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Can Anyone Be A Poet?


We don't have to have charismatic personalities to write poetry; we don't have to have had 'great' experiences, or to have done things done by none other. We don't have to comb our hair a certain way, or even to have any hair at all. We don't have to be of huge intellect or learning. We don't have to be quirky, nerdy nor bang-on standard. All we have to be is whom and what we are already.

We have each been born with the essential basic ingredient for making poetry: our individuality. No one in the history of poem making has ever been you or I before, and no one in the future history of poem making will ever be you or I again. Being oneself is not just good enough, it is uniquely wonderful.

This being so, we should aim to write in a way that is as close as possible to our everyday manner of speaking - tightened up, of course, without the ums and ers and discursive nature of casual conversation. You know how a friend might telephone us saying, "Hi, it's me", and we immediately know who the 'me' is? That is how it should be with poetry. The global resides in the local; the macrocosm in the microcosm. Whatever happens to you or me has relevance to us all.

Where do we find inspiration?

One of the great things about poetry is that, as it is about life and our engagement with it, there is not a single thing that happens any hour of the day, any day of the week, any week of the year, which is not relevant to its practice. So much occurs, in fact, that many poets keep a note book in which to record for future use, situations, events, descriptions of colours, tastes and smells, words, phrases, thoughts and images, which particularly strike them. The implications of such notes need not be fully understood so long as they have emotional resonances for the writer, because poems do not begin as thoughts, they begin as feelings and often quite vague feelings at that. The process of writing a poem is the homing in on those vague feelings to clarify them through images of the senses. Thought usually comes in at a later stage when the final piece becomes the interplay between the unconscious and conscious mind. There are poems to be found everywhere in everything.

We want you to find poetry writing a helpful process. As health professionals, we see and feel many things and it can be helpful to pour our feelings out onto a page. You might be familiar with the term 'reflection', a way of thoughtfully considering our practice, with a view to learning from it. Poetry writing can provide another way for us to do this.

Our aim is to provide you with a space to write your poems, and feel free to express yourself. However, if you would like to develop your poetry writing technique, and learn more about poetry writing then please feel free to read on...

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Be Concrete and Specific

Poetry speaks in terms of the specific and concrete; it trades with economy of expression and compact diction. Not a word is wasted. The alteration of a single word can change the meaning of a poem. Poets make their words work hard for them and avoid the use of abstract nouns and vague generalisations, excluding any word which does not pull its weight. It has been said that a poem is not complete until nothing more can be removed from it.

Avoid Cliché

Poets avoid those predictable phrases, images, similes and metaphors which, though they were inventive and engaging when first coined, have been rendered impotent through overuse. Part of the poet's remit is to come up with their own individual figurative language.

Show Don't Tell

Poets turn feelings into words, assembling words in such ways as to evoke in the reader those feelings which drove the poet to make the poem in the first place. A poem does not merely tell the reader what the poet saw, felt and thought - that would be journalism. A poet composes lines which hold in their grasp sensory images encapsulating a poignant personal event so that the poem becomes an experience in itself.

Read, Read, Read

When writing and reading evolved - the matching of visual symbols with the sounds of speech - we were not only able to hear words, but also to see them as well. This new visual dimension opened up a range of possibilities for poets who were then released from the obligation to write in ways which could be easily memorised. Poems could be written down and recalled at will from the page. A parallel may be noted here with the invention of photography and the effect it had on representational drawing and painting.

Contemporary communication is such that we are in the unprecedented position of having available to us the poetry from the widest reaches of our planet. We will not enjoy every poem we read or hear, in the same way as we will not like every piece of music we hear. We can, however, each discover a few poets whose writing resonates with us and read as much of their work as we can. We cannot put out until we've taken in, so it should come as no surprise that the best poets read a lot of poetry.

Why Does Poetry Exist?

Poetry was born before writing and reading had been invented, so to speak, when the history, wisdom and belief systems of a social group relied on human memory for transmission, a state of being known as the oral tradition. It is vital in such a circumstance for important information to be related in memorable ways. These memorable ways of story telling developed as poetry. The traditional ingredients of poetry are basically a series of memory hooks:

~ rhythm
Our whole universe is continually on the move. Our bodies are no less still: our hearts are pumping, our lungs breathing in and out, on so on. Rhythm is fundamental to existence and has huge psychological effects. The gentle rocking of a cradle can sooth a restless baby to sleep; the insistent pounding of drums can prepare a mind for war. Our speech is rhythmic too. English is a 'stressed' language. That is to say, rather than speaking in a monotone, we give more emphasis to some words and parts of words than we do to others, creating rhythm. We are more likely to recall words which are arranged in a rhythmically striking, or appealing way than those which are not.

~ melody
It could be said in a metaphorical sense that all poets are singers. In pre-literary days this was a literal truth when, characteristically, poetry was performed to music. The word 'lyric' derives from the use by Ancient Greek poets of a form of small harp called a lyre. Other terms used in contemporary poetry, such as 'ballad', 'verse' and 'refrain' stem also from this ancient association. We do not speak in monotones, but use pitch and timbre (tone colour) and amplitude (volume) to aid our communication. We might observe a man reducing the amplitude of his voice, soften its timbre and raising its pitch when he is talking to his child. Later, we might observe him increasing the amplitude of his voice, hardening its timbre and lowering its pitch when he is talking to his adult friends. Sometimes the meaning(s) of a poem reside(s) more in its musicality than in the dictionary meanings of its text. Melody is a hugely successful mnemonic device.

~ imagery
We experience the world through our senses. Images in poetry are therefore not limited to the visual images the term might seem to imply. They are also images of sound (aural), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), touch (tactile) and movement (kinetic), as well as sight (visual). A young girl was asked which did she prefer, the television or the radio? She famously replied that she much preferred the radio, 'because the pictures are better'. A striking or poignant image may not only kick-start the making of a poem, it can lodge in the mind to become a memory hook of a poem too.

~ rhyme
The chiming bell effect of rhyme can help us to remember the passages they occur in. Also, by bringing two selected words of similar sound to our attention, rhymes can generate images and meanings beyond their dictionary definitions. Rhymes, especially multi-syllable rhymes, also have the power to please and amuse.

~ repetition
Repetition is a popular and significant aide-memoire in poetry. This is evidenced too in the work of our songwriters, the speeches of our politicians, the catch phrases of our comedians, advertising copywriters and entertainers.

And Finally

All across the globe people experience gladness, fear, hope, sorrow and the whole range of human emotions, just as people always have. This is why a translation, say, of the poem Palace Verse written in an old Chinese language sometime during the first half of the tenth century can, regardless of our culture and ethnicity, reach along those hundreds of years to pluck at our heart strings today.

Making a poem is a process of self-exploration in which we are encouraged to focus on our individual emotional landscapes, a process which can be therapeutic, healing in it itself. The continued good practice of poem-making should yield for us a growing self-awareness. In consequence, this should bring us to increased empathy with others. That is to say our ability to identify in someone else emotions we recognise in ourselves, should be greatly enhanced.

Empathy with others is both a personal benefit and a social good. Not only does it contribute to us becoming more-rounded individuals, and help us to be more successful in our day-to-day transactions, but also, by extension, it helps to make the world a better place.