Now that I am on this journey in earnest, I don’t want to go around in circles. I want to do this well. I want to become the best poet I can be. I want to help other poets do the same. I want to help bring more poetry into more people’s lives.
I am keenly aware of how much I need to grow to do all these things and so, after reading about other artistic journeys, I have committed to doing the following things to become a better poet. I challenge you, if you have the goal of improving your own poetry, to do the same and let’s compare notes along the journey.
1. Write poetry every day
For most of my life, I have written poetry, and other things, only when I felt like it, only when I had the ‘spark’ of inspiration. Many years ago, I started doing stream-of-consciousness writing every morning. This was after I had read ‘The Artist’s Way,’ by Julia Cameron. It’s a guide to becoming a better artist by developing a deeper awareness of your spiritual self. One of the tools Cameron suggests in the book is stream-of-consciousness writing. She calls it ‘The Morning Pages,’ because the recommendation is that you do it first thing in the morning.
Basically, you sit down and write three pages non-stop, by hand (I do 500-1000 words on my computer). The only rule is to keep on writing. Don’t stop to think. Just write. Even if you fill all the pages with your name written over and over. Just write.
About two years ago I started writing poetry as part of my morning pages and I’ve stuck to it. Every day, five times a week (I make weekends optional), I write poetry. Most of it is gibberish which I will never share, but every so often a gem is born.
The more you write, the more gibberish you put out and the more gems you find. It’s like digging through dirt for diamonds. You just need to keep shoveling in the right place and treasure will be found.
2. Read other poets’ work
The more poetry you read by other poets, the more aware you are about what is out there and what other people have tried. I like to read work by poets from different countries, not just my own and not just those that were originally published in English. Currently, I’m reading ‘Nothing to Lose,’ a translated collection by a Palestinian poet. I’m also working through American poet Mary Oliver’s collection, ‘Swan.’
Reading work by poets who are from different cultures is a great reminder of how universal human experiences, desires and urges are. This builds empathy which is an important quality for writers to have.
3. Get your poetry critiqued
The Strawdog Writer’s Guild here in Western Massachusetts regularly hosts poetry critique sessions. These bring poets together to read and critique each other’s work. It is scary giving a copy of your work to seven other poets and waiting for feedback, but it’s a pathway to growth. Every time you get feedback, you learn something or see something you hadn’t seen before. Even if you can’t use or implement all the suggestions, you get an education.
You can start your own poetry critique group. It could meet physically or online (Facebook Goops, WhatsApp, etc). Limit the numbers. If you want serious participation and intense focus on each other’s work, large groups don’t work. I’d say about five to eight people is an optimum number for this sort of thing. Make sure everyone who signs up is committed to the process.
4. Critique other poets’ work
At the critique sessions, I also get to review work by other poets. When you have to give feedback to seven different poets in the space of three hours, you learn to look at the details in poems. To see every line. To see beyond the lines. To see where magic is and where it could be. There are times when you have nothing to say about a particular poem and then you hear someone else dissect it and you learn a different way of seeing.
5. Challenge your mind with new ideas
Besides reading poetry, I read other stuff too. I have audiobooks lined up to play in the car. I follow several writers on Medium. I listen to arts, business and technology podcasts. I watch talks on Youtube by thinkers and specialists in various fields. You could try reading a book from a genre you don’t normally entertain or, if you’re always watching American films on Netflix, mix it up. Try something from India, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Spain.
Picture by Thought Catalog