Poetry Editing 101: Session Eight – Onwards

Sadly, we’ve come to the end of this little course. I hope you’ve found it useful.

There is still a very long way to go and much to learn on the path to poetry perfection, but if you follow the advice I’ve set out over these sessions, you’ll be heading out in the right direction and bringing your poetry to the point where it’s publishable.

Rather than cover a new topic, I wanted to end things with some final advice and tips for your continued poetry practice.

Right at the start, I outlined a process for writing and editing poems using multiple drafts formed out of your initial idea. I’d like to return to that for a moment and talk about its importance.

The goal of a good poem is to encapsulate a single theme/idea in a way in which the reader can unpack it in their minds and turn it from words on a page to actual experience. Does this sound like something that’s hard to do? It should – poets spend a long time in practice getting these things right, and you’ll never get to your best stuff on a single draft poem.

So here’s the first piece of advice I want to leave you with – stop writing one draft poems. They’ll never be good enough. They might pass muster in a workshop group but they’ll never be the best you can do and that shouldn’t be good enough for you.

The other important thing is reading. Many novelists will tell you, the only way to get good at writing fiction is to read loads and write loads. In the very first book I read about the art of fiction, Stephen King’s, On Writing, that advice was given multiple times like a mantra. It’s true of writing fiction and it’s true of writing poetry. If you want to write great poetry you need to read great poetry – and there’s so much of it out there.

Make your reading as wide and deep as possible. Read from all the schools and eras but, most importantly, read modern poetry – read what’s being written now.

Tim Liardet, one of my poetry tutors, used to say, “The more poetry collections you read, the more you start to sound like yourself.” This is true because, as you start your journey into poetry, I’ll guarantee you, you’re going to find that you’ll read poets entirely new to you and you’ll spend weeks writing poems afflicted by their style.

It’s impossible to avoid this when we’re in the formative stages of developing our craft because we get blown away by the work of a writer and we start to incorporate their phrasing, tricks, and tics in our own work.

There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s how we develop our toolbox and technical vocabulary. It fades as we read and write more and more and allow our own style and voice to emerge.

On the subject of voice, I want to say a little more on conservation of language. One thing I’m noticing is that many developing writers think it’s a good thing to edit out articles, conjunctions and prepositions from their work. This doesn’t add to conservation of language. It only makes your work sound weird and truncated.

Read the work of some great modern poets and you’ll see it’s not something that’s needed. Making your poetry sound as naturalistic as possible makes it better to read, easier to understand and much more accessible.

So there we have it. If you’re still with me, well done for getting this far. I wish you all the best with your journey onwards – read loads and write loads – let poetry be part of your life.

Now, go write!


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