Let’s get this out of the way. Can we teach someone How to be a Poet? The answer is crystal clear.
And yes. This project isn’t called How to Write a Poem, or How to Get Your Poetry Published, though we’ll talk at some length about both. It isn’t called Get Rich Writing Poetry because nobody knows how to do that. We called our project How to Be a Poet because it’s not just a writing manual. It’s an offering up of our own thoughts on the practice of poetry; a consideration of what poetry reading and writing can mean to a thoughtful person seeking to do both with pleasure and skill.
Certainly we can and will teach you useful things about technique. Certainly we can give shortcuts that will save you a lot of time in hitting your stride on the page, and help you to avoid the common pitfalls of writing – the traps of cliché, of being derivative, of sloppy editing. We’re well qualified. Between us we have helped hundreds of people to write like their best selves, and there is a stream of award-winning work from the poets we’ve worked with to prove it. We have also made (and continue to make) the mistakes we’re going to try and talk you out of. In poetry as in life, no-one stops learning.
These blog entries will become a book, and our book is only one of many you could read. Stephen King’s On Writing, Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of a Writer, Ted Hughes’ Poetry in the Making, Robin Behn’s The Practice of Poetry* –there’s no need to rush at the reading list. You will never get to the end of it, because some blighter always writes a new one just as you tick off the last one. Above all, as Jane has said, read poetry. Jane, by the way, is a much nicer person than me. I’ll be the bad cop for much of this project, chivvying and poking you to push yourself further and confront unpleasant truths. She’ll be right along with soothing advice whenever I offend you.
We’ll help you approach your own writing in such a way that you aren’t bowled over by its little disappointments, nor by its little successes. We might also help you to redefine success, and to use poetry in a way that bleeds into every minute of your day. For us, poetry is a map to navigate by, a tool to use in tackling daily dilemmas. It’s a way of sharing the experiences that go beyond small talk, and exploring the places that hurt, or shine, or sing.
That’s why we called this project How to be a Poet. Come on in.
[*As we publish these blog entries, we welcome input that will help us to make the eventual book better. Tell us what you’re reading, what books have been of most influence on you. In particular, help us to broaden our own field of reading.]