If you’ve ever wanted advice on “How to be a Poet”, there’s a book with precisely that title, by key UK poetry publisher Nine Arches press, published in a few days’ time (20th December 2017.) It’s written by Jo Bell and Jane Commane – who are poets and editors in their own write (right).
The book is a sizeable 200 pages long, on sale for about £15 (depending whether you’ve buying in a real bookshop or an online retailer) and as well as Jo and Jane’s insights, includes articles by “special guests”.
How will this book help my writing?
Here’s what it says on the ‘tin’
“this book aims to help poets taking the next step in developing, working and participating in the wider creative community as a writer.
How to be a Poet combines practical advice and topical mini-essays that examine both the technical and creative dimensions of being a poet. It’s a no-nonsense manual where we’ve replaced the spanners with lots of ink, elbow grease and edits. At each step, we ask plenty of questions – what makes a poem tick over perfectly, how do we get it started when it stalls, and which warning lights should you never ignore?”
Straight off, note the “participating in the wider creative community” as key. If you’re wanting to become a published poet, there is a time of needing to get to know what is already being written and published. The idea of sitting in a tiny room, not caring tuppence what the rest of the world is thinking and saying, and that somehow the rest of the world will rush to buy your writing – well, it’s really just talking to yourself.
Even Emily Dickinson tried to get published in her own lifetime – she was considered too way-out to be published, and posthumously won great fame and followers because actually she was ahead of her time. But for almost everyone else, a starting place is actively reading and finding what other people are thinking and saying. You can still say something different and wildly ahead of its time, but you won’t even know if that’s what you’re writing, unless you are in contact with the writing of your contemporaries.
Also, just sitting alone in your room can be a difficult place, longterm, as a writer. Many now well-known poets (George MacBeth, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney) honed their craft through taking part in small critique groups run by Philip Hobsbaum. Someone else’s fresh eye and ear can help with sculpturing the words into a more powerful, accurate shape. As a small, personal example, I set up a trio of poets for us to meet and critique each other’s writing, and one of the group substantially improved the 2 other’s poems one week by only changing the line breaks i.e. altering the length of each line, without even rewriting a word. It was a memorable display of the power of a fresh pair of eyes.
Who’s Jo Bell?
Here she is, speaking about her new collection of poetry, “Kith”.