Author photo by artist, Walter Bakowski

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts from a writing desk. No.1

I think a poem should work first on the page. If it works on the page it should work read out loud.
I think it's not on to whinge or complain in a poem or write a easy target rant poem along the lines of:
war is bad,
politicians are bad etc.

As a poet I'm focused on writing clearly. A poem needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, with preamble and blathering digression cut out/sculpted out of drafts of the poem, but with an engine in the poem, moving the poem forward. In regards to writing poems, Charles Bukowski said, "Get in, get out, don't linger."
A cardinal self-imposed regime I have with reading live is not to over-read. If a poet or writer reads for too long they end up murdering the audience, the audience which was initially on their side, groans inwardly, sneak glances at their wristwatch, ends up resenting the over-reading poet.
I read five or six poems maximum when I'm a featured reader.
I've never gone for self-publishing. I've wanted to secure a publisher who'll give proper editorial scrutiny of the proposed book and also has national distribution.
I served a self-imposed eleven year apprenticeship in writing poems before I submitted a manuscript to a publisher. I always cull poems from a manuscript. I don't want any poems that are passengers in a manuscript, that let the team down. Be ruthless with your poems. Write more poems, write many poems and pick out the best. Better a thin, strong book of poems than a weaker, thicker one.


  1. I actually have a very similar expression: “Say what you have to say and get off the page.” I think it’s the single biggest failing I could attribute to newbie poets: waffling on and on. It also took me over thirty years to finally get a book of poetry together because although I had written many good poems I could never decide on a grouping that worked together; I did, however, choose to self-publish. I’ve just been sent a draft of a chapbook by a young poet and my first observation is that all these poems have in common is that they were written by the same person. I don’t, however, read my poetry aloud and have only ever been to one poetry reading in my life. It’s a personal thing and I’m not saying that other should do as I do. I don’t hate poetry being read aloud. I find I can’t follow it. I need more that a quick once through with a poem. That said, hearing a poet like Larkin read poems that I already know inside out can be a pleasure because I’m no longer worried about trying to get them. Larkin wasn’t one to read his poems aloud either. He only recorded them to show how they could be read, not how they should be read. I’m often surprised how badly writers read their own material.

  2. Dear Jim,
    Robert Frost said, "Make your next poem different from your last poem".
    I now always salute that aphoristic sentence of Frost's before facing a blank page on which to write my next poem. One must be vigilant as a creative person, in that when we write a poem, not to fall back on Murdochisms or Bakowskisms, not to repeat what we said before or already nailed in a poem.
    A way to write new poems is to write a character-driven poem. This allows the spotlit protagonist of the poem to have a different gender, a different personal history, a different outlook to the poet writing the poem.
    The character-driven poem allows the poet to get into a different head space to their own, to get away from the "I" poem.
    When one finalizes a manuscript for publication scrutinize whether the collection shows a variety of voices, locales, eras and subject matter. Show the reader you've got more than one type of arrow in your quiver.
    I read poetry live to test the poems on the audience, to see if they work.
    Charles Bukowski said, "To have good poetry audiences, we need good poetry." Good poetry begins with being rigorous, sculpting away everything that doesn't aid/lift/heighten/focus the poem. Every good wish,

  3. Yes.that’s probably another thing that newbie poets get caught in, the ‘I poem’ – I did, I saw, I felt – that was one trap at least that the young poet I was telling you about didn’t fall into to her credit. It took me quite a while to work the ‘I’ out of my own poetry and nowadays simply because I write in the first person it doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘I’, Jim Murdoch, am the narrator. As I’ve got older I have tried to broaden my palette. The problem I’ve found is that there are some areas of poetry that I’d like to explore but I simply cannot grasp them, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry for example. I find many poets are keen to keep their cards close to their chests and not explain what they’re doing as if we’re magicians and will get kicked out of the Poets’ Circle for letting on, either that or they simply can’t articulate how they do what they do which for individuals who have a facility with words I find a little hard to accept.

  4. Dear Jim,
    As a poet, when I'm writing a poem I ask myself, "What am I trying to reveal, what am I trying to shed light upon, and is it worth revealing, shedding light upon?
    Charles Bukowski said, "Writing is painting". In a poem I'm trying to paint pictures in the mind's eye of the reader or listener. I'm trying not to over-describe.
    I've found that being visual in poems helps the poem and the reader. The poem is the frame for the subject. The poem is the camera.
    I'm interested in poems that reveal what it's like to be a human being even if that poem is about a person observing a hawk, horse or beetle.
    The "I" in a character-driven poem can be anyone:- "I am a hit-man", "I am a robot", I am pregnant..".
    Broadening the palette is good. A creative person needs to venture, graze, explore, consider and reconsider.
    I think that a poem, a film, a piece of music, to have value and impact, needs to be either truthful, thought-provoking or humorous. The book of poems that doesn't let the reader in, fails the reader. They'll go to find another book of poems that let's them in or if they encounter too many difficult books of poems, they may give up on poetry, never to return.