Rediscovering the Music of Poetry

The 2015 Cheltenham Poetry Festival, held in the spring, was an exciting event in these parts. The tireless volunteer directors brought some amazing poets to Cheltenham. Listening to some of these poets and their work, I was captivated all over again by the power of poetry; by the force of language to move me, enthrall me, make me laugh or cry.

I was honoured to be in the line-up too, reading with Sue Johnson.  It was very rewarding to be reading our poetry to a smallish but nonetheless apparently appreciative group of kind souls who came to listen. 

My novel, Inscription, took many years to write, and during that time I didn't write very much new poetry, especially towards the end. The actual composition involved some of the same creative functions that poetry does, but in the latter years I was concentrating more on revision and structure and similar issues, and using the editorial bit of my brain more than the intuitive.

Now, for the last year and a bit, I've been working on rediscovering poetry and making it once more part of my life as a writer and as a reader.

How to do this? Well, poetry prompts with other poets can help—giving each other a small exercise and a deadline.  Also, a workshop can trigger all sorts of creative impetus. I was so lucky last year to be able to do a weekend-long workshop with fiction writer Amal Chatterjee and poet Jane Draycott. It was inspiring, stimulating, and reconnected me with myself.

Sometimes I enter contests, as I find (procrastinator that I am!) that the deadline marvellously focuses the mind. 

Going to local readings and short workshops is also worthwhile, and I enjoy doing that and participating in the local poetry scene.

And then there's reading poems in books! It's embarrassing how easy it has been for me to slip out of the habit of reading poetry regularly.  The new books I bought at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last year and at the Poetry Festival this year have really helped here. Poets I've been especially enjoying recently are Robert Peake, Michael Symmons Roberts, Daisy Fried, Jo Bell, and Sue Rose….to name but a few.

And of course you don't need to buy books to read poetry. So much classic and contemporary poetry is available online. For new work, there are now many well-respected online poetry journals, like Antiphon where my first poems to be published online (instead of in print) appeared.

 I've found out about some journals from unexpected sources. For example, I didn't think Twitter would lead me to poetry, but it has. Just today, I saw (because of the kinds of accounts I follow) an announcement about the online journal The Compass. Browsing around in its "pages" I found a lovely poem called "Against Hate" by Pippa Little. I haven't read the whole journal yet, but I'm sure there's more to enjoy there.

What I'm finding is that it's just a question of nurturing the poetry mindset. That used to be a place I lived in; but I drifted away from it. Now I am coming back.

As for the actual writing of poetry, I have been finding, as I return to it, that it's important to remember the sense of play, the delight of making something. This can be such an important part of the process. In all the endless revising and editorial work on my book, I'd lost sight of the actual joy.

"You need to rediscover the music,"  as one of my poet friends said.