Last week’s interview into the poetic life with successful local poet, Sandra Gordon, showed her sharing her thoughts about poetry and naming some of her favourite modern and classic poets.
I loved discovering the Poetry Foundation website as I researched some of those Sandra named. I hope to make great use of this given the site gives biographies of poets and shares samples of their works. It could be a great place to go to if you wanted to read more of a poet’s work but weren’t sure where to begin. The Poetry Society website is also full of useful information.
This second half of the interview looks at Sandra’s views on the most difficult aspects of writing poetry plus she kindly shares her thoughts and tips which hopefully will help aspiring poets. She also discusses the importance of editing.
Sandra has performed her poetry live with recent appearances at the New Forest Folk Festival. She is also a member of the Lines and Squares Poets group. They have been running for three years and are a group of poets drawn together for festivals and events in the summer by Paul Canon Harris, who is Bournemouth based. The line up of the group changes and has included award and slam winning poets.
The group work collaboratively to lead workshops and also give mainstage solo performances. A wide range of poetic styles is included. The group takes its name from the poem by A.A. Milne.
And now for the rest of the interview…
Have you ever been on a writer’s retreat? If so, did you find it useful? Did it cover poetry well enough? (I appreciate the balance of retreats, courses, festivals etc is almost always on prose fiction, given more people write it, unless you go on a specific poetry one).
I have been lucky enough to go to several. There are plenty out there. The first was an Arvon course in Sheepwash, Devon. It was a poetry course and focused on poetry all week. The following year I did another Arvon course, this time at Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. Again just poetry.
This year, I did something a little different and attended one of Kim Moore’s courses in Cornwall. This one had a huge impact on me. It’s been my favourite so far. So many good poets attended and it was a joy to work alongside them.
I’ll soon be going to a Buddhist poetry retreat at the Ledbury Festival, a well-known poetry festival. The idea will be to meditate and then use what appeared during meditation to inform what we write. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome.
Allison: I find the most useful thing about writer get-togethers like festivals and so on is being aware you are not alone (even though you are as you write) but that there are others out there who know what it is like to go through the processes of writing. And if you get to make friends who you can continue to meet online or otherwise, so much the better!
What is the most difficult stage of writing a poem? The initial idea or the editing/honing of that first draft? (On average how many drafts do you do? Million dollar question I know. I write an average of 3 drafts on stories, more for novels and my blog posts).
Now, I think editing is the most important part of writing. Some poems appear just like that and require only a few edits but they are few and far between. Really only two or three of my poems have been like that. Poems are funny little things. You have to edit, edit, edit.
I find poems come fairly easily, editing them is far from easy. I can do countless edits…well, anything from eight to twenty eight. Some poems never get to the stage where I feel they are saying what I want them to say. I have some poems that I’m not quite happy with even though I worked on them for years and they’re sat on my computer waiting for me to find the right word, or right sentence.
Allison: With my short story writing, I take it to the point where I really don’t think I can do any more with it and then submit it. Having deadlines can help focus the mind too (!) and I have forced myself to let a piece go when I realise my edits are now not doing anything to improve the tale. Then that’s the time to test the market….
What would you like your poetry to achieve?
Wow, what a question. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it. I always try to make my poems the best they can be. I like to send them to publications that I respect, and love it when one is invited to be in amongst them.
Allison: It is one of the nicest aspects of writing when your work is accepted by a professional publication. I think all writers welcome this kind of vindication. Sometimes it helps prove to yourself you can do it!
What is your ambition as a poet?
Another question I’ve never really thought about. I just do it. However, I would like to see more of my poetry in quality publications. I would also like to share my love of poetry with others.
It’s amazing to chat with someone who has never really thought about the subject and then seeing them when they’ve read something or had a go at writing one for themselves and they’ve really enjoyed it. That’s special.
Allison: Indeed and I should imagine it is lovely when a poem has successfully conjured up images not thought about before.
Performance poetry – what is your view? Does it bring more people into appreciating poetry do you think?
This question really relates to the above one. Performance poetry, for me, is more about sharing in the joy of words, with others. Witnessing really good poetry in the performance setting and seeing a whole room hang onto every word, too, is very special. You almost become one with the audience.
Your top five tips for aspiring poets would be…
Firstly – I think my top tip would be to read, read, read. Writing poetry is great but you have to read the work of others. It educates, opens your eyes to new techniques and on occasion sparks ideas of your own.
Secondly – Go along to workshops that are taking place in your area.
Thirdly – If you are serious about wanting to write well, join a group either online or locally where you can share your work and receive informed feedback to help you improve your writing. Also, critiquing other poets can help you develop clarity in your own ideas.
Fourthly – read, read, read.
Fifthly –read, read, read.
Allison: And prose writers (fiction and non-fiction) would agree with all of these points.
Many thanks, Sandra, for sharing your hints and tips which will hopefully encourage other poets. One of the nicest things about creative writing is the support writers give one another. It helps a lot when the inevitable rejections come in and, later, when you have successes to share, your writer friends will (a) celebrate with you and (b) appreciate what it took to get to that point.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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