Did you get any helpful advice when you were first starting to write poetry?

The best advice I got when I was starting to write was quite simply read poetry - it's amazing how many people try to write poetry or do write poetry and don't actually read that much of it. And it's a bit like asking someone to go away and make a film and they've never seen a film or to go and play football and they've never really watched or studied football. You have to know what people are doing with the language and with poetry at the time that you're writing. Another really important piece of advice which might sound quite simple but has helped me, was quite simply when someone told me to put something on the page that really mattered to me - and that might sound quite straightforward but it's surprising how often sometimes you might try and write a poem not necessarily as an exercise, but because you think it might be good but I think unless it matters to you at quite a fundamental level I'm not sure how successful that poem will be. And the third bit of advice that I still stand by is you shouldn't underestimate the importance of time as your best editing tool - I might have finished writing something and I might think it's brilliant - it very rarely is - but I might think it's great but if I then put it away in a drawer for three weeks and come back to it all of the mistakes in the poem will suddenly sort of present themselves out of the page, and then like three weeks later you can suddenly see where you have to tweak it, where you have to change the hinges and where through a sort of delicate process of calibration hopefully the poem can spring into life again. And then I'll normally put it aside again, sometimes for a very, very long time - I've come back to some poems after several years - and suddenly seen where the problem is. So time - you shouldn't be in a great hurry to finish that poem.


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