Poetry, Bloody Hell – to paraphrase a dour, fantastically successful Scot (if only he’d joined Bristol City in 1986).
I am now, a published poet, with a book under my belt. Despite still having to pinch myself, this feels a huge validation. Six months ago I wrote a post concerning imposter syndrome. This one is as close as I’ll probably ever get to the opposite.
The fact of a book. My book, feels brilliant. Being able to read a collection of my poems in printed format makes an enormous difference to my sense of myself as a writer and a poet.
Obviously, I know each of the poems within intimately, having dreamt and sweated, chiselled and cut them into their final, public shape. Looking at them again, there in black and white, between soft covers, is really something else.
I was fairly excited when I first saw a proof with the acknowledgements and legals in place. Somehow that took things up an extra level of real beyond the previous rounds of proofs and pdfs.
Then, reading testimonies from more established poets, lifted the sense of achievement still further: that people other than me and the editor had read this collection of poems and not only liked them, but really liked them and were impressed, was massive for me.
For years I’d idly day-dreamed about maybe, you know, perhaps, writing a book, a novel. But never got further than a vague plot and a few pages of a first chapter. Finally, four years ago, something clicked. What I’d always done, was capable of and actually enjoyed doing far more than any other form of writing, was poetry. I realised that was what I should do, or rather go back to.
I had no specific aim, but having admitted the truth to myself, I started writing poetry again in earnest. Not only writing, but reading much more contemporary poetry than I had done for years.
Being a member of the National Poetry Library was an enormous help in this. Despite, famously there being no money in poetry, it can be quite an expensive pursuit, particularly when you want to read ever increasing amounts of it. Free access to a place filled with poetry magazines and collections has been invaluable. I’m lucky, living in London, means that I can get there often. We need more poetry libraries, more libraries full stop everywhere across the whole UK. Soon there will be a National Poetry Centre in Leeds, which is an exciting development.
With cuts and a government that actively seems to hate the arts, it can be hard to see what individuals can do to fight closures and lack of resources. Well, when it comes to poets and poetry, there’s one thing we can all do – use the libraries we have. And if we have a little bit of money to spare, buy pamphlets, buy books. Read, read, read and read some more.
Ahem, back to me.
What all this reading and exploring has done, is to help me start to build a stronger sense of the sort of poems I want to write.
This in turn has helped me to feel more confident about submitting poems to magazines and websites – the act of getting stuff out there (there’s some great recent inspirational material about doing this in Roger Robinson’s new book On Poetry and on his social media ).
And guess what? The more you craft and shape and finesse your work, the better you start to feel about it. I still get rejections of course, but I am much better at targeting where to submit and where to avoid, much improving my acceptance to rejection ratio.
There are other spaces to try your work in too. Top Tweet Tuesday, Black Bough Poetry’s weekly forum for sharing short, imagist poems, has been invaluable for me. This provides a regular place to showcase poems, comment on others and get some positive feedback.
Loads of poets, from emerging to very well established regularly take part and engage with the work. You never know who’s looking. It’s well worth taking part.
A few of the poems I’ve shared here over the last couple of years have made it – albeit in reworked form – into my book. Getting involved with Top Tweet Tuesday also brought me to the attention of Matthew M C Smith, who after I’d been posting short poems there for a couple of years, invited me to do a Silver Branch feature on Black Bough’s website. This then led on to the book, which was launched by Black Bough yesterday.
It’s so immensely pleasing to have a poet of Matt’s talent and enthusiasm, who does so much to boost other poets in the UK and far beyond, to be not only supportive, but to offer himself up as my editor and publisher. With his help I’ve done it, we’ve done it, I have a book out. I might even have to start calling myself a poet.
Why not have a read?