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Poetry Resolutions

Some writing resolutions for 2014, at the suggestion of Jo Bell

 1. Memorise poetry. Think about memorable spoken-word events and open-mic nights. Which poets made the greatest impact on you? Chances are the ones you remember are the ones who knew their work by heart and so were able to maintain eye contact with the audience, simply because they didn’t have to keep glancing down at their notes every few seconds.

Of course, if this were easy we’d all be doing it – plus I know of some very eminent, published poets who insist on reading from the page. Yet most of us will have memorised some poetry in the dim and distant past, and well-known lines will be firmly lodged in the brain (‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…’’Green eggs and ham…’ etc. etc.).

Surely, as poets shouldn’t we know our own work better than anyone else’s, even if it’s just the poems we tend to read most often?

Goal: Memorise enough poems for my 10-minute slot at The Quiet Compere Tour when it visits Leeds in June.

 

2. Make more use of strict form. When I studied creative writing a few years ago, one of the most enjoyable elements was learning about poetic forms hitherto unknown to me, and then having a go at them. Paradoxically, writing to strict form can often liberate, rather than constrain creativity, and that the structure might actually take the poem places it would never have gone in free verse, yet it can still feel daunting.

My notebooks contain plenty of unfinished poetry long since abandoned as ideas going nowhere, so perhaps revisiting these poems and trying to revitalise them using strict form might be a good place to start.

Goal: Write at least six poems in strict form over the coming year, and post them on this blog.

 

3. Research ways of getting more work published. Note that this doesn’t simply say ‘get more work published’; that’s not only too presumptuous, but also would fail to take account of the fact that I still don’t have much idea how to go about it.

Hence, this resolution is about getting more clued up, discovering what possibilities lie out there – things like pamphlets and chapbooks (are they the same?), poetry magazines etc. I have one self-imposed condition: ‘Published’ for me means work appearing in print – something tangible, that has staples in it and pages you can turn; so online doesn’t count!

Goal: Gain sufficient knowledge so that next year’s resolution is about actually making it happen.

 

And that’s all I‘m going to commit to. The stuff that I do for the Day Job tells me that setting any more than three goals invokes the law of diminishing returns i.e. the more you set, the less likely you’re to achieve. Of course there’s more I want to do – and I may well do it – but in terms of making a public commitment, three’s your lot…! Happy 2014.

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To post, or not to post…?

As most of you will have noticed, there aren’t many poems here. And there’s a reason for that, but I’m beginning to question whether or not it’s still actually valid.

Being relatively new to the poetry ‘scene’ (how that word still evokes images of the 1960s, smoky basements and Liverpool Poets!) and a bit wet behind the ears when it comes to unspoken rules and protocol, I’m always open to advice and guidance from those poets with more experience; seasoned poets, if you will, ones who’ve been around a bit, know what you can and can’t get away with, where the boundaries of decency are – that sort of thing. Well – getting back to the point – I was advised that, actually, it’s not a great idea for a poet to have a blog or website stuffed full with almost every piece of work they’ve ever produced. The justification for this nugget of wisdom is that often, publishers, magazines and competition rules stipulate specifically that all poetry submitted should be previously unpublished work, and that, in this digital age, the posting of one’s work on the web is considered as publication – in some eyes, anyway.

Now, paradoxically, I can understand why poets fortunate enough to have had work published try to avoid it appearing online gratis, because once in print, anyone interested enough in reading it should, not unreasonably, be expected to fork out for the privilege – otherwise poetry publishing as a business and service would cease to exist; so if you want to read my one (so far) published poem A Sunflower’s Tale, then I’m duty-bound to direct you to Puppywolf Publishing’s website, there to purchase a copy of Best of Manchester Poets Vol. 3.,  and allow Keir Thomas to eat another meal.

But how realistic is it to expect that once a poem has been tossed into the maelstrom of the world-wide web that it’s gone forever, and can never appear in printed publications (or even e-publications) or considered as a competition entry? And how often do publishers or competition judges check anyway? I know of many poets whose blog or Write Out Loud profile is full to the gunnels with work, and I struggle to believe that none of this is ever submitted for publication elsewhere. Equally, I know of other poets whose work is virtually impossible to find online, and who observe both letter and spirit of what potentially constitutes online ‘publication’. But which is right? And how does the unpublished poet go about getting his or her work known publicly, without it being forever barred from print in the process?

Maybe there is a middle ground. Notwithstanding the tendency of certain search engines to keep more stuff than is good for them in a cache for years to come, material on personal websites and blogs can be deleted just as easily as it’s posted – as indeed I did with my NaPoWriMo haul. So would there be anything terribly wrong in, say, posting a selection of poems on a blog and replacing it every couple of months or so with different stuff? And of course removing completely anything that’s actually accepted for formal publication in the meantime; I can’t really see any modern publisher arguing with that (although maybe you know different…!)

So that’s what I’m going to have a think about; perhaps the poems will return soon.

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