It isn’t all rhyming and sonnets. Fin.
But seriously, there’s this perception kicking about that poetry is super dull, cryptic, stuffed with elite vocabulary, and requires at least one ‘O’ or ‘thou’ to count as a proper poem. This is certainly what I thought I’d be writing when I got to uni, after having had archaic poems forced upon me in my time at school and during mes A-Levels. Anything that stepped away from this format seemed illegitimate and, as such, the idea that someone who was anything less than a literary genius could write poetry was utterly ridiculous. However! I was wrong. Obviously. After having had this epiphany, things became a lot easier, but I still had an awful lot to learn – and still do. Here are a few handy pieces of information I wish I’d been told when writing that first terrible (and I mean terrible) poem.
‘Oh my god, Summer, that is such a boring answer.’ Yes and no. If the poems you’re reading aren’t your thing then you might not have the best time, but that’s not to say you won’t still learn something from them. The wider your view on what is possible in a poem, the more comfortable you’ll probably be when trying out new styles and settling on a voice that works for you. Contemporary poets churn out such a vast collection of writing, and the more widely you read, the more interesting your writing will be. Kind of like a sponge. Fleshy poetry sponge.
THERE IS NO BAD
I know I called my first ever poem terrible, but technically it was still a poem and still had a place in my writing timeline. It served the purpose of getting me over that first and most difficult moment in which you actually start writing. Kind of like when a baby takes their first steps. They definitely aren’t doing it right, but they’re kind of doing it. And for some people those babies look cool as hell and that’s the best kind of walk ever. Others will think its crap. Opinion on what makes ‘good’ writing is inherently subjective, and everybody has different taste. No matter how much you hate a piece of writing, there will always be someone kicking about who’ll enjoy it.
NOT ALL POEMS NEED TO BE READ
Some poetry will be your proudest work ever ever ever, and you’ll want to hand it out to every poor human you encounter on the high street. That’s great, and for the most part poems should be given a space in which they can be experienced and celebrated, but this doesn’t need to be the outcome for every piece you write. In relieving yourself of this pressure, you’ll be more comfortable experimenting and perfecting your craft, and won’t have the compulsion to delete entire poems because you don’t think they’ll be well received. Please don’t do this. Please.
THERE IS NO TIMELINE
After having left assignments and the time-restricted pressures of writing to deadlines, I felt inherently lost and uncomfortable with my work. I now realise this is because I was expecting my poems to be finished in record time and done with. In reality, some poems will take minutes and two drafts before they’re finished, while others will take years of re-drafting, breaking down, and crying over before they start to take shape. While there is a danger of over-tinkering, it’s probable that you’ll begin to get a feel for what is and isn’t sitting right (from all the reading you’ve been doing – you’re welcome) and will be confident in putting it aside when it feels right.
WRITING IS NOT A LONELY ENDEAVOUR
This is so false it hurts to think about. As an extension of the ability to learn from reading the work of others, there is so much value in talking to poets and sharing opinions on your work. Not only will you make some super cool poet pals, but you’ll be able to learn from their wonderful brains and their input will most likely find ways to improve your work that you could never have thought of in your own time. These people can be found at live poetry readings and facilitated workshops, of which there are plenty, or even on the Forever A Writer Facebook community. They’re always lovely people, too.
Well, that’s it for now. Hasn’t this been fun? With any luck, there’ll be something in here that will bring an extra je ne sais qoui to your writing. At the very least, though, you should be celebrating anything that you manage to get down on the page.
Summer Young is a Norwich-born poet currently living in London. Her debut poetry pamphlet was published with Bad Betty Press in July of 2020 and made the Books Are My Bag award shortlist for the same year. When she’s not writing, she’s working in telly, managing Lemon Curd alongside her dear pal, Beth Phillips, and obsessing over potential future dog names. You can find her on Twitter at @MissYoungWriter or on Instagram at @SummerrBelle, where she posts mediocre content. Buy Summer’s pamphlet here: https://badbettypress.com/product/sylvanian-family-summer-young/