Katrina Naomi shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Katrina Naomi author of The Way the Crocodile Taught Me. Katrina is a poet, tutor, critic, mentor and translator who lives in Cornwall. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and is currently included in London’s Poems on the Underground. Her next collection is forthcoming in 2020.

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me Katrina NaomiThe Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a vibrant, heartfelt and tragi-comic collection of poetry. With warmth, flair and a certain ferocious wit, Naomi tears into her subject matter: a childhood fraught with family dislocation, upsets and even occasional violence, and finds, through her art, moments of grace, humour and redemption. It will delight people who know Naomi’s work and undoubtedly win new fans for her courageous and unabashedly entertaining poems.

What first drew you to poetry?

I came to poetry by mistake. I was trying to write about something I really cared about and found that I’d written a poem.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

Art, walking, film and other poets.

What poets or writers inspire you?

There’s so many! One poet who always inspires me is Peter Redgrove.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I do write full time, I found that when I was working in my former human rights job, that I was spending longer and longer lunch breaks writing poems. Something had to give. I thought I’d take voluntary redundancy and see if I could get anywhere with my poetry. That year I won a poetry competition and was published soon afterwards. So I’ve kept going.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I usually read another poetry collection for about 20 minutes, or I copy out a poem that I really admire. This gets me to slow down and really look and think.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

I talk to my partner or close friends when I’ve had a disappointment. Also, I often write about the disappointment and see if I can turn it into some other beast. That helps!

 

Katrina’s collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Claire Williamson shares her poetry advice

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.

Visiting the Minotaur Claire WilliamsonClaire’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 fraudConversely, 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! 

 

Claire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Deryn Rees-Jones shares her poetry advice

It was announced earlier today that Deryn Rees-Jones’ new collection Erato has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019. It therefore felt only fitting that this week’s poetry advice blog came from her.

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song? Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.

 

What first drew you to poetry?

As a child in primary school we were expected to write at least a poem a week. Each poem then had to be illustrated. I took these tasks very seriously and wonder if my interest in the relationship between text and image stems from there.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

The origins of that word inspiration are interesting, aren’t they, that idea of inhalation, but one that originated in the idea of bringing something divine into the human body. I have recently been working on an exhibition with the artist Charlotte Hodes. She has made a sequence of four images, now engraved on glass, with my captions – heat, heart, in-breath, unfurls. Glass is one of those transformative materials, which I have become fascinated by. I’m thinking about it a great deal, and in my mind it also connects with something that has also preoccupied me in the past — snow. I’m interested more generally in heat, in the idea of fire as a metaphor for the creative process. Those captions on glass, which evolved from our shared working and thinking, are a shorthand for ideas I have explored a little more relentlessy in Erato. I continue this thinking about creativity in a book length lyric essay – Fires — that will be published in November with Shoestring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What poets or writers inspire you?

My work as an editor at Pavilion is a huge privilege, seeing books as they develop, working with closely with poets. I learn a lot from seeing that process, and from the close reading that demands. Current poetry books I am reading – Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Mei-mei Berssenbruge’s Hello, the Roses. I read a lot of books about psychoanalysis as a theory but also as a practice, and I have also just started reading two quite different but enjoyable and wise books, Mary Midgley’s autobiography The Owl of Minvera, and Rosi Braidotti’s new book, Posthuman Knowledge.

What does poetry mean to you?

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet at the moment about the way poetry sometimes gets claimed as this universal panacea or in some way becomes fetishized. Poetry is a very important and particular process, but it’s deeply connected to other things that its processes allows – thinking in deep ways, feeling, paying attention, engaging with a community of thinkers and readers, being in the world. I honour the process and the pleasures and excitement poetry brings. But I am impatient when poetry somehow becomes separated from those other processes of which it is a part, and then gets reduced to a commodity.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I have a full and busy life, and I’m starting to trust a bit more that the method I seem to have developed over the years, of setting other critical writing alongside my creative work, is a useful synergy. I don’t feel the need to separate that process.

Do you have a writing routine? What is it?

I have lots of routines, most of which include the balance of full-time work in the university and childcare. School drop-off and pick up times, walking the dog are all structures built in to the day. I was recently on an extended period of study leave and I tried to work for three intense hours writing every morning in the local café. That time was ringfenced for critical writing and research, but poems inevitably creep in. If you parent small children on your own, life can feel very closed down in terms of the freedom to simply leave the house, take a walk, run out for groceries, have some time alone with friends. That has changed a great deal now and I am valuing the new freedoms but also, as I look back, valuing that enforced quietness and what it asked of me. I don’t have a specific writing routine when it comes to poetry, but the other routines mean there might be space when I need it.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I don’t. It’s more organic than that. You could say that even though I’m not writing, in notebooks, of which I have many, or on screen, that I am writing all the time, because writing is much more than sitting down and putting marks on the page.

What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published?

Concentrate on the poems, read – what is being published now, but also engage with poems that have come before. Read internationally. Having a sense of what poetry means in cultures that are not your own is really important; understanding a poetic history as well as a context is really important.

Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals?

For some poets it might be, it’s one route. I’m more interested in that process as a testing ground for readership and the poem than I am in the idea of reputation.

Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines?

Write your best poem in the best way you can. It’s going back to the idea of seeing publication as a testing ground. Not all the poems in a book work on their own, but can be vital when assembling a book. Keep a humble and critical judgement. Leave poems alone for a while. Trust that editors, who are usually poets, have a good sense of what is working or not in a poem.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

We live in an age of soundbites, some of which are directed at least in a superficial way, at improving our mental health. Of course we all have feelings when work is returned or doesn’t appear to have been read after publication. Poets need readers, and it can be painful not to feel heard or relevant or understood, but processing that part of your professional life is also part of life. I’m more interested in the life part  — how to live ethically, and joyfully, than some sense that we can guard against difficulty or pain without seeing that as part of a bigger process.

Do you have any other advice for fellow poets?

I wouldn’t presume!

 

Erato is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Kim Moore Shares her Poetry Advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Kim Moore. Her first collection The Art of Falling won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2016 and was shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year.

The Art of Falling Kim MooreIn The Art of Falling, Kim Moore sets out her stall in the opening poems, firmly in the North amongst ‘My People’: “who swear without knowing they are swearing… scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers…”. The title poem riffs on the many sorts of falling “so close to failing or to falter or to fill”. The poet’s voice is direct, rhythmic, compelling. These are poems that confront the reader, steeped in realism, they are not designed to soothe or beguile. They are not designed with careful overlays of irony and although frequently clever, they are not pretentious but vigorously alive and often quite funny.

 

What first drew you to poetry?

I think like a lot of people, I came to poetry through reading it.  As a child, I had poetry anthologies which I read in the same way I read novels or stories. I have definite memories of reading Tennyson and not understanding it but enjoying the sound of the words – nobody ever told me I should understand it, or that poetry was ‘difficult’ so I think I approached it with quite an open mind, even as a child.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

I don’t like the word inspiration, but if I don’t have anything to write about, or I don’t feel like writing, I always read, and it often kick starts the desire to write again.

What does poetry mean to you?

This is a hard question! I’ve just had a baby, so my relationship with poetry has changed a little, in that it has been squashed into the edges of my life at the moment.  But I guess poetry is my way of making sense of the world, of finding out what I really think, a way of making connections and these are all things I couldn’t live without doing. Poetry to me is those solitary moments of writing, when there is nobody to see or care whether it is any good or not, but it is also those solitary moments of reading, when you read a poem and put the book down because the poem is so good, because it has articulated something you didn’t know you felt.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I’m currently on maternity leave from a full time creative-writing PhD, so prior to my maternity leave I had the luxury of writing full time. Now the baby is here, I have two hour slots to write whilst my husband takes care of the baby. It has to be two hours roughly because I’m breastfeeding and she is very hungry all the time!

Do you have a writing routine? What is it?

I’ve never had a routine.  Before I started my PhD, I worked as a trumpet teacher and writing always fitted around the edges of my job.  Now I work as a freelance writer and do a lot of travelling, so I write quite a lot on the train. I’ve learnt to trust that the poem will emerge when it is ready. My days are never the same, so it’s impossible to have a routine.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I don’t really prepare myself. When I’m writing a first draft or an idea in a notebook, I do this anywhere – trains, cafes, in the car.  Typing it up from the notebook to the laptop I like to be at home, in my office with the door shut.

What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published?

Read, read and read! Read the magazines that you want to be published in (how will they survive without readers?) Read the books that are published by the presses you want to be published by.

Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals?

I think most publishers want a track record of publications in these places so I guess it’s important in that sense, if you want to go on and publish a full length collection. I personally think competitions are a bit like a lottery ticket with slightly better odds, and it’s great if you win some money, but I prefer publishing poems in magazines.  I think magazine/journal publication feels more like being part of a conversation.

 Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines?

Create a system – i.e a spreadsheet to keep track and to give you something to do when the poems come back rejected! Instead of feeling depressed about the rejection, you can fill your spreadsheet in and send them out again.   

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions which cheers me up as I have a complicated system of colours which takes my mind off rejections. But my main method of keeping positive is reading other great poets, which reminds me of why I like poetry in the first place, which actually has nothing to do with being published or not. 

Do you have any other advice for fellow poets?

Read and if you find some poetry you like, and the poet is still alive, write and tell them! It doesn’t cost anything apart from your time and you’ll make someone’s day.

 

Kim’s collection The Art of Falling is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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