We asked eight poets from this year's festival for their top tip for writing good poems. The variety of ways in how they approached this, both in terms of the advice they gave and how they gave it, has delighted and impressed us. We've been sharing these as they came in over the past couple of months but now we've collated them together to share with you here.
When I think of my mother, by Jinling Wu: a StAnza Micro Commission
Jinling Wu produced this film poem with reference to Asian cinema aesthetics as a film about a poem, partly thanks to the inspiration from French filmmaker Frank Beauvais's Just Don't Think I'll Scream.
Jinling Wu is a writer and filmmaker from China, currently based in Scotland. Her short stories and films have been shown in the Scottish creative circuits.
Homefound, by Catherine Wilson: A StAnza Micro Commission
(c) David Vallis Photography
Catherine Wilson is a spoken word poet and writer whose work has been commissioned by organisations including BBC Radio 4 and the National Gallery. Her recent publications include the Scottish Book Trust, and she recently won the poetry category of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Writing Competition.
Call It Ours, by Desree - a StAnza Micro Commission
(c) Moses Baako
Desree is a spoken word artist, playwright, producer and facilitator. Also a TEDx speaker, Desree has featured at events around the world, including Glastonbury Festival, Royal Albert Hall and New York Poetry.
Earlier this summer, we put out an open call for proposals for a micro commission, a short digital piece of work. We were delighted by the response, proposals arrived in their dozens, and what this said about the determination to be creative with poetry despite the pandemic and lockdown, but it gave us some hard decisions to make, and to help with this, we eventually offered three micro commissions, all of which have been delivered to us this week.
It's always exciting to see the outcome from commissions. We hope when you see them, you'll understand why we've been quite blown away by the power and the poetry in these three pieces of work, each of them very different, but each engaging with issues which have affected us all over the past months. So, our huge thanks to Desree, Jinling Wu and Catherine Wilson, do please share the word about these great pieces of poetry work. We’ll now introduce them one at a time in successive posts.
For our latest top tip, we approached Deborah Moffatt, a prize winning poet writing in Gaelic and English who took part in our Gaelic Poetry Showcase at this year's festival. To date, we've had videos, film and audio clips. Today, we add to this with a guest post from Deborah, who responds as follows:
SOME THOUGHTS ON WRITING A GOOD POEM
by Deborah Moffatt
To write a good poem, you need, first of all - and this is probably obvious -- to have an idea, something you really want to write about. It doesn’t have to be the most original idea, or an idea that seems “appropriate” for a poem, but it should be something that matters to you.
Then you need to build a poem around that idea. For me, the second important thing is to find another idea. I usually find that there is something that’s been kicking around in my mind for a while, but I haven’t found a way to write about it.
This second idea may or may not be directly, or obviously, related to the first idea, but something tells you that the two will go together. You can then use one idea to enhance the other, or you can create an argument, a bit of tension, between the two ideas. That would be similar to creating a plot for a short story, or, say, a thesis and anti-thesis.
After that, you will need to discover the language of the poem, the tone, the atmosphere. You need to find a suitable vocabulary, and a suitable form; I usually create a form as I go along, especially when I’m working in Gaelic, where the rhythm of the words is quite different from the English. The length of the lines you choose is important, as is the length of the stanzas, if you’re using them.
It’s a really good idea to experiment with all of that for a bit, to try and find what works best for this particular poem. Once you’ve got that settled, the rest can be quite simple...although usually it isn’t! You have to go at a poem like a dog with a bone, chew it over and over, maybe bury it a few times. Someone once told me to never throw away anything I’ve written. Even if you don’t keep the actual paper work, you can always go back to an idea with some fresh thoughts some other time.
Another possibility is that, in spite of what you had planned to write, you find yourself going off on a tangent. That can be a terrible mistake, and if you don’t realise that you’re going wrong you’ll just make a huge mess of your poem.
On the other hand, it might be much better than what you had originally planned. So I say, go with the flow, if it seems to be working. But keep your original thoughts and scribblings to hand, just in case you need to start over again.
The final hurdle is ending the poem. I often realise (or a good editor tells me) that I’ve come to the end sooner than I thought. The last stanza, or the last line, can be redundant, or a bit trite, if you’re trying too hard to make a point or to be clever.
Then the really hard part is knowing when to stop tinkering. You still have a chance to spoil a good poem! But if you have doubts about anything in the poem, don’t dismiss them. Your instinct is probably right.