This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Claire Williamson author of Visiting the Minotaur. Claire specialises in nurturing creative writing, both as craft and for wellbeing. She is also a member of Bristol based poetry group The Spoke.
Claire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur was published by Seren in 2018. In this inventive and intensely felt collection, the poet enters a labyrinth of her own complicated family history, a history beset with secrets and lies, in order to come to terms with her own identity. She borrows from myths, histories, careful observations of nature, and of city life, in order to fashion her artful meditations on experience and mortality.
What first drew you to poetry?
Foraging in my grandmother’s bookshelves and finding an illustrated anthology of children’s poems. I memorised ‘Three Ducks on a Pond’ and used to enjoy reciting it to myself.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
Inside – thoughts and feelings – and outside – the natural and built environment. An emotion or idea usually catches an image or a concept. I’m lucky that I don’t struggle for inspiration.
What poets or writers inspire you?
T.S.Eliot was one of my first loves and continues to bring energy, so many years later. I read a lot of contemporary poets. I enjoy Poetry Wales; it’s always a surprise what you’ll find between the covers!
What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry has been threaded throughout my life, a companion and a safety net in difficult times – both writing and reading. It belongs to everyone and I enjoy it in the broadest sense, culturally and geographically.
How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?
I’m an academic three days a week for the MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes at Metanoia Institute, and I work freelance on writing projects the rest of the time; at the moment I’m working with Welsh National Opera, Fresh Arts at Southmead Hospital and mentoring individuals. Poetry comes up through the cracks and especially if I sit down to write.
Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
I’m writing a novel for a doctorate at the moment which I sit down to work on after the children are in bed, which is the quietest time of the day. Poetry is more spontaneous; an image or phrase will start to pester me like a persistent fly.
How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?
I don’t particularly set aside time at the moment, although I am familiar with needing to do so and to either be relaxed or ‘in flow’, as described in John Cleese’s ‘Open Mode’. I’ve trained myself to write even when the house is a complete mess. Most likely, I might be working on something academic and suddenly I’ve opened a new document and out pops a first draft. If I had all the time in the world, without interruption, I’d journal first thing, leading into poetry writing.
What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published?
Workshop your poems with other writers you respect. Enter competitions, send to magazines. Collect twenty of your best poems to put towards pamphlet competitions and publishers. Work your way to a first collection.
Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals?
It turns out to be, yes, although I resisted it for a long time; I was surprised how suddenly relieved I felt at the Bridport prize that I hadn’t been kidding myself I could write and that was about fifteen years after I started to take it seriously; it is easy to feel a fraud. Conversely, often a performance poet’s trade is their words and style of delivery, and paid gigs to turn up to and present. However some performance poems translate brilliantly to the page and are also great to read.
Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines?
Go to the library and read samples of magazines/books, or order back copies, or subscribe before sending in your work.
What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?
Treat ‘sending out’ as an administrative task; if the poems return, send them on their merry way again. Commune with other writers and share information and plans. The poetry world isn’t always fair and certainly has its darlings. Be patient, your day will come!
Do you have any other advice for fellow poets?
Take risks, it isn’t always the poems you think are the competition winners that win the competitions. Persevere with the craft, sharing with fellow poets and buy books!
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