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July 18, 2012 / Malcolm Miller

Writing poetry of your own?

It would be nice for me if I could really help people learn about writing poetry, but this isn’t a university English Department, and I don’t know any more than what I’ve already said many times, namely, that if you want to write poetry, READ a great deal to get into your head how it’s constructed.  There’s no need to expect to become a Tennyson or a Longfellow, or to write in formal structures such as sonnets.  Try to imitate the techniques of the great, and if you don’t make it, fake it.  You may in time become skilled!

At least learn the basics.

In prose, we use the English we began an an infant or a toddler.  We have spent decades improving our use of language in this way, and to transfer this knowledge from the verbal to the written form is what being a real writer is about.  It has to be learned – for most of us are not ‘born writers’.

Poetry is another step up the ladder.  It’s a different language from the prose we normally speak and write.  It has different rules and conventions, honed over hundreds of years (in English), thousands in poetry generally, which make it comprehensible, succinct, and powerful.  If we ignore all that’s been learned about making poetry, we’re doomed to mediocrity or failure.  An effort to learn the language must be made if we are to be understood!

Editing or trying to improve people’s poems is very hard work, and I’m not qualified to do it.

My belief is that if you don’t have a love of, and a knowledge of, poetry and how it’s made, then don’t rush in. But I think that writing poetry is a special and learned skill, like joinery.  It takes years, and you need to have a bit of talent for it and to love doing it.

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