Poetry is a great way to capture in very few words a feeling or an experience, but writing can be a challenge. Poems can cover a wide range of emotions and explore subjects that would not normally be considered by a reader. You can be a poet before you know it by looking for inspiration, sitting down to write and finding a publisher.
Sir Andrew Motion is an English poet and novelist who from 1999 to 2009 was UK Poet Laureate.
Several poetry awards have been given to him, including the Arvon Prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize, and the Dylan Thomas Prize. In 2009, he was knighted for his literature services.
Here are the top ten tips to be a successful poet:
Let’s find your subject:
My parents have not been writers, and they have not read much either. My father once told me that in his life he had read only half a book. I had Peter Way, a wonderful English teacher. He walked straight into my head, turned on all the lights, and really gave me my life.
When I was 17, soon after I began to tinker with poems around, my mother had a very bad accident that eventually killed her. So I found that I wanted to express my feelings about it in ways that relieved me.
It sounds like saying something slightly self-aggrandising, but I’ve always thought my subject was death. You can’t find your topic, it will find you. It’s not just a matter of grief to write poems for me, but very often it’s that, it wants to resurrect or preserve or do things that pull against our mortality.
Tap your own emotions:
I never believe it when poets say they don’t write out of their own feelings, and I don’t tend to be terribly interested in what they’re doing when that’s the case.
I don’t mean they write bad poems, but they aren’t the poems I like most. The poems I like most are where the engine is a very emotional one, where the warmth of a strong feeling in the thing given to us is very powerfully present. I think poetry is an emotional form and I’m not very interested in it when it’s not that.
Write about topics of interest to you:
I wasn’t always happy to be commissioned to tell the truth as a poet laureate. The best poems are written, not by going through the subject’s front door, but through the window or round the back or down the chimney.
‘ Tell all the truth, but say it slantly, ‘ Emily Dickinson said, and for me that was always a very important remark. If you’re in a very public place, it can be quite difficult to do that.
People who live in public can get very bruised in the process if they are not used to it, as I found myself doing very suddenly. I found all that stuff in the public very hard to deal with. I never wanted to cut off myself, but I wish I had come up with better ways to protect myself.
Celebrate the ordinary and be selective:
Honor the ordinary’s miracles. What we need to remember very badly is that the things that are right under our noses are extraordinary, fascinating, irreplaceable, deep and merely wonderful.
Look at the things in the foreground and enjoy things that by being familiar can lose their glow. Indeed, re-estranging into familiar things appears to be a very important part of what poetry can do.
If you can, choose what you’re doing, so the things you’re writing are the things you’re doing the best.
Use all of your toolbox:
For many years now, I have not written a rhyming poem, I seem to have lost my appetite for it, but I have not lost my pleasure reading it. I don’t really think anyone who insists on the presence of rhyme thinks hard enough about what poetry is or can be.
Having said that, it is important to remember that as poets we have a kind of toolbox in which all kinds of different pieces of equipment are not available to any other type of writer and rhyme is one of those very important.
So it would never be like buying a car and never getting out of second gear to use rhyme in your poetry. Use all of your toolbox.
Go for a walk or wash your hair if you’re stuck:
Wordsworth once said the act of walking was closely linked to the process of creation. I love walking and if I go for a walk or if I don’t have a lot of time, I wash my hair-it seems to wake up my brain!
Even when I’m on a day of hair washing, I walk up and down my study, just to get myself going.
Poems are so crucial to moving words across a line or a series of lines, and that’s just as important as their shape and how I think we understand them.
Let your work be interpretable:
People are going to interpret your poetry in different ways, but as long as the interpretation brought to the poem is not clearly bonkers, I really enjoy it, I rather hope for it.
Your poem can be a world where your readers can go and live and search for things that resonate with them. And trying to restrict their reaction would be totally bonkers of me.
He said, ‘ He became his admirers ‘ in Auden’s beautiful eulogy for Yeats, and I think that’s sort of what he actually had in mind. You give your work to your readers, and as long as they are not crazy, what they find in it is absolutely open to them.
Read your poetry loudly:
Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely essential because wherever we think the meaning of a poem might lie, we want to admit it has as much to do with the noise it makes when we hear it aloud as it has to do with the meaning of the words when we see them written down on the page.
I think poetry is an acoustic form in a really fundamental way, and in the last thousand years we have slightly forgotten that. The aliveness of poetry may have been slightly pushed to the edge of things since the book’s invention.
Find the appropriate time to write:
Find your own time to write. Everyone’s going to have a slightly different time of day, I still have to meet the person who thinks the early afternoon is good, but I’m expecting somebody out there who thinks it’s a good idea.
It’s very early in the morning for me, partly because the house is quiet and partly because I feel like I’m stealing a march on things and I feel good about it.
I think when we’re asleep and write imaginative material, there might be some sort of hook up between what happens in our minds. I think good poems are being written because there is no doubt that good paintings are being painted as a result of these two things coming together in a suitable way.
Read a lot, review and stay tuned:
Read lots, write lots of things too, of course, but assume your first thoughts aren’t your best thoughts, so review, review, review, and don’t expect every poem to work, because it won’t work.
Don’t go to an ivory tower live. Read the newspapers and get involved in the world-where do you think if not the world comes from?
Persevere. I think right at the beginning of your writing life you really have to accept that you will be able to wallpaper quite a large room with slips of rejection within a few years, or possibly even a few months. But don’t let that put you off-if you have it, you have it!