Poetry Writing Advice

David Harsent, poet, scriptwriter and a Patron of the Bridport Prize, shares his thoughts on writing poetry.

 

'Remember that all writing is about rewriting. It might be that a poem will come to you fully-formed - the fabled 'back of an envelope' composition - but those events are rare and, in any case, not to be trusted until the poem has proved itself to you by consistently refusing revision. 

Keep in mind that word-choice is crucial. 

If you can, write every day. Five-finger exercises keep you warmed up and can often take on a (different) life of their own. Write on the bus, on the train, while you're performing some tiresome domestic task. Make the bus, the train, the domestic task your subject. Bus, train, doing the washing up, putting out the rubbish - why wouldn't these involve demons and angels? Write in your head. If what started as ten minutes of tinkering becomes interesting, find a different version of it in the rewrite: come at it from a different angle.

Be alive to opportunities. Look hard at everyday things.

Always carry a notebook. Re-read it often.

Keep a dream diary: make short poems of your dream images. Let those short poems, those dream-fragments, simmer: they might (one day) come to the boil. 

Write what's around you: what's immediate. (I recall Craig Raine's remark that Seamus Heaney must have woken up one day, looked out of the window and thought, 'My God - peat!') But you need to see it anew, see it differently, make it your own.

Read every day.

Read everything.

Read everything but challenge what you read.

Read everything and take from it what you need - what will feed you.

Stay tuned to the demons and angels.'

 

David Harsent has published eleven collections of poetry, most recently Salt, from Faber and Faber. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

"Writing is a solitary business, and winning a prize for a story breaks into that. It means I've connected. Instantly I want to connect again. And I want to do better than I've done.

"A story prize is an invitation to keep writing, and to join storytellers everywhere. What a crowd! So I'm back to reading a lot more, trying to learn from others, see what they've done, dumbstruck sometimes at the nearly miraculous attention, tenderness, understanding and mettle. I aspire!"

 

Kathleen Donkin (USA) 2nd prize, Short Story competition 2016

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