As a young child I wrote poetry, badly but enthusiastically, secretly. I then did an English degree which involved, of course, reading lots of poetry.  I continued to scribble down verses of my own but the degree was more concerned with the deconstruction and analysis of other people’s poems.

I’ve always fancied doing a creative writing course and so when I got the chance, I leapt at it.

I write. I wrote my PhD, all 80,000 words of it, I write blogs here and on other platforms, I’ve written chapters, books and articles but I don’t consider myself a writer of poetry.  So last year I focused on non-fiction, which was a challenge, but not too far out of my comfort zone, it felt like home.

Then I had to chose again this year, and the pull to comfort and familiarity was strong, more non-fiction meant I could have guaranteed competence and a good mark, and I am still a sucker for a good mark. You’d think I would learn!

But poetry, the little I studied as my second option last  year, was like a whisper which grew stronger.  Poetry feels risky, I don’t know if I can do it, I might fail, I might not be able to think of anything to write about.  I read much more non-fiction than poetry, or did, until I took the leap and jumped into the deep.

So poetry it is and the more I read and write the more I am glad I did.  Poems are like spells (‘they are spells’ says a friend).  Their rhythms, whether or not there is rhyme, enchant.  The way they look on the page is simple, stark and visual, the space is as important as the words.

Then the layers of meaning, sound, image, labyrinthine, serpentine. You can get lost in them.

But this is only half the story because this is not an English Lit course, but a writing course and I have to write.

I am discovering that what I more often do, is gather fragments of moments in words or sounds.  Poems encourage me to walk without phoning or listening to podcasts, but instead walk silently. And from the silence comes footfall rhythms, wind calls and bird words. I feel like a child pocketing shells on the beach, a phrase of blackbird swooping at dusk pocketed, the rush of river recorded,  a snip of cobweb dew-covered at dawn is collected.  I feel like I’m taking photographs in words.

And walking sets the rhythm, I say the words aloud and understand much more than I ever did on my degree the way rhythm emerges and is visceral and aural much more than intellectual.

Poems invite me to silence, because it is only when I am silent that I really notice my senses, my body, my memories, the world around me free of the clutter of chatter.  It invites me into mindfulness.

And from the gatherings and pocketings, then the craft begins of shaping and making, cutting and slicing, linking and repeating, deleting and deleting and deleting.

Poems are like diamonds, they are compressed, compacted jewels created under pressure. The rough has to be cut, every word counts, every syllable, every punctuation mark, every sound, every white space. Cut, cut, cut. Snip the clutter away.

Like alchemy, taking the everyday and seeing it, really experiencing it and in so doing, transforming it into, maybe, just maybe into something essential, visceral, crisp and fresh. Something that makes you feel. Something that makes you see thing differently.

And I fail over and over again, draft after draft, cut, slice, trim, delete, repeat.

But it is worth it.

My favourite poetry podcasts:

A Mouthful of Air – A poetry podcast with Mark McGuinness

Poetry with Simon Armitage

The Daily Poem – An audio anthology of the best poetry ever written

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