspired. Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ has the same kind of line structure/capitalisation that I use (this more a coincidence than an influence, but still). But to have one of Hughes’ phrases pop up was quite refreshing. The poem that came out of it is pretty good too, imo.

But all this is sort of repeating what I’ve said in other blogs (so, if you are a new reader, welcome, I’ve saved you most of the bother of reading the old stuff). The plan for this entry is to talk about what I do specifically when writing a poem. So to do this, I actually need to share a poem with you. There’s about three poems I’ve only ever shared to more than about two people, but aside from that my work tends to be very private (for now). But below is a poem called ‘Debut Album’, a poem about my poetry. It’s not one of the best ones I’ve written, but what it talks about is useful.

I try not to write pretentious poems,
I try not to write about birds and sunset.
If a heart is breaking,
I write the fact of its break,
I try not to describe the image
Of it crumbling apart in my hands.

If I could write love songs I would,
If I could write a novel I’d try,
But I’ve taken poetry to my heart,
I try to do it my way,
But sometimes it just crumbles in my hands.

I tend not to like poems that try to hard, and I don’t really go in for big metaphors when I’m writing. This is indicative of the simple and direct writing I try and go for. (Ironically, I do always think I sound pretty pretentious in these blogs, writing about writing without sounding like a dick can be tricky.) So, I’m going to have a go at deconstructing the poem. Which could be tricky, as I’ve picked one I can’t actually remember too much about.

  1. I wrote this on my computer. It’s a sort of ‘pre-poetry collection’ poem, and I’m trying to avoid the phrase ‘mission statement’ but that sort of gives the write impression. Think of it as Sam Smith’s ‘Money On My Mind’. Actually. Don’t.
  2. The title reflects this – it’s a track from a Debut Album, a poem for a first collection. It’s one of the many ‘Track One’ sort of things I’ve written over the years (I used to write a lot of ‘Final Track’ poems, but to be honest, I’ve no idea now how I’d end a poetry collection, and what with).
  3. I’m quite big on rhyme, which this poem is not. My rhyming poetry tends to be either very short (eg four lines) or very long (eg, over 60). This poem is written to be read. It’s not making a point, telling a story, reflecting on a feeling – it’s just saying what it is. It’s a small piece of catharsis, whereas a fair bit of my poetry is used as catharsis much more strongly.
  4. I’m not big on structure. I occasionally write sonnets, and I’ve written a vilanelle, but that’s about it. My haikus used to be haikus and now they just sort of hit three lines. I think vilanelle’s are beautiful forms of poetry, and I am super proud of my one, even if it is so unlike everything else I’ve written. I approached the vilanelle with the idea of looking at different perspectives on one event, and I think the rest of my poetry tends to have a progression within the poem. It tends to go somewhere, story-like. It was also more symbolic, more focussed on imagery, and again the poem you see above is just not. But ‘Debut Album’ does show my approach to poetry in its subject, as well as demonstrating how I generally tackle structure.
  5. There are a lot of commas in the poem, and this tends to stem from writing spoken word poetry. To get the energy up in writing, and for when I read it, it tends to be comma after comma after comma. This doesn’t work as well in written poetry. Kate Tempest (again) said something at the Edinburgh Festival this week about being taught the power that the semi-colon has on the page. If it is for the page, use the page. I haven’t learned that yet.
  6. So, does poetry crumble apart in my hands? Often. I think the disadvantage of computer-writing it is that I don’t always get what I’m trying to say out, and I’m not inclined to go back and fiddle. Poetry is in the moment, for me. I will edit in the moment, and this is more the case when writing it by hand or writing it on my phone, but I don’t like going back to it. It is a moment preserved. Poetry is more personal than perfect. If you hit perfect on the way though, a perfect you are happy with, then great. I think that’s when poetry becomes yours, and can become everyone else’s.

So, in summary: no structure really, multiple attempts at saying the same message, an inability to use punctuation, and all shown in a poem that’s not really typical of what I write. Poetry not for the spoken word is probably less favourable to me than the stuff I can speak, but I do get some good results, and ‘Debut Album’ is not a bad one. There are definitely better. I don’t feel it demonstrates any sort of skill – but I guess that particular poem is not meant to. It’s there to say. It’s not there to be interpreted. It’s a poem written into stone.

If you’re looking for poetry that someone doesn’t mind publishing online, and you’re a fan of more structured poetry, then I’d highly recommend checking out Poetical Delusion. George, the poet (not to be confused with ‘George the Poet’), writes with structure and rhythm and language much more in mind than I do. His poetry is redrafted to get it perfect, and he finds it easier to write in a more ‘traditional’ and structured way. It’s a very interesting contrast to my own work. There’s also quite a lot of imagery and metaphor in his work, and it’s lovely to read, so I would definitely go and check it out.

There’s one more thing I want to consider – and that’s something else Kate Tempest has said. She said that poetry is much more for the listener/reader, whereas music is much more for the singer. Considering poetry is almost my music substitute, I guess for me, it provides both. Poetry is very personal to me, and the words I have chosen are the words I have chosen. That’s partly why I bother less with structure and things, because it’s a way of getting out my thoughts, making them sound like they’re mine, rather than fashioning them into anything. But other people get out their thoughts by fashioning them, and it works just as well. Either way – poetry is personal, and although other people look for their own meanings and experiences (that’s how someone decides they like a poem, after all), I believe it’s very much a shared experience. So for me, in that sense, poetry really is my music substitute, and the poem on this entry really is the opening track to a Debut Album.

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