Writing poetry: “there’s a mission, there’s a goal, and there’s an objective”

Inc magazine has a fascinating piece about William Roetzheim, a very successful serial entrepreneur, and a poet.

Retired at 50, in 2005, Roetzheim made a list of all the things he hadn’t done “because they didn’t pass the litmus tests of, Will this help me in my business pursuits?” First off: writing poetry. But he didn’t want to waste time wandering lonely as a cloud. “I treated poetry the same way I treat everything,” says Roetzheim. “There’s a mission, there’s a goal, and there’s an objective. I even had Microsoft project plans for it.”

For a year, Roetzheim spent six hours a day reading books of and on poetry. He eventually self-published a volume of verse and compiled an anthology, The Giant Book of Poetry, which is taught in colleges across the country. That anthology underwrites the small press Roetzheim founded to publish his work and the work of a dozen other writers.

I like his approach to writing poetry. He takes it seriously, focuses, researches and reads before committing himself, and invests his own time, money and energy into self-publishing before he expects others to invest in him. I think this is a model for most poetry-writers today – and perhaps always has been.

I also don’t think it’s necessary to have his money to do the same thing. Your first self-published collection could be eight poems neatly laid out on two A4 sheets, folded and stapled, and sold for a rand to your family and friends. Start somewhere, but take it seriously.

Read the whole Inc.com article here.

Allaboutwriting online courses

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, I’m a big believer in courses. You get the feedback and the pressure you need to do better work. Today I heard about Allaboutwriting, which is run by some very accomplished writers. From their Facebook page:

Allaboutwriting is a partnership between Richard Beynon and Jo-Anne Richards who are passionate about good writing, and have devised their courses to help communicate that passion – plus the skills that make it much more than an academic exercise.
We invite you to join one of our courses either online from anywhere in the world or face-to-face in South Africa.

The face-to-face courses offer you the chance to interact with like-minded writers intent not just on improving their writing skills, but on having fun while doing so. There is nothing quite as collegial as discussing solutions to literary problems with a company of people engaged in the same frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating quest to tell an engaging story as effectively as possible.

The online courses offer you a one-on-one relationship with Richard, Jo-Anne or Mandy which includes personal feedback on all assignments.

We love running these courses for quite selfish reasons. The fact is, during each course, we learn something we didn’t know before – or have insights confirmed by one or other of the participants – or are reminded, repeatedly, of the quite astonishing levels of talent that exist even in people who deny they’re capable of framing a well-balanced sentence.

Which is why we’d love to have you on one of our next courses as you learn the delicate arts of enticing the genie out of the bottle.

Go to allaboutwritingcourses.com to find out more.

Three kinds of poems

Masonwabe said here recently that he writes lots of poems when he’s hurt or sad. Writing poems is a great way to think through difficult times.

I believe there are three kinds of poems:

  1. Poems we write for ourselves to work through our feelings;
  2. Poems we write to be performed aloud, like on stage; and
  3. Poems we write for other people to read in books or magazines.

Each one requires a very different kind of writing style.

When you write a poem for yourself, you can write using phrases and images that only you understand, or only meaningful to you. Other people reading this poem will see that you are struggling with something, but they won’t feel the same as you do, because your phrases and images are just for you. If I write “She left me feeling like a toffee apple”, you don’t know what I mean. Is it good or bad to feel like a toffee apple? Who knows. I know, because in my mind I know what “toffee apple” means to me and my history. But you have no way of knowing. So my poem will not make you feel anything that makes sense. This poem may be important for me. But I don’t expect you to want to buy it in a book.

When you write a poem for performance, you are writing down the words of a script that you will add to with your voice and your body language when you perform it. These poems are like song lyrics: lyrics written down often don’t make sense. Sometimes they even seem silly when you read them on paper. Only when they are performed do they come alive and make sense. If I’m on stage and I whisper, smiling with my eyes closed, “She left me feeling like a toffee apple”, now you have an idea of what I mean: I felt happy and sweet and maybe even tasty! Performance poems also tend to rely a lot on rhythm and repetition and the poet’s real-life personality.

When you write poems for others to read, you have to write in phrases or images that mean something to other people. You don’t have your voice and body to help you. You can’t use an image that means something to you only. You have to use phrases and images that your reader will identify with; things that they have experienced in their lives; things that everyone feels the same way about. You have to tell a story in your poem that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, so that your readers can follow what you’re trying to explain. If you want your reader to feel sad when they read your poem, you can’t just say ‘I am sad! Really sad!’ Who cares if you say you’re sad? Everyone gets sad. Instead, you have to draw a clear picture in their head that makes them remember something sad in their own lives. Like this: “The Ferris wheel tickets crumpled in my hand. She left me melting in the crowd, dust under my sticky eyes, like a chewed-up toffee apple.”

If you want to get published, you have to write poems intended for others to read.

Before you plan to publish poetry, think carefully about what kinds of poems you are writing.