Jim Bennett

Bob Cooper

Lesley Burt

Stuart Nunn

Mick Moss

Waiata Dawn Davis

Catherine Graham

James Bell

Julie Stoner

Lynn Ciesielski

Grant van Wingerden

Tammara Or Slilat






















a Poetry Kit Project

Edited by Jim Bennett

Copyright 2013 – the contributors, this edition Jim Bennett






Two poems by Jim Bennett


Two poems by Bob Cooper


Two poems by Lesley Burt


Two Poems by Stuart Nunn


Two poems by Mick Moss


Two poems by Waiata Dawn Davies


Two poems by Catherine Graham.


Two Poems by James Bell


Two poems by Julie Stoner


Two poems by Lynn Ciesielski


Two poems Grant van Wingerden


Two poems by Tammara Or Slilat





Jim Bennett lives near Liverpool in the UK and is the author of 71 books, including books for children, books of poetry and many technical titles on transport and examinations.


His poetry collections include;

Drums at New Brighton (Lifestyle 1999)

Down in Liverpool (CD) (Long Neck  2001)

The Man Who Tried to Hug Clouds (Bluechrome 2004 reprinted 2006)

Larkhill   (Searle Publishing 2009)

the cartographer / Heswall (Indigo Dreams 2012)


He has won many awards for his writing and performance including 3 DADAFest awards. He is also managing editor of one of the world’s most successful internet sites for poets.   Jim taught Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool and now tours throughout the year giving readings and performances of his work.


Two poems by Jim Bennett




the sun shines

as we sat out at a table

on Massachusetts Ave

the university library blocks

on one side stretching away

into history and opposite

prim sundial streets

finger down to the Charles

that glistens and glides

like a trout reflecting

sparks of changing colour

as it makes it silver way

to the Atlantic

we watch as shadows

silently devour the roads

until only half remains

and it is time to leave

later it is coffee at Café Mozart

and folk music at Club 47

listening to those who saw

and heard as legends begin


like the writers in Paris

before the war we would sit

talk about poetry    music

and books as if they

were all that could ever matter

and on that final day

as we did it all again

none of us knew that it was

for the last time



Charles Wooton stoned here 1919


 the water beneath the dock wall

is in permanent shade

it is cold and every reflection

stares back from a deep black mirror

there are no shadows here

they belong to a sunlit world


this is the grave of light    a black hole

sucking  in   warmth and hope 

people have chosen to die here

ambition for life slewed away

Charles Wooton died here

thrown or fallen into the dock


a crowd had chased him

watched him struggle in water

hit on the head by a stone

thrown by one of them

he drowned   dead in Liverpool

far from his Bermuda home


people come to see the dock

there are signs about its history

nothing about the man

stoned to death  no plaque for him

just faces that stare back from the water

smile   laugh   say how cold it is   move on




What are your thoughts about how the various art forms link with each other and maybe overlap? (I mean the visual arts and music.) (Lesley Burt)



Well it is a question close to my heart.  First though I need to say that I see all creative art forms as doing a very similar thing for the responder, whether they are a listener / reader/ viewer, there has to be an engagement.  How this engagement is expressed will differ, it could be disagreement with thoughts expressed, acceptance that this reveals a truth; it may even be a profound revelation or rejection. So the engagement could be a few moments escapism or something that is so engaging an idea that it changes the responder’s life.  It may just make them laugh and make them feel good for a while.   The sort of response may differ with each responder, it may be deeply emotional or just a cynical laugh, it might even “just” raise questions in the responders mind.   It is in an attempt to get this response that some artists in various mediums attempt to shock, while others hope to engage their responder on a different level, creating a challenge for them. 


For me there is no difference between art forms they are just different mediums and ways to communicate those ideas that are in the mind of the poet, writer, artist, sculptor, filmmaker etc. etc. (an etc would include all the varieties of artist that you want to name.)   I choose to write poetry as my medium, but it is no more or less effective a medium that any other, all of which have their qualities and uses.  They also all have their limitations. 


Any art form is a means to communicate.  I often say to people that I see a poem as a letter to the world, in just the same way that a piece of music, a photograph, a short story, a novel, a painting etc is also a letter to the world and when engaged with a responder it becomes a complete piece as the responder interprets the message in a way that has meaning for them, even a rejection of the piece can indicate that an engagement has taken place.


So to answer that question, may I say that it was no mistake that I insisted that my University Department title was “Creative Arts” rather than “Creative Writing”.  It is clear that the audience for all of the creative arts is split into groups many of whom overlap, and even in one area say music, people will engage with one style more than another. 


May I say though that this focuses on the art as being a medium interpreted by the responder.  This does not speak to the responsibility of the creator or the way in which the medium utilises metaphor.


And to answer your question in another way, on one level, in terms of what they are attempting to do, there is no difference between, a poem, a song, a photograph, a painting, an episode of your favourite soap. While on another in terms of the medium they employ they are obviously different and have their own audience groups. 



Should poetry be difficult?  (Bob Cooper)


Some people will always find poems difficult, that is something to do with the education system that insists on teaching people to analyse poems to death, instead of showing them how to enjoy and engage with a poem.  And some poems which on the surface look difficult may in fact resolve in an easy way if given a chance.   But you ask should it be difficult?  So I wonder if you asking if it is the role of the poet to write in a way which obscures or fails to develop their idea in a way which is readily accessible?  I like to read poetry which is accessible. Because this is what I like to read, this is also what I try to write.   This should not be thought of a simple, or poetry with little depth, I hope that the opposite is true.  However I also hope that on a quick read people may get something from the poem without having to go into the analysis of every word. 


I move personally in the direction of accessibility; so the reader will immediately know what the poem is saying on a literal level.  If it stopped there then it would be in all probability doggerel of one sort or another.  To move beyond that the poem must have other meanings, connotations and speciality in word choice.  The reason I go towards accessibility as a key feature in my writing is as a rejection of obscurity, which I feel many writers use as a form of elitism or to hide their lack of something to say.  But as Tim Love said "Obscurity may sometimes shield the charlatan but without it we might lose a valuable opportunity to transcend words, a loss we can't afford."  That is an important and valuable consideration as it supports the need for linguistic innovation. The linguistically innovative poetry suffers from the criticism of being too difficult and in some cases meaningless. The juxtaposition of words and the alternative meanings this brings into play can be an exciting way to explore metaphor, meaning and language structure.


There is also the issue of internal referencing and this perhaps more than anything causes some obscurity for those unfamiliar with the reference.    If a writer spoke about their Achilles heel, most people would remember the story of Achilles and how he could not be killed except by an injury to his heal.      Likewise for references to "Big Brother" though perhaps some would think of the TV show before Orwell's novel "1984".   So there are many shared bits of knowledge which can be used as shortcuts and internal references like these and more profound ones are examples of intertextuallity, where one written piece appears as reference in another.  This form of intertextuallity helps to create an overall mythic world which stories and poems create.  Again though the references chosen may be so obscure that they are only known to a few readers.   The choice is to change it or leave it and hope that your reader will look it up if they are interested.   In any instance I would hope that there would be enough internal context for the meaning to be apparent even if the reference was not known.


I think I would like to write for a reader who would understand what I was writing and not think I had to write down to a readership as I find that suggestion patronising to the reader. 


Where do poems come from?  (Bob Cooper)


Poems come from an awareness that poems may result. They are the self fulfilling prophesy in a situation which might or might not take peoples attention but which is recognised by a person who uses poetry as their creative medium as something that might be a vehicle for them to express an idea or truth in either a direct or indirect way.


I believe that the inspiration for a poem can come from anything and it is the conscious or subconscious recognition of that possibility that engages the poet.


Where do you get your inspiration?  (Lynn Ciesielski)


I get ideas for poems all the time so I keep my notebook handy and jot down the idea when it comes.  Mostly I get inspiration from things or people. Usually the first thing I get to work with is an idea for a theme, this could be something like, I want to write a poem about a fly, or a face or death or birth.  The search for the poem is then the search for the vehicle that will carry this idea or theme, sometimes the resulting poem turns out to be not directly about the theme I am writing about.  For a year now Lesley Burt and I have been exchanging subjects, themes and forms to work with and them comparing the finished result.  The result of this 12 month exercise is about 50 poems each which would not otherwise have been written.  


So I tend to think in very broad concepts about the theme of a poem I want to write and then work at finding the vehicle to carry the theme.   Very occasionally the old synaptic bits are firing away and a poem comes unbidden, but this is of course no sort of miracle apart from the miracle of life which allows a brain to work even when we are unaware of its processes.


How old were you when you started writing poetry? (Lynn Ciesielski)


I wrote my very first poem in a school made Christmas card to my mother when I was 8 years of age.  I wrote the poem without prompting and gave it to my mum in the card.  She was so pleased with it that I decided that I wanted to keep doing it.   I performed in my first open floor in Liverpool when I was 13 years of age; (around 1964) the compare and main poet that night was a fresh faced Roger McGough.  I started hanging out with him and Adrian Henri and had the time of my life, much better than going to school, and probably taught me more. 


Do you think it is relevant for modern poets to write in traditional forms such as sonnets and Blank Verse?   (Jan Harris)


When I facilitate courses in writing poetry, I always start the poets off with .poetic forms, though sonnets are a bit easy and so I go for the French and Spanish forms which are more of a challenge.  I like the Malay song form of the Pantoum as a warm up for the more rigid Villanelle.  But I see it in the same way as if I was teaching art, I would first want the artist to show a facility with their tools and be able to use their equipment correctly before starting to move into freer forms and perhaps attempt the abstract.


A poet or writer has to consider their tools and master them.  Grammar and vocabulary in the language in which you are going to write is essential and I would add to that a detailed understanding of syntactical and structural requirements of language and forms.  A study of language in all its forms and rhetoric (for its tropes).  Understanding of, and the ability to use appropriately the more than 400 poetic devices is also useful.   Add to that an interest in everything, wide and varied reading, a study of the classics and the memorising of as many fine poems as you can in whatever lifetime you have available.


Although a bit tongue in cheek those who have done my Masterclass course will recognise that it is what it is not far off what I require from a student before we start to write poetry.



How did you first get published?  (Grant Van Wintergerden)


My first short story was published in 1969 in the Liverpool Echo. My first poem in the same place just shortly after and my first book was “The Ladybird Book of the Car” in 1971, I was given the job of rewriting and updating an existing text.  I got that because I kept sending ideas for new additions to the Ladybird list, How to perform poetry, how to enjoy a book where some of the ridiculous ideas I sent them, however I had also sent examples of my writing, short stories, an essay or two and a few poems, and the editor at Ladybird must have thought giving me a project would get me out of his hair and finally show me that I could not do it.  In the end I proposed a complete rewrite because cars had changed and I sent him some of the new pages all within a few days.   I wanted to be a full time writer and could not think of any other way to do it, other than to write and write and keep trying.  I also had the security of University in order to spend those years as a writer, in total I spent about 8 years in academe, of course I could not do that these days as you have to pay for the privilege, I was lucky to get a few grants to see me through.  Through my life I have entered many poetry competitions and been fortunate to place or win a few, many of those came with publication, some with booklet publication as part of the prize. I would say that over the years I have invested quite a bit of time and money in making submissions.  In recent years I have moved more towards online publication and now it is about half and half.  I like the more immediate response from submissions via email and tend not to submit if an editor insists on paper submissions; the same is also true of competitions.


At this point it might also be useful to say something about how I continue to get published. My policy for submissions is to send to half of the “regular” editors that I know and half to new magazines or untried markets.  I get reasonable results doing this.  I also set up a month three times a year where I submit to a few markets every day of the month, so at the month end I will have about 100 submissions sent out.   Then I wait about three months pick up the publishing credits and the rejections then do it again.  This does not stop me making some random submissions in the intervening time but this works for me.  To get published you have to work at a good product, an understanding of your market and at making submissions. 


I also find that for quite a while now editors have come to me and asked if I had anything for them.  This is also a privileged position to be in and I recognize how lucky I am in that regard.  I always try to share my good luck with other poets, which is why I am pleased to keep Poetry Kit as a resource for poets.


I think the PK list has a nice balance – I think if it wasn’t for the daft chat sometimes, we may not be interested (because we don’t get to know) our fellow PK’ers and perhaps would not have had the get-togethers the PK’ers have had – I wonder if the poets on other forums do actually get to meet up – is there that trust/friendship on other sites?  (Karen Stanley)


Well I think you have asked the question and answered it.  I do not do chatter, but I know that some people do. And I am pleased you think it is at the right level.  Personally it gets too much for me at times and I have to drop out for a few days.  That is in no way a judgement, it is just an honest answer to your question. 


I cannot answer for what goes on at other forums, I am pleased with the core of poets here who do interact in many different ways and help to develop a creative and critical environment that helps to produce some very good poetry.

If you were a guest on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, which six discs would you choose and what would your luxury be? (Catherine Graham)


When I saw your question I thought that the answer would be easy and obvious.  However it has proven to be a nightmare. So here goes this is right now. Tomorrow or yesterday the list would be different.


Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-1985

Trout Mask Replica - Capt Beefheart and his Magic Band (Tough call between Beefheart and Zappa)

Illegal, Immoral and Fattening – Flo and Eddie

Light - Matisyahu

The Clown – Charlie Mingus

Collection – Brahms


There is no Dylan on this list as I have them all in my head so my luxury would be a guitar so I could play them all


1. Which modern day poets do you like to read?    

2. Do you have a favourite poem or poet that you go back to time and time again?  (Niamh Hill)


Well I like to read anyone on the PK List for a start.  As for other poets, please may I take the liberty of answering that in a slightly less direct way?  I love well put together anthologies of contemporary poetry.  In these I find that editors are more likely to take a chance and publish someone new, and it is in this way that I find new writers who I will enjoy and who I might not have otherwise come across.   The same is true of the small press poets.  I find the best poetry often from the poets I have not previously heard of, and that excites me.


Having said that I like, (in addition to those on the PK list) (some are even still alive.)


Charles Bukowski

Bob Dylan

Allan Ginsberg


Hugo Williams

Vicky Feaver

William Stafford

Imtiaz Dharker

Mary Oliver

Ted Hughes

Thom Gunn
Seamus Heaney

Barry MacSweeney

Leonard Cohen

Paul Heaton

Roger McGough


Do I have a favourite poem or poet that I go back to time and time again?

This is actually a very hard question to answer because the list would be changing all the time, however as truthfully as I can and ensuring that I miss off people and poems that I will kick myself for overlooking here is the best I can do.



The Owl and the Pussycat – Edward Lear

Invictus - William Ernest Henley

We wear the Mask   Paul Dunbar



Charles Bukowski

Bob Dylan

Allan Ginsberg

William Stafford


My favourite poetry book of all time is

Worlds – an anthology from Penguin







Bob Cooper's been reading and writing poems since he left school in the late 1960s. School wasn't all bad, though. That's where he first read Shakespeare.
He's written for journals and magazines on various topics - educational issues, mountaineering, philosophy, literature and book reviews - but, now, focuses mainly on poetry. His poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies in the UK and abroad, has been translated into German (where, he discovered when he heard it, it sounded more musical than it seems in English.) It has been performed on radio and, over the years, he has read at many literary festivals and poetry venues in the UK.

He's won 6 pamphlet competitions - and sometimes thinks that should entitle him to an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. He's taught creative writing in schools, to undergraduates, and on residential courses, but likes his current work in less formal Adult Education much more. He lives in Birmingham.

Previous collections:

Bruised Echoes (Outposts, 1977)

Light from the Upper Left (Smith Doorstop, 1994)

Beyond Liathach (Tears In The Fence, 1995)

Drinking Up Time (Redbeck Press, 1997) 

Pinocchio’s Long Neb (Smith Doorstop, 2000)

All We Know Is All We See (Arrowhead, 2002)

The Ideal Overcoat (WardWood 2012)




Two poems by Bob Cooper



Weighing the Dinosaur Egg


At the Museum we saw an egg

incubating for ever.


“Imagine the size of a dinosaur.”

You stared through the glass,

“It’s a stone.”


We moved on: cheeseburgers,

fizzy drinks, ice-cream.


You must now be seventeen;

your mother re-married,

another child aged eight.


I brood over the fossil,

now knowing its weight.


The poem was published in the Chester Poets Open Competition Anthology 1992




Mr. And Mrs. Anwar And The Utter Significance Of Beds


This bed you’re on will glide through ward doors

enter a lift before we pass exit signs to trundle down ramps

that will lead us past the empty car park onto streets

where, pushing you gently downhill, waiting at lights,

selecting lanes at roundabouts, we’ll soon be home.

There, in arms that will never be as strong as then,

I will cradle you, carry you upstairs with the warmth

I still feel shared between our hands. And I will lay you

where we both wished you to be, your head turned on the pillow

next to where mine, too, rested for all the hours we slept

because that is where I want to find out I realise

you are not here, nor there, but somewhere you belong.




The poem won the Camden Lumen Poetry Competition 2012


and was published in The Ideal Overcoat, Ward Wood, 2012







Would you see a point in avoiding the personal pronoun in some poems?  (Jim Bennett)


Many of the short Japanese forms don't need personal pronouns. I suspect that's not just because writer's are counting syllables either and trying to keep them short.

Apart from Haiku and Senryu I only had one poem published that had no personal pronouns in it. I soon realised I hated it. But that could be because I wrote about something where a personal pronoun would have made the piece work better.

I also used to write a lot of poetry about mountains and rock climbing. I occasionally tried to avoid mentioning anything about people. It was difficult. If I didn't include a person in the piece I did use personal feeling words for things: the river knows, the clouds seethed, etc. 


Poems can have an invisible narrator that doesn't need to appear in the poem. Perhaps in not using a personal pronoun a reader can still recognise a personal presence somewhere beyond the poem - and the reader may find it easier to put themselves into the narrator's shoes, use the narrator's eyes.

... So, now, I'm thinking more of your second question rather than your first one...

What do you think is the purpose of “I” in poetry?

... Of course if someone reads a poem where I've used "I" I know it needn't be the me, the Bob Cooper I know, that it's written about. A poem that's in the 1st. person is probably more personal in its tone but it needn't be revealing things that belong to the writer's private issues or state of mind.

I think poems get so much strength from the personal pronouns they use. Some things can't be said in the 3rd. Person. Some may sound silly in the 1st. Person but sound OK in the 3rd. Person. Some would cause giggles if they were in the 2nd. Person. etc. etc.


It's difficult to show some feelings when writing as "he" or "she" so using "I" adds depth and strength to a poem. The first person pronoun is possibly the strongest pronoun a poem can use. But I hope I never assume it's more than the narrator. It's easier to accept that an "I" in a novel or short story isn't the writer and I make that assumption for poems as well.

I found my poetry became stronger when I used at least two people in a poem: an "I" and a "he" who were almost equals. I could then be giving myself permission to be a bit of both people. I also had a lot more confidence in revealing things that may be about myself. After all I am quite shy... I also recognise that the villanelle you've just posted is mainly about another person but, beyond that, I'm very conscious of a narrator: an invisible "I".


There are a few other things that are also spinning in my head. It’s possible, for instance, to write a poem with plural pronouns...

The voice I'm most unsure of is a poem that talks as "We." I could let someone say, "We..." but I don't know if I could write in the First Person Plural. (If I get an opportunity for a liquid lunch, with my notebook to hand, I may try it.)

One thing, though, with the First Person that puzzles me is the status of the small case i. I've never used it. I don't know if I dare. Until I try it I daren't say anything about it.


If all of these comments seem as if they're stepping around the questions and not leaping straight at them then that may be because I'm still thinking things over. Rediscovering the values of pronouns again and again? I've been doing that for decades.


Do you ever write in 'closed forms' like sonnets, villanelles etc? If so, why, and if not, why not?   (Lesley Burt)

... and if not, why not?

I find some forms really too difficult to use well. Terza Rima and Villanelle demand phrase-games and word-games I can't control without the piece ending up feeling wooden and lifeless.

I guess it's like camping: if it's sunny the first time you do it you may try it again. If it isn't you won't. So, if your first villanelle gets to its last full stop and you can't stop smiling then another one may follow.


I think I became more interested in traditional forms when I recognised what they were able to do - and what I was trying to do.

What do I mean?

Read on! 
I now recognise the English language is good for making sonnets.

How do I recognise that?

Read on.

I think I became interested in writing sonnets when someone pointed out that a 15 line piece I was working on had the patterning of a sonnet. So, because I knew I was actually trying to do it, I tried to do it more again and again and began to discover how other sonnets turned from mentioning one thing to another thing, how they were balanced and how they could end. So it wasn't that I was offered the challenge: write one! I was already working on one and didn't realise it. I think there are probably many poets born after the middle of the last century who've moved towards closed forms...

But, back to sonnets! I also don't think a sonnet need have rhymes, or even 14 lines, but they can be useful in helping one get into the depths of what the poem one's writing can do.

I think the last rhymed one I had published was earlier this year... (But I stole the rhymes from Wordsworth!). Sonnets aren't patterned shapes made out of Lego. They have muscles, sinews, lungs, they can breathe. (Now, who said that?)


I'm still less attracted to other traditional forms.

So, the Villanelle, The Sestina, the Rhyme Royale, the Ottava Rima, etc? Apart from them sounding like the names of classic cars I've rarely got into them and discovered I was going somewhere I wanted to go. (When I made some they felt like toy cars made of Lego...)

Or, to change the simile, coming across the forms could be like stepping into an Ice Cream shop in Rome! I've tried a few of the flavours - glutted myself with them when I first saw them! - but I know which ones taste better in my mouth.

I do think poems need patterns or form. A free form poem isn't free of form: it has its own form. Sometimes so many poems made by the same writer follow the same pattern or form. (I'm saying that to myself!) (Sometime soon I may have to try and kick the habit of following a sonnet pattern...). Different flavours! Oh yes. There's not just vanilla. Neapolitan? I've come out of Sonneto's Ice Cream Parlour with a three flavoured cone a few times...

I can also choose others... Maybe. Eventually!



I suspect many PKers don't realise - as I didn't until recently - your connection with the Methodist church. How does that connection impact your writing? Have you ever written explicitly religious poetry? Is religion/church as invisible in your poetry as I think it is?  (Stuart Nunn)


Well, this may seem like 3 answers. But it's also one.


You ask: ...How does that connection impact your writing?

That’s an interesting question.

I guess some people may think it should push me towards writing particular types of poems. Perhaps it does. But it doesn’t mean I write religious poems.

Because I know R. S. Thomas, an Anglican Priest, wrote rural poems for many years and only began to publish religious poems later in his writing career. Maybe I write urban poems because that’s where I live. And I never know what I’m going to see or say next. But, so far, except when I’ve responded to a commission I haven’t found my pen and fingers making one. David Scott, another Anglican Priest, is much the same - except he lives in Cumbria, not Wales.

I don’t feel worried that I’m not seen as a religious poet. But I do recognise that I sometimes write about things that may be seen by religious people as being religious.

However, I have also worked in religious contexts and often offered people poems to study and/or emulate particular poems where I’ve asked the question: Is that Religious Poetry? It has made for never-ending discussions.

Here’s a confession! (Ah, a religious word!!). I do find many of today’s wanna-get-published religious poets, quite frankly, dull or unadventurous. Writing poems is taking a leap of faith with language and religious people seem to have more barriers to leap over before they can say something new. Hymns are for stating the obvious in pronounceable musical ways; poems can and should do many other things.

There are some poets I value for what they can do. William Stafford is one guy who approaches religious expression in a way I can savour time and time again.

Occasionally other people write religious poems, too. I’m not interested in whether they go to a church, a mosque, a temple or whatever. I’m much more interested in their poem. Not where it’s come from – to say something I wish to be heard in most writers’ workshops – but where it’s going.

I’m hoping Santa (not a particularly religious image) will bring me some of Michael Symonds Roberts poetry for Christmas. I’d put him alongside my Les Murray, David Scott, Pauline Stainer, Michael McCarthy, Gillian Allnutt... if I had a shelf for living religious poets. (I’d also have R.S. Thomas, Kathleen Raine, Elizabeth Jennings, Dorothy Nimmo, George Mackay Brown, Iain Crichton Smith, next to them, too. Some of whom I’ve met, all of whom have written more than religious poems.)

So, is my religion invisible in my poems?

Sort of... Let me say a little more.

I’m also a socialist - I still deeply regret the ending of Clause 4, am appalled at Government cuts and education policies - and my political beliefs must, like my religious convictions, also drift like tectonic plates beneath my writing, too. I’m also a republican, a European, a vegetarian... Oh, I once heard someone mutter at a reading, I can’t cope with another vegetarian poet!!! - And these things are also part of me, too. Maybe all these things - and more - make me select what to write about more than what I end up saying. (I don't think I've ever writen/written about a butcher's shop, for instance).

If I were to be sold off in a buy-a-poet auction I’d feel OK about being called a job lot. With all of these things on the numbered tray as well as a few books of poems.

And talking about money... I put the information on the back of each of my books. So people were having to pay for the privilege of knowing. But, with the internet, this is another thing about poetry that’s free.


Is it that only by those who are 'gifted' with are able to write poetry? Or mere practice will make one able to write poetry?  (SK Iyer)


Now there's a question! (Grin!!)

I don't think I can answer it directly. However you’ve started me thinking about the word gifted...

But I first want to say that I believe poems are gifts. We are gift finders or makers.

And I think (almost) everyone can write a poem that can be a gift. (But not everyone wants to do that. Maybe some don't yet realise the kind of poem - its form and subject - which they can write and offer as a gift.)

I used to think I had a lot to learn before I became a proper poet. I was glad when I recognised that isn't how I need look at writing poems. The poems I wrote before I learned some of the trickery of crafting in different ways are still poems.


And Secondly I’m thinking about the word gifted.

I think there are others who are certainly more gifted with what they write. But they need not be those who are recognised by publishers, those who offer grants or prizes, those who count up book sales. I can see or hear a poem by a child and think, “I could never have written that! Why can’t I write like that?”

There are also times when I look back on stuff I’ve written years ago and I think, “Did I write that? How did I manage to write that?” I think critics and poets both know peaks can be reached but not always sustained. I knew of one – albeit rather neurotic but well known UK poet - who couldn’t sleep because of worry that the thing that had been written during the day was so good nothing as good would get written ever again.

(But there are people at poetry readings who look at the one at the front and wear a face that shamelessly means, "I'm a poet, too. Show me you deserve to be up there more than me." I prefer to see faces around me that show me openness to poetry. I prefer to sit and listen to poets who have that open face too. And if I have to follow someone whose tone says “Look at me. I’m a poet.” I start to feel bad. I want to hear the gifts, not the giver.)

Rant over!


Back to thinking about gifts.

I hope I can still keep finding gifts.

Perhaps poems are also gifts that come with luck. I remember Stuart quoting Gary Player: the more I practice the luckier I become. So, like those with more talent, I keep practising the art and craft of finding/making poems - and hope to get lucky.

Is it a combination of luck and practice, then seizing the moment, which makes a poem?

Sometimes that's how poems start...


As someone who finds it hard to know when to stop tinkering with a poem, I‘d be interested to know when you consider a poem finished.    (Jan Harris)

OK, I admit it, too! I'm a tinkerer. A perpetual, irrepressible, tinkerer.
When I first bought a computer I remember opening a box-file maked/marker 1960s and copying poems from quarto sheets of paper and changing them as I was doing it.
And I once used to believe that when a poem got itself published there was no need to revise it any further. But that thought didn't stick either. Before it gets republished I tinker! If it gets republished again I may still have a little tinker.

Maybe I'm like Wordsworth with his Prelude or Whitman with his Leaves of Grass...


But I don't want to let go of the idea that poems can be worked to death! I have a rule of thumb that only applies to me. I don't write with my thumbs but I can playfully put it like this:


1.      I type from scribble then cut & paste every draft onto a fresh MS Word page. When I have 15-20 pages I should have the shape (and most of the lines will feel at ease with each other).

2.      Then I start with the tinkering: a word changed here, lines swapped around, a comma there...  More often than not I make a list, a flurry of titles... (Some seem better, many seem worse!)

3.      Then, if it still feels like it's breathing, it may get itself posted here...

4.      Then the conversations begin!

5.      More and more drafts appear.

6.      More and more conversations happen.

7.      Then it reaches a final draft.

8.      Then there's another final draft.

9.      etc. etc. etc. Until...

10.  I tell it to be patient - and wait.

11.  Wait? 

12.  Yes, wait. 

13.  And when I've forgotten its lines and words then it gets looked at yet again!

14.  And another final draft, I suppose!

15.  Sometimes...

16.  And then?

17.  Well, then it may have a future beyond my machine, my printer, and myself.

Thankfully, if it's not got a future, I realise it by stage 2 or 3...
Sometimes I realise it's got a death rattle by stage 3, 4, or 5...
But sometimes (as they say at the Bingo) it's "unlucky for some Number 13" when I realise it has no pulse. I hold a mirror to its words: it has lost its breath.
I guess, as well, poems can slip away before they get typed up; a scribble in a notebook travels home happily enough after a liquid lunch but gets a glance and then never gets to the keyboard. Or, when they're still at stage 1, they lose the will to live.

And I've still got pieces I'm reluctant to forget or send out that I've had hanging around in stage 17 for twelve or so years. Post it or bin it? One day, I tell myself, I'll make up my mind...
There's a lot of truth in Paul Valery's notion that a poem is never finished, just abandoned...

I once heard that Ezra Pound bragged that he wrote a poem, title and all, in one draft and in 8 minutes. I have a photocopy of it in a box-file somewhere. I seem to remember it was quite good.

And it's claimed of Frank O'Hara's book, Lunch Poems, that each poem was written in his lunch hour. I don't think that's altogether true. The poems sometimes seem to happen in his lunch hour - so they must have been thought over and typed up at some other time... So how much thought, and how much typing? Spontaneity may have needed planning.

In the past all my books have contained poems from the previous two years to the publication.  Now I am looking at poems that are 40 years old!   OK my question.  Is it valid to keep the poem as it was originally published or is it OK to tweak it so that I am happier with it?   (Jim Bennett)

As I've said I'm a tweaker!
In the Collection that just arrived yesterday (yippee) I started my acknowledgements with the phrase: Some of these poems, or earlier versions, have appeared in... (and I list the places!). The earliest poem was only 15 years old; but I wanted to bring the older poems up to date so everything coheres and appears to speak for today. I did tweaks for clarity and, in the earlier poems, for consistency of content. I moved a couple of poems placenames from Tyneside to Birmingham for instance (kept the content but changed the names.) Something that does something similar to that italicised phrase may be a way of showing you've done some editing.
However, it all could depend on what the publisher wants. There's no-one I know, except for yourself, who's compiled or is currently compiling a Collected. I think, though, there may be differeing/differing ways of compiling a Collected. I guess a chronological Collected may want to show how style has changed and evolved and the editors/publishers may want to offer evidence of that. Other publishers, though, may be much more focused on content, and may only wish to show how subjects and issues have changed over the years; so, for them, changes in appearance or style may matter less, or not at all.

Are you compiling it so there are marker pages that divide one collection (or it could be something like one decade) from another? (Sometimes such books only have indicators on the title page, sometimes they have index pages that denote which poems have been published in previous books – and so that’s where they give dates.) Or is it intended to be a dip-in-anywhere-and-go-with-the-flow-of-what-follows book? I don’t know of others who read a collected from cover to cover. Again I guess the publisher may be able to offer advice.

So, if it were me, I’d be thinking of keeping the original version and having a revised version and share the final decision with the people who’re to publish it. (... I know when I was compiling my Arrowhead book we discussed the content where I was wondering if it should be a Selected, a New & Selected, or mainly new poems? In the end we agreed that more than two-thirds would be poems not yet published in books. I recognised, in compiling it, that some of the poems I was using that had been published before needed tweaks to offer consistency – in punctuation more than anything else, but also with titles – and we each knew what each other was hoping to achieve. I also only chose from 3 books.)

As you probably know most book publishers can cope with last minute changes, even drastic ones here and there. But they don't like it. Much the same as we, the writers, don't like their last minutes changes either!

I hope they’re helpful.

And I hope what I'm saying is helpful, too!


1. When writing, do you write to a theme/idea for a collection or does the collection come later?

2. How do you decide what should be included/left out of a collection?

3. Have you ever looked back at a collection and thought you should have included something you left out? (Niamh Hill)


Do I write to a theme?


I think the answer is yes – but not everything belongs to the theme. I’m like a goat that’ll eat anything. But even when I’m snaffling any scribble from a notebook to my computer I know I also have things I feel I need to write as well as the things I want to write.


But, I may not always know what that theme is when the first ones start to appear. I may not know enough about it until I realise there’s something interesting going on in a few recent things. I also have and keep a lingering fear that if I say too specifically what the theme is I may prevent it from developing further. So, with the poems in the book I’m starting to promote now I’d only say I’m writing about “What I find in Birmingham City Centre and on the way home.” Then I’d hope I wasn’t expected to elaborate much further.


And I know I’m still writing pieces that may have been included if they hadn’t been so similar to ones the publisher, and a promoter, insisted I incorporate. (So I now think, O.K., I’ve got a canny few to keep up the pressure. when I look at them I hear whispering that I should make more and see what happens next.) I guess I only know one theme is finished, one seam exhausted, when poems about other things start emerging in succession.


However some themes announce themselves immediately. One afternoon in the Duddon Valley in Cumbria I knew I wanted to write 34 sonnets about the place like Wordsworth had done. There I had a very specific theme, a precise pattern, but only for some pieces did I stand in the same place and write as if I was there. All I'd say when I was doing it was "Like Wordsworth I'm writing about the Duddon." I gradually discovered what I was doing. I wrote more than 40 and then had to choose. I was also quite scared about writing the first and the last pieces – and very relieved when I finally got them down. Only when I'd finished did I start to think what I'd actually done. I would have liked them to be collected separately to everything else. They almost were....


But, perhaps I should also explain more of how I’ve been published: most of my books are pamphlets that have won competitions. (Oh, go on, let me brag a little: I’ve won 6 but only 5 of them went to print). Having said that I can now say that with two of them I was frustrated because two were on the same theme but I could only submit 20 for one competition and another 20 for another one the year after – and fortunately I chose the right pieces for each one. But I still would have loved to have had those 40 all together in one collection! They couldn't appear like that. That’s life! (I also won a competition and had a pamphlet published of mountaineering poems and the Duddon sonnets followed some of those in a larger collection.) (The sonnets, however, were shortlisted for a pamphlet prize in their own right. But I had an invitation to submit a larger collection so I didn’t submit them anywhere else!)  Now, back to focusing more on what you were asking about!


I really like pamphlets (or chap books as they are sometimes called.) A rule of thumb I use (and I don’t write, read, or count with my thumbs) is having over 30 possibles for a 20-plus page collection and 70 to 80 for a 64 page book (where possibly only 56 are needed...). In the whittling down process poems, even good ones, may start to stand out like sore thumbs... I still think that a bigger Collection should try and contain poems that cohere. Making a collection is like trying to make a cut-up poem.


Numbers 2 & 3. H’m... Have you ever looked back at a collection and thought you should have included something you left out?

No... (Sigh.) I’ve looked back at collections and thought there’s been one (or two!) I shouldn’t have put in!


I think putting a collection together may be a bit like story-boarding a script for a film: choosing which scene goes where and, if that happens, which scene could then be cut out. I also know almost every collection has “fillers” – poems that link one flow of poems to another – and I suspect every poet has the bed in the spare room littered with poems in small piles which get shuffles into one order. Re-read and shuffled again. And to change the analogy: I’ve also got a crafty subconscious that knows there’s a black hole in the middle of those I’m trying to collect and prompts a poem to fill it. And I think I also have a mind that’s mischievous so it makes one when it’s too late to go in. (Poets maybe have 3 minds – other people frequently say they’re only in 2?)


But what happens to poems after they’ve been written is changing, perhaps quite drastically. The innovations and availability of the web means there could be less and less dependence on printed poetry magazines and possibly of poetry books. Bookshops are vanishing. Poetry shelves in big UK bookshops are shrinking. Are people now saying they want to be an Internet poet rather than a book published poet? May the Web be replacing all that printers in Gutenberg began? I guess, with all of what I've written, I may be thinking of how collections have appeared more than how they will appear. Things may be changing... Poets may be able to inter-react with their collections more after they’ve been published than they can when they’re printed and distibuted/distributed on paper. Readers may read differently, too: what if there was a button, like on an IPlayer, which said Random?  What if a reader selected to read or hear only poems that included the word you? What if poems could be chosen to be ordered with first lines in alphabetical order? Printing stabilised things, technology may soon start to release things? And how many other innovations may become commonplace? All of this may not just affect readers. All kinds of things may change how we think of collecting poems.


The modern poetic that leans towards confessional poetry, is only thought of as the mainstream by poets. Many casual poetry readers have little or no respect for contemporary poetry believing it is no more than “cut up prose”, a put down that has been used as a critique on this list from time to time. So is modern poetry no more than an affectation? Has it any long term value?    (Jim Bennett)

 I hadn’t particularly noticed how influential confessional poetry had been until I read your question. I think, as you lead up to your question, you’re making a valid point.


I can’t give a comprehensive answer. And just what do I understand by the word affectation? I guess you’ll have to read on to find out. And it may be I’m digressing too much in considering affectation and seriousness in recent poetry but that’s where I want to start.

So I begin by saying I recognize I’m surrounded by poets who shy away from writing about lots of big things and feel more at ease being what we could call domestic or mainstream poets. I remember, for instance, I was in Newcastle the weekend after 9-11 and a friend, who’s now got 3 or 4 collections to her name, made the comment that she intended to keep well away from mentioning it. “And don’t ask me why.” I didn’t. I think I knew why she said it. I think she was worried she’d only be able to create affectations. From the distance we were from the scene it seemed too big to see. What she or I would write would feel inauthentic, possibly voyeuristic and probably false. I later came to admire some 9-11 poems but sensed too many were also knee-jerk reactions. Photography knew how to stand there a week after, poetry didn’t.

But, years later, you initiated a PK project that focused on 9-11 – and I can remember that was the first time I wrote about it all. I managed to discover a spark that jumped the gap between such a big event and a poem:


9-11, The Dust


that had billowed, overwhelmed all,

tasted bitter, stung my eyes

and later I emptied it from shoes,

wiped if from under my watchstrap,

then had a shower, seeing

the stained water swirl


but for weeks I still saw it, felt it,

ingrained in the soap.


For me it took so many years for that huge cloud of dust to settle into a poem. If someone looks at what you’ve just read and starts talking about affectation I’d glare at them. But I’d also want to know how else to do make a poem that works. I’d want advice and know what else is around that works better.


I also recall, from many years before that, reading Paul Muldoon’s poem Cuba – see: It was published in a collection 15 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. That’s always been an important poem for me.

There are many other poems, I’m sure, that may reach beyond the smaller lives we live and touch on much bigger things. Some may even let the big world outside our own lives and ourselves be metaphors for each other. We do seem, however, to want to start with who we are, and the people we may know, and then rarely know how to attach the big world as an equal. Maybe we know poems can be risk-taking creations and we like to feel they are under our control. The world out there can feel too scary. We may like poets that don’t scare us too much. So we feel safer imitating others. When that happens affectation can be a culture, a mould, which grows on a subject we can’t yet call our own. (I like both meanings of the word culture in that sentence... interesting!) (Stick to the subject!) (O.K.)


So, in how I’ve answered you, I’ve been focusing more about content than style. In talking of cut up prose you’re talking of style.


So what do I think about style and the unwise comment that today’s poetry is merely cut up prose?

Actually I think that’s either a rather ignorant thing to say – intended as an almost polite put down insult – or it’s an uninformed half-thing thing to say. I think the person who says it should then be asked, “Compared to what?” (Only then could I start to understand what’s being said.).

Oh dear, am I dismissing the cut up prose critics too easily? No, (Big sigh...) I’m rather tired of the phrase jabbed forward like peanut butter on a knife by someone who doesn't much care that those in front of them may have nut allergies. And, oh how they spread it so thickly.

I recall Keats where he talked about poetry being almost like a remembrance. I’d want to suggest to a cut-up critic that if they find something that works like that then they can value the poem.

But there’s possibly something else that needs to be said about affectation. I recall a weekend conference on the poetry of Frank O’Hara. The comment was made by one of those delivering an address or reading poems: “Maybe we all had to go through a phase of writing like O’Hara...”  That a poet emerges from an influence – or many influences - towards using their own unique voice is part of not being affectations.


So, has modern poetry ... ... long term value?


Wow! What a question! (Jim you owe me a pint for daring to ask such a thing!!).


Quietly I want to say a history of poetry might look at today and then talk about the domesticity of poetry in the prosperity of the start of this century. Also many Creative Writing MAs – almost every UK University has wanted one – have been churning out many safe contemporary poets for a fair few years. Students know what is publishable and know if they can write such stuff. People can buy out of mediocrity but they may buy into affectation. (I know creativity in education shouldn’t do that but I also know it does do that!) If someone also said there are too many poets, too many too similar poems, I wouldn’t want to disagree - particularly if they were a publisher or an editor - but only tone it down and say there always have been too many poems to read...

But I know the world’s economy has changed, is continuing to change, and poetry will continue to mutter or whisper important things. No longer do we have kitchen-sink stare-out-the-window dramas in poems – I sense there is much sit-on-a-cushioned-chair, stare-beyond-the-double-glazing dramas in poems. People are comfortable with that. Affectation can be tolerated. We needn’t go back to the kitchen sink (but in these hard times it may be that kitchen sink dramas will return!). Maybe, now in 2013, someone’s taken the cushions from the comfortable chairs. When we sit there now, let’s tell of what we see? And maybe recognize today needs less of the old affectations. And get started quickly before new ones show up.

So I’ll end by changing the subject (always a fine way to end when one can’t think how else to end it!)... And to change the image: there are far too many poets in the mainstream, most with the same designer swim-wear and goggles. If they are all wearing the same swimsuits, all wearing goggles, it may be fashion - and that’s another word for affectation...

Anyway, I said I was going to change the subject. Here goes: Earlier this year, when on holiday and for fun in a rain spattered tent, I read a series of lectures a poet called Lascelles Abercrombie delivered in Leeds on the state of poetry in the 1920s. From our present day perspective he doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about people like Pound, Eliot, W C Williams, e e cummings, D H Lawrence... He doesn’t use words like Imagism Vorticism, Objectivism, Modernism, Avante Garde-ism... He didn’t mention the new voices we associate with those heady days, the new movements and names we see when looking back. But, like he thought of his time with a sense of promise, I too think we have the skills we need to get things made that belong to today. Perhaps he was a wise enough to know we needn’t write in the shadow of others but can stand in the light of seeing things, writing things, we think only we can see. We can read them and learn but we needn’t write with their pens.

I think we say things that matter to us, and may hopefully matter to others. If it seems we imitate then that isn’t our main desire or purpose – unless we only want to write for and to each other. Unless I specifically know I’m writing for just one person, and what I’m writing is private, I know strangers can read my poems too. I hope they can find links to other poets and their poems - and more links than I know of - but I hope no-one then uses the word affectation.








Lesley Burt lives in Christchurch, Dorset. She retired from social work education in 2009 and has been writing poetry for about 12 years. Her poems have been published online, in magazines and anthologies, including: Tears in the Fence, Poetry Nottingham, The Interpreter’s House, Roundyhouse, Dorset Voices, and in the recent Robin Hood Book, edited by Alan Morrison. She has received awards in competitions, including the Bedford Open 2011, the Alan Sillitoe Open 2012, Christchurch Writers’ Poetry Competition 2009 & 2010, and the Virginia Warbey 2012. She also wrote a chapter for: Teaching Creative Writing, edited by Elaine Walker (2012), Professional and Higher Partnership. Since retirement she has run a poetry group on a voluntary basis, with the aim of promoting the enjoyment of reading and writing poetry in her local community.


Two poems by Lesley Burt        




Every Sunday the key resists

just a little: reminds me

to take care, not over-wind;


on each hour, the chime spring

rustles, limbering up

before hammer hits gong;


I regulate the mainspring

when it tightens in winter nights

and expands during summer days;


the gentle pendulum rocks;

another heartbeat

in the house.


Like my grandfather,

my father, my mother,

I will not know which chime

is the last I hear.





Past midnight: streets are silent; nothing stirs;

no pigeons, cats or traffic. Not a soul


is out there; though unlit rooms – with shutters

 like eyelids partly open – seem watchful.


Inside the diner is a different world:

fluorescent light on yellow walls and chrome.

A jukebox plays and coffee cups are filled

by staff who mention wives asleep at home.


A girl feels safe within four walls,

strong men around the place; outside you never know

who waits for you in shadows, still unseen.


And anyone who passes by this scene


might watch from darkened doorways over there,

as if this window were a giant screen.


(Nighthawks, painted by Edward Hopper 1942, Art Institute of Chicago)


'Rhythm' came 3rd in the Lupus Comp 2011

Nighthawks  was in 'The Interpreter's House' No. 46, 2011,







I would quote influences such as The Beats, Bukowski, Dylan, Liverpool, The Kinks, Warhol, Banksy, Springsteen, Graham Kendrick, Sydney Carter, Charles Wesley, clouds, Charlie etc.  These are just a few of the pillars that underpin my cultural and spiritual existence and experience, there are many more.  What would yours be and why?  (Jim Bennett)


Thank you for asking me this question, Jim. It has really made me think about what exactly does underpin my cultural and spiritual existence. It is also an enormous question. I have not mentioned everything but I may have rambled about things that are irrelevant. Please let me know if I have said too much or too little, and follow up if you wish.


I won’t go on about family influences, except for the important background of my political and atheistic upbringing. My family voted Labour, which was rare in this part of the world, so I knew we didn’t 'fit' and, to add to that, we were not Christians which meant I was the ONLY ONE in my class not christened. As most PKers already know, I am still politically on the left. Some would say ‘far left’. Seems OK to me though! Right into adulthood I was pretty scathing about religion – all of it – and realised at some point that I was ‘afraid’ of being tolerant because that felt as if I would be rejecting my parents and my beloved grandfather. It has been a most liberating realisation. I still don’t believe in any kind of deity, but I am free to explore what others believe and become clearer about what I believe.


In the light of all that, it is interesting to me that I seem to have retained a lot of the religious teaching from school. I remember the messages and stories, especially those where Jesus spells out what it means to be a Christian. I have a real sense of difference between the Old and New Testaments. I love the Book of Ruth, and the nativity stories.  I put that down to, firstly, the story-tellers who used such great images, secondly to the King James version’s wonderful poetry, and lastly, equally, to my teacher, Shirley Patten, who also taught me English (and one year of Latin). I like a lot of churches and cathedrals, not only for the architecture but because of the feeling of people being a community there for centuries/generations/years, depending on the age of the church. Our Priory in Christchurch symbolises home for me in many ways.


I think geography has a huge impact on people – I love being near the coast. I lived way inland in Germany for a couple of years, and missed the sea. I like seeing where the edge is – where land and sea meet, and the shape of the coast, the curve of the bays, the little peninsulas, and looking across to the Isle of Wight and the Needles. It somehow opens up the world to possibilities. I love the rolling green hills of Dorset, and the way you sometimes see the sea glistening beyond them. We have the New Forest too, just along the road, and that gives a great sense of seasons because of the deciduous trees and the bird life there. I also love visiting cities though – and am always attracted to the river, if they have one, as in London and Bristol; Liverpool too, of course.


I grew up with enormous respect for books, and the early influences on me were Charlotte Bronte and Dickens. The stories and images from reading Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre when I was 10 or 11 have stayed with me. My grandfather told me he won a copy of Oliver Twist at school, and the book had a profound effect on him. It must have seemed so much more ‘of his time’ when he read it.


I first read D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Snake’ for GCE when I was 15. I loved it, and laughed a lot at the image of him standing in that heat in pyjamas, chucking sticks at a snake out of fear. But the images and atmosphere carried such strong ‘messages’ about humanity and humility. Later I read all he wrote for a dissertation and, although there may be a lot of wordiness and waffle, there are such strong images among it, e.g. in Bavarian Gentians, and the two poems about bats, and anyone who thinks he had no sense of humour should read the mosquito poem. I love the way Lawrence expresses his progress through his life and spirituality in his poetry and novels; the way he struggles to express his own ‘truths’.


My parents used to sing around the house. They were not great singers, but enjoyed the pop culture of their era. I recall particularly that my mother used to sing songs like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ and ‘I’m in the Mood for Love’, and my father sang ‘Ramona’ and ‘Charmaine’. I, of course, had to reject their music and enjoy Bill Haley, Elvis, Tommy Steele, Buddy Holly and Cliff. My early teenage favourites were the Everly Brothers because of their harmonies, and ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ takes me back to a specific day sitting on the school field with friends during lunch break, yearning to be grown up. (Well, that never happened!)


Then I discovered jazz and Sinatra. Nobody can phrase a lyric like Sinatra. I could listen to him for ever I think! I enjoy Dakota Staton, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald of course, because of the way they deliver the mixture of lyric and music. I enjoy instrumental jazz too, but I do like a lyric.  I also like music by Carol King, because I find the lyrics and melodies work well and memorably, and James Taylor because he has a lovely voice that expresses songs so well. And (sorry!) I enjoy hearing Robbie Williams because his songs make me want to boogie around.

I have been very influenced by holiday travel, in many ways, but culturally and spiritually by India and Bali in particular. Of course, all the sights, smells, sounds, flavours, are so different in themselves. What I didn’t realise until I reflected later was how the differences made me see my own heritage in new ways. For example, in Bali the people are mainly Hindu in their overall religion, but their rituals etc are unique to them. One thing that they do is make offerings to gods in every part of their life: work, leisure, as well as religious ceremonies. I noticed that once an offering was made, it didn’t matter whether the rats or the sea took it: what mattered was the preparation and the act of worship. I find that so interesting – and useful.


Finally, I am influenced by visual art, especially paintings. Now Jim has ‘made me’ answer this question, it has become very clear to me that it is the mixture of words and visual imagery that matters to me, because I have realised it was Ruskin that turned me on to Turner, and that was how I found my way into paintings. (In ‘Modern Painters’ he wrote a defence of Turner, who was not universally well received.)


So, clearly, imagery is what is important to me about poetry: if the image does its work, there is no need for explanation. That means the language has to be concrete and accessible. So that is what I try for.




 If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, which six poetry books would you hope to have with you for company? (Not allowed Jim or Bob's fab new collections  

(Catherine Graham)


Ah, how very difficult! I am not good at choosing favourite anythings! OK. ( I am assuming I’m not allowed anything at all by Jim or Bob – because I do have more of theirs, and would, of course, grab those first! ! I would also have my Ipod with recordings of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas, and ‘The Poet and the Piper’ with Seamus Heaney and Liam O’Flynn.)


Keith Sagar's 'D H Lawrence - Selected Poems' (1972). I also have Sagar's 'D H Lawrence - Selected Poetry' (1975) but it has to be the earlier one because someone I loved bought it for me as a gift when my granddad died, so it is significant that way too.


'The Rattle Bag' because the poems are anthologised in alphabetical order, not listed in author order, so you get surprises when you turn the page.

‘Answering Back’ Carol Ann Duffy

‘Imagist Poetry’ edited by Peter Jones (1972)

‘Paradise Lost’ – might settle to read the whole thing at last!

‘The Odyssey’ – might give me hope for getting home; or scare me to death over sea-borne adventures!


Which poetry book/s would you put on your Christmas present list and why? (Jan Harris)


Ice – Gillian Clarke

People Who Like Meatballs – Selima Hill

Josephine Hart’s ‘Lifesaving – ‘Why we Need Poetry’ sounds very interesting too.


I would choose these because I haven’t read Gillian Clarke and Selima Hill a great deal yet, and Josephine Hart not at all - reviews of these sound good -  and it’s about time I did!


Do you think there are characteristics that mark out poetry by women from that written by men? What might they be? (Stuart Nunn)


You know, of course, that I’ll say, ‘Yes and no’!


 I should add that I would not presume to speak for women whose cultural history is different from mine (white, English); also that I would prefer to be in a discussion about this, where various views are expressed, because I think this may be a matter of opinion. But I will have a go at an initial response.


Firstly, as you said as part of Q1, poets are affected by life experiences, and that must include the geography and era in which we live. So, it is unlikely that a woman would have been in a position to produce ‘Paradise Lost’ or ‘The Rape of the Lock’.  It seems likely that, at least up to the 20th century, women’s position in society would affect their preoccupations and therefore the content of their poetry, and the manner in which they wrote. That may have continued in various ways into the 21st century, although there have been changes in the way gender differences are viewed by many people – at least in the culture I feel part of. Gender must also make a difference in writing the obvious things like pregnancy and giving birth and, even for women who don’t have that experience, there are hormonal and life cycle differences (e.g. menopause).


If poets refer to the images and experiences that surround them then, for example, poets fighting and writing during WW1 would have very different images on which to focus their work from women at home; but also from men who did not see the fighting at first hand. And women who have been subject to violence at the hands of men would write images for their grief and anger that are different from those associated with war violence.


On the other hand, Dorothy Wordsworth might have responded in similar words to the ones William wrote about the sight and memories of daffodils.


I would not say that men are less tender or less sensitive poets than women. I would say there are situations and circumstances – cultural and familial – that bring out softness or aggression in both genders. And I might think – though I would need to think carefully about this – that circumstances in my culture have tended to encourage a ‘harder’ male approach and a ‘nurturing’ female approach, and that we are still seeing the results of this. But not necessarily; and not necessarily in poetry.


Oh dear. I found this difficult and this is probably not helpful at all! Maybe we can all discuss it at some point?


I think it was Dante who said all poetry is praise poetry... But there's always been so much protest poetry. So: What about politics and poetry?  (Bob Cooper)


I assume you mean: do I think all poetry is political poetry?


Well, perhaps that begs the question of what is political in the first place. I believe that people who think they are not ‘political’ either don’t realise they are, or are lying!


I will get to poetry, I promise! But, firstly, I was interested to see/hear the number of people who were competing to be a Police Commissioner and/or commenting about the role before and during the election, and still now, who say we should keep politics out of policing. As if! I mean, as if we could do that. I don’t know for sure about the years before the 1984-5 Miners Strike – but I suspect the police had their own politics since police existed - and during that year I observed the police used as the government’s army, against the miners and those who supported them. I think any large organisation has a political infrastructure, and is also additionally influenced by a political zeitgeist.


We all have a social class or position, a gender, an ethnic and national origin and usually national identity. We are all affected politically by where we live, our education, place in history etc, so decisions we make, attitudes, etc. are influenced by the political/economic climate.


So, yes I guess, in a way all poetry is politically influenced in one way or another. There are the overtly political poets and poems. The recent Robin Hood Anthology is brimming with them, and our own Philip, for example, contributes quite often to political debate and protest through poetry. There are poets who express their experience of the impact of political history, slavery for example, and experiences of racism. Audre Lorde writes powerfully about ‘women’s issues’, race and sexuality.


But there is also more subtle political influence; I mean, poetry is politically influenced even if it is not ‘about’ political issues. For example, one of the themes that preoccupies D H Lawrence is, of course, the conflict between his parents, arising largely from class difference and expectations that go with social class. Eliot uses classical references that indicate 'privileged' education. John Clare had a more limited and ‘rural’ education, and his poetry reflects his experience of that world. My poetry is usually not 'about' politics, but I am sure that my attitudes and beliefs are reflected in what I write, whether or not I intend it.


Perhaps what I really mean is that poets are influenced by politics whereas poetry itself may or may not be political!


I can see that all this is open to argument, and I might be persuaded to see things differently! As I said (sort of) at the beginning: it depends where politics begin and end. 


  I was sent a poem by Wordsworth which has just been “found” and being claimed as a “new” poem.  The provenience is good and it clearly has the history on its side so I have no issue with that but I am left pondering some issues this raises for me.  The poem itself is an earlier draft from Preludes and not “new” except in the word order and edit.  It was sent by Wordsworth to a newspaper for publication but never used. 


I wonder why I am prepared to accept the fine writing the poem displays and yet if this was written by a contemporary poet I would feel that the poet was writing something archaic.  I read many pieces of poetry written many years ago, and it is true to say that those pieces that have survived the years usually have something to recommend them, but what if the same quality poetry were being written by a contemporary poet in that style?  Would I be prepared to consider it as great poetry or just as an archaic pastiche? 


It has to be said that most of the poems being written today in styles that were more acceptable in the past are awful.   But what if a poet emerged who write in that style as a way forward, would he or she be read? Accepted?   (Jim Bennett)


I might have one answer – but no doubt there are many more, and better!


I think an analogy might be how I relate to another human being with their, and my, diversity:


I speak with a southern English accent (actually, we don’t have an accent – it’s the rest of you!) but I enjoy hearing the way people with other accents and dialects speak. If I were to emulate them, they would assume I was mocking or patronising. I would be expressing things in a non-genuine manner. That imitated accent would get between any truth I might be trying to communicate, and the other person’s ability to hear it.


I don’t think I can answer what the future and the ‘establishment’ might bring in terms of ways forward in poetry. But in my own view, genuineness is fundamental to poetry, and stepping backwards in the use of language is not progress. We cannot un-learn the modern world with its new language of technology, for one thing.  I really doubt if I would be able to value poetry written in an archaic style. 


I wonder how your interest in art dovetails into your love of poetry.   I know you have written many poems using art as the starting point.  Do you find the visual image important in your poems?  Do you see similarities between visual and written art forms in the use of image, and if so is there a difference in the way in which you approach the image?  (Jim Bennett)


 I will try to follow the order the questions are in. Yes, I do find the visual image important in writing poems, as well as reading them. I find the other senses important too – they give ‘life’ to a situation or image – but it is certainly the visual aspects that grab my attention. Someone (I think maybe Bob?) said on PK once that it is useful to think as if you are watching a movie when writing a poem. I think that works well, especially as a technique for budding poets to ‘show not tell’.  Anyway, for me a strong visual image settles in my brain and becomes part of me, in a way. Interestingly (to me at any rate!) when I have been on holiday, whatever poems arise from the trip always feel more satisfying, for want of a better word, than the photos.


Similarities between visual and written art forms in the use of image: yes, I believe so. The image speaks for itself in both forms. In sculpture too. Having said that, I am conscious that there are examples of visual art that give rise, for me, to a need for words; for example, Hirst’s fly piece that came into one of my poems recently – it was Hirst’s comments alongside the visual image that sparked things for me.


Approaching the image: yes, there is a difference here, which is that I am not a visual artist in the same way that I write. So, the images that I approach have been created by someone else. That person used a visual art form to express something important, at least to her/himself. Something of that is communicated to me, and I bring myself, personality, experience, prejudices, preferences, emotions etc. to the image. What I express in written form is my response to an image someone else has created.


Can I follow up this by asking which poets on your shelves are on their way to Oxfam? In other words, which poets would you be happy to see the back of?  (Stuart Nunn)


Ah, that’s more difficult because I find it hard to part with books of any kind, and poetry in particular. Also, I tend to buy poetry because I already like it, or am pretty sure I will. And, anyway, I will cast no aspersions on any living poets! So nothing is on its way to Oxfam, but I would not miss poems by Rudyard Kipling, or Blake’s longer poems. I find some of the Romantics a bit tiresome, but there are lots of lovely nuggets in between, so they must stay. I am not desperately fond of Browning, but my daughter is teaching him this year and says I am SO wrong so I must try again!


I don’t care for modern poems translated into English – I have distrust about what happens to them in the process of being interpreted by someone else. I do not have that difficulty with the ancients like Homer, and Chaucer etc which I would never be able to read in the original and where the narrative carries the work forward. I do have Simon Armitage’s translation of ‘The Green Knight’ and I love that. Brilliant and immensely readable.


I hope this is not too much of a cop-out?


• Where do you find the ideas that generate your poetry?

• Why do some poems come ready formed while others are worked on over weeks?

• How do you come up with a title?

• Do you think that poetry can it be taught as a creative subject?

• Are poetry practitioners born or made?

• Is everyone capable of writing a masterpiece?

• Is poetry something special?  If so, or not, in what way?

(Jim Bennett)


I am pressed for time – so forgive me if this is less thoughtful than it should be. It was harder to leave anything out than to have a stab at them all!!


Ideas?: I find them in memories, observation and note-making, photographs, paintings, objects, conversations. Often, it’s two events/images that somehow make a link and off I go.


Ready formed or weeks of work?: wish I knew the answer to that one - would write quickies more often! I suspect that some have been bubbling in the subconscious and just seem to be ready formed, some ideas suddenly make sense in words, rather than in ‘abstractions’ that need to be converted into language, and others are fragmented and need a catalyst and until I/one finds that the poem needs picking away at for ages.


Titles? Not easy, and I have appreciated PK discussions about these. Sometimes I use the title to 'set the scene' or clarify time/place, rather than do the introductory stanzas that I can so easily succumb to; sometimes the title 'sums up' the underlying theme; sometimes it suggests an angle on the theme. I try not to repeat anything too obvious from the poem itself. And, as you will guess from all this, the title usually comes after the poem is written. I usually have a 'working title' for reference until I know what it's really called.


Can it be taught? - Hmm. I think aspects of writing poetry can be 'taught' provided the 'learner' is open to learning and the teacher is open to dialogue rather than always being 'the expert'. Techniques and poetic devices can be learned and practised, and people can develop their skill in hearing and creating the 'music' of poetry. I have more experience in producing poetry than the group I 'teach', but I also learn much from them and the discussions we have.   


Born or made? - a mixture; what happens to children usually makes a difference in their interest and to whether poetry seems part of life. If they are prejudiced against it from the start, and/or see it as something for school only, they are less likely to write any. But also, I guess, some of us are predisposed to enjoy adventures in language.


No - I don't think everyone is capable of creating a masterpiece, but I can't prove it!


Yes, poetry is something special. It's an art form created through particular ways of using language. There is overlap with other art forms; for example, imagery as in painting, rhythm as in music, narrative as in storytelling, rhyme as in song/ballad, dialogue as in drama, etc. but it has its own intensity and economy, with every word essential to its shape and sound.


Do you think talented poets should have talent scouts to discover them at a tentative reading or in a roneod leaflet, rather than rely on naturally inhibited wordsmiths having to promote themselves? Or is the act of being a poet, and calling oneself a poet, inclusive of entering contests and sending off submissions until work is published?  (Grant van Wingerden)


I think the word ‘should’ is interesting in your question; it implies that there are, or could be, rules about this. However, I think I know what you mean, and you can correct me if I’m wrong. I think you are asking if part of being a poet is taking responsibility for publicity, marketing etc?


Firstly, I have to say that not all talented poets are ‘naturally inhibited’! Secondly, I would suggest that, if there were a popular hunger for poetry, talent scouts would already be here, there and everywhere, intent on making money out of them. On TV there would be Poetic X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent (and USA, etc, etc). However, the opposite is true, so poets try to convince the modern world there is a need for us; even, a place for us!


I think there is a need for poetry, so I want to take responsibility for bringing poetry to people wherever I can, especially in my community. Therefore, I organise a small group who want to write poetry, and participate in organising our local writers’ competition and various events.  


But your question is also about self-promotion, as distinct from broadening the appeal of poetry. I personally feel the need to get published because I believe I have things to communicate, and I will simply not get there unless I do enter competitions and submit to publications. I don’t believe most poets (artists in general) write just for their own amusement: it’s about communication, being in a relationship with the world.






Stuart Nunn taught English for 37 years, which meant dealing with literature most days and found that this left little time for writing anything, let alone poetry. As retirement loomed, the long repressed urge to write resurfaced. His last eight years of teaching were devoted to linguistics, so he was no longer dragging students through other people's poetry. He belongs to three poetry groups in Gloucestershire where he has tried to develop to the point where his poetry is no longer embarrassing. He once won a minor prize in the Bridport International competition, a highlight not so far matched, though he has won a few other competitions, including the Wells competition. He has been published in Smiths Knoll, Orbis, Iota. Having worked out that the only people likely to buy a collection of his poetry were the same ones who would buy a self-published book, he set about producing one.


Two Poems by Stuart Nunn




This is the story of the start.

Eight athletes kneel to the line,

precise in their placing of knee,

and finger, the tension of shoulder.


My order brings them to the crux.

Their weight drives down through braced fingers;

thighs and calves whipcord tight, breath held.

The moment measured in heartbeats.


For these two seconds they are mine.

I have them in the crook of my finger.

Time’s treacle-thick, the space between us

light years and millimetres small.


The gun will release them,

tension becoming drive and speed,

pumping arteries, effort and will.

But for now, I hold them.



Five star bore


A day of glass when we seem to see

through the surfaces of things and glimpse

the repose that’s worked for month by month.

The crowd’s hushed as though waiting

for some revelation. The river too  waits

in its calm progress from fresh to salt.

A stately fridge slides along the far bank.


Then comes the roaring bulk of water,

moon-hauled, a turmoil of bank and tide,

inexorable reminder of sea’s force. And yet –

this is a domesticated tsunami,

one to take your kids to see,

one to ride a surfboard on.

The fridge races back towards Gloucester.


First mad commotion past, we find

the river’s glass restored, but now

a bare metre below the bank’s rim,

at eye level, light and clear. Gloucestershire

holds on a while to what sea has given,

then slowly hands it back. And still

the fridge patrols the mass of water.






If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, which six poetry books would you hope to have for company?  (Catherine Graham)


It seems to me there are two possible ways to answer this. Either to pretend it's the real Desert Island Discs and the choices are supposed to reflect your life's different stages. In that case, I would choose something like Walter de la Mare, Keats, Yeats, Wilfred Owen, Ted Hughes, Charles Causley.


Or I could pretend that these are going to be the poems that I live with for the rest of my life. In which case the list would be different. So let me have a go at that list.


1. Keats. Auden wrote an essay about Keats that begins by saying that he cannot be objective about Keats because he was in love with him when he was 17. And I go along with that absolutely. I never tire of Ode to Autumn.


2. Shakespeare's Sonnets. There just seems to be no end to what he could do and what there is to discover in those 155 poems.


3. Yeats. The other survivor from the other list. I discovered Yeats when I had to teach him. The class and I discovered him together. I know there is lots to despise about the man but the best of his poems go on and on revealing themselves.


4. Hopkins. Perhaps the most musical of English poets and I've been threatening myself with a second reading of Wreck of the Deutschland for at least 30 years.


5. Gillian Clarke. I only discovered her poetry in the last couple  of years and have loved all I've read so far.


6. Continental Shelf by Fred d'Aguiar. The second sonnet sequence in my choices and the best long poem I've read in ages. Three times read and there's still more to find.


But then I've missed out U A Fanthorpe, Philip Gross, my friend Emily Wills and the impossibility of choosing just six is becoming plain.


What do you think are the main skills that a poet should develop to ensure that they reach their potential as poets? 

How would you advise a new writer who is producing doggerel when they ask for some advice on writing better poetry?  (Jim Bennett)


I'll take the second one first.


Read some modern poetry. Most new writers who turn out doggerel are doing it because they have an idea of poetry that is a) based on inadequate models and b) very un-modern. And they can't really be blamed for this. Even if they've had some poetry at school the chances are that they are not being ambitious enough and are aiming for the kind of thing that the Bristol Evening Post used to publish - I think on Wednesdays. Rather than focussing on what is inadequate in their own writing I would want to spend time looking at how - say - Simon Armitage or Philip Gross does it. Or actually going to where I started - D H Lawrence.


I'd then ban the use of rhyme and suggest counting syllables or alliteration instead. This is because poets need to have some constraints on the way they write but rhyme is too easy to do badly.


I'd have a conversation about what it is that they want their poetry to say. This should lead into finding ways of addressing those concerns, relating ideas to specific events/phenomena.


This all suggests having time one-to-one which is almost certainly not available. Once or twice I've tried to do this with students who show me their poems and I suspect I've ended up turning them off. So I'm probably not the person to ask about this.


On the second question.


I would want emerging poets to be alive to the possibilities of the language. To be willing and able to experiment with modes of expression. Which sounds wonderfully vague. But to be more detailed leads you into lists of features that start with metaphor and end up with zeugma.


I think metaphor and connotational language are things that poets simply must be aware of and willing to try. Sandy Brownjohn has ideas for getting children to think in this way. My own favourite is the Furniture Game. For a couple of years I did workshops as part of the Chipping Sodbury Festival and one old guy who was particularly keen on himself as a poet informed me that he never used metaphor. I was taken aback rather and just told him to force himself!


Also linebreaks. Without them we're talking prose not poetry, so there has to be some awareness of what linebreaks do and how to manipulate them.


Perhaps more than anything they need to cultivate the ability to look, to observe and report accurately what they see.


When I see your poems I see patterns, or forms...
What's the value of formal poetry?    (Bob Cooper)


I took the word 'constraint' from the title of a book I've just finished called "Adventures in Form: a Compendium of Poetic Forms, Rules and Constraints". It seems to me that the moment we propose to write a poem we are accepting a certain degree of constraint. It's not going to be prose, for example. It will look like a poem and we will say, "Writing this way is OK: writing that way isn't."


Creating rules for ourselves is a kind of game that poets play, For example, the book talks about a form where the only requirement is that the last word of each stanza should be the first word of the next. Hardly a rule at all, but still a rule that can't be broken. And actually friends around here do it all the time. Philip and Michelle say that lines can only be short. Jim and James say no punctuation - the lineation must do the job. You, Bob, gravitate ever so gently towards the sonnet, without necessarily arriving there. Glenn says there must be word music of various kinds.


This is a long way from the restrictions of established poetic forms. Those of us who like to play with those forms accept the constraints that they impose in much the same spirit as chess players accept that knights can only move the way they're supposed to.


But that sidesteps the important business of meaning. Many of the forms in the book seem to me to ignore the need for poems to address some level of meaning. Poems must, as it were, cut out a little space within the chaos of life (PRETENTIOUSNESS ALERT!!!!) and impose a temporary pattern upon that little bit of it. Any patterning that we impose on our little bit of space reflects the central purpose of what we are doing. Mick's recent piece that connected the typhoon in the Phillipines and the Bhopal disaster didn't work for me but it was exactly this: an attempt to create a temporary meaning out of two horrible events. And my (and Bob's) comment that it needed some tighter form addressed this same problem.


"Free" verse is all very well, and I have been known to indulge, is actually no such thing because the poet has made decisions about how s/he will write and how s/he won't. It may look as though it's all over the shop but, done well, there will be a rationale for it ending up the way it has. Lawrence's Snake is a good case in point. The line lengths and line breaks, as well as the rhythms and alliterations, are deliberately chosen to add to his meaning.


 There have been a lot of PK conversations about punctuation but also a few about grammar - how important is 'good' grammar in poetry?
As you are particularly aware, I was judge for the PK poetry competition this year; could you tell a few, say half a dozen, criteria you would, or do, use yourself when judging poetry? (Lesley Burt)

Grammar. Well - it's hard to avoid, isn't it? Chomsky - or The Blessed Noam, as I insisted my students called him - demonstrated, to my satisfaction anyway, that infants are born with what Stephen Pinker calls the Language Instinct. This proposes that we have an innate sense of grammar, otherwise we would be unable to make sense of the utterances that our doting parents keep firing at us. Chomsky came up with sentences that were perfectly grammatical - and that we could see clearly were grammatical - but which made absolutely no sense whatever. (I can't remember the sentence accurately but it had to do with green sheep).


Beckett's poems play with grammar. Here's a sample:


Scattered ruins same grey as the sand ash grey true refuge. Four square all light sheer white blank planes all gone from mind. Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light. No sound no stir  ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky. Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour.


At first sight it looks as though he's abandoned grammar, but actually word order remains pretty conventional, and English grammar depends on word order. The comparative absence of verbs isn't a problem and reflects his meaning, exemplified in the word 'changelessness'. 


Obviously, some concrete poetry works in other ways, but lurking in the background is the unavoidable idea that words have relationships with each other and meanings and this poet is doing something that involves those meanings and relationships.


So - to get to your exact question eventually - 'good' grammar is a misconception. As English or Japanese speakers, we're stuck with the grammar we were born with. This does vary slightly from place to place, but not nearly as much as vocabulary or accent.


Judging competitions. I've only does this once or twice and found it to be a fairly pragmatic exercise. I suspect if a judge set out with a series of criteria some good poems would drop out at too early a stage. I do like poems submitted to a competition to be spelt correctly. After that, I suppose it's a case of Does it succeed on its own terms? Is this sonnet a good sonnet? Does this humorous poem make me smile? Is this poem about daffodils accurately observed?


But when you get down to the last half dozen, it's really Is this poem better than that one?


With reference to Jim's second question, what makes writing doggerel?


And surely the whole point of poetry is to express an idea, an emotion, or create an image, and like any other form of art, what appeals to one will not necessarily appeal to another, so can something be written off just because one person does not "see"? I have read plenty of modern poetry that I just do not get, but I don't just dismiss it, I will go back and read it again and again, and sometimes ask someone else what they made of it. 


I guess what I am really trying to ask here is, apart from form, correct punctuation and grammar and the usual poetic devices, what makes one poem good and another bad? Or is it really just subjective, down to the reader's own personal preferences, understanding, viewpoint and lifestyle?   (Niamh Hill)


I think the answer is a bit of both. Partly personal opinion and partly a real distinction between good and bad.


Dr Johnson demonstrated what he meant by doggerel by writing:


I put my hat upon my head

And walked into the Strand,

And there I met another man

Whose hat was in his hand.


His point was that although this scans perfectly and rhymes, it ain't poetry because it simply wasn't worth saying. To say that Dover Beach is a better poem than the one in my mother's birthday card isn't a personal opinion: it's a blindingly obvious truth. To argue that because the rhyme in my mother's card means more to her than Dover Beach does the two are somehow equivalent strikes me as being an abdication of any sense of values.


I'm not a great fan of the kind of literary canon that Tory Education Secretaries like forcing on kids, but it remains true that there is a body of poetry from Beowulf to Gillian Clarke that is recognisably and demonstrably better than a load of other poetic stuff that there is out there. If we were advising a young poet about what to read we wouldn't tell her to study the contents of Clinton Cards, we'd send her to one of the excellent anthologies - either the Oxford Book of Eng Verse or New Albion or whatever. Even the Neil Astley books.


Call me an elitist old fart if you will, but I believe it to be true that Sylvia Plath is a better poet than anyone on this list. (I hope I don't get a fatwa for that remark).


Where personal opinion comes in is when we get down to closer comparisons. Is Wordsworth a better poet than Coleridge? No, would be my view; Coleridge is out of sight better. Bob might well disagree. What about Ted Hughes and Tony Harrison? Well, on different days I might give different answers. I think 'V' is a better poem than most of Hughes' work. But Hawk Roosting is better than most of Harrison. And so it goes on.


So there will always be a tension between personal opinion and the general informed view. Maybe a poet has to be dead before an established view can be arrived at. However, it will always be true that Wordsworth and Burns were important poets, and so were Eliot and Ginsberg. On the other hand, Shelley and Spender probably weren't. But that opens another stratum of discussion so I'm going to stop.


I'm interested on hearing you expand on this point, too, Stuart.   (Julie Ann Sih)


Well, I'll refer you to my answer to Bob's question, but I'll happily go on about it a bit more.


Wordsworth wrote: Nuns fret not at their convent walls - or something like that. In a sonnet about sonnets! And people say he wasn't up himself......!


Poets - and I'm not prepared to admit exceptions - accept the restrictions implied in the choice to write poems rather than novels or histories of the world. And we actually enjoy those restrictions. Poems have to be relatively short - unless you have ambitions in the Paradise Lost direction. Generally they're arranged in lines. After that, poets make up their own rules. Either macro-rules - Every other line must rhyme - or micro-rules - I will start a new line here to create a pause.


When a writer splurges his thoughts on to the paper - and I'm often as guilty of this as anyone - without any kind of discipline the result is often prose, and the kind of prose that is best kept to oneself. Or it's the first stage in the creation of a poem. And the subsequent stages involve the imposition of some kind of discipline, either of form or wording.


I don't believe that this makes me a formalist, though I do enjoy using traditional forms. Many of them have stood the test of time. Why does the sonnet continue to exercise such a fascination for poets? When a poet like Fred d'Aguiar wants to explore a particularly harrowing experience, he chooses a sonnet sequence to do it. Why? Could it be that there is something particularly satisfying about the 14 line form, the ordered rhyming, the neat turn in the middle? Maybe the constraints of the form give enduring shape to what would otherwise be a chaotic experience?


Why does rhyme continue to hold such a fascination? I suspect psychologists and neuro-scientists could find something in our brain patterning that finds it irresistible. Or is it a learned response after all that "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" stuff we were subjected to as infants?


What is so wonderful about 17 syllables?


Wordsworth and Coleridge?
Coleridge took drugs, was rash, and took more risks with his politics. He was a better rock-climber, too! I think, though, when people met him they didn't trust him... And he had bad teeth.
I think Wordsworth benefitted more from their friendship than Coleridge did.
But did Coleridge's influence become something Wordsworth couldn't shake off for many years - and he suffered from it?


(Hey, kick a Northerner's shin and see how quick they respond!) (Bob Cooper)

Or indeed impugn the honour of a Devonian and see what you get.....


I agree that Wordsworth got more out of it than Coleridge and of course Coleridge was deeply compromised by his drug-taking, but their dispute over the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads shows that Wordsworth didn't have the intellectual grip on what was happening that Coleridge did.


I think it's kind of a shame that Coleridge's reputation rests so heavily on the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. His other stuff, particularly Frost at Midnight and Ode to Dejection are masterly.


His reputation during his lifetime was as the cleverest man in Britain and his Shakespeare lectures were sold out, even though you were never sure what you were going to get. Wordsworth on the other hand went over to the Tories: maybe he just lived too long...


So, Stuart, are you saying that one of the criteria for judging a poem is, for you, evidence of a well developed intellect? 


And do you mean,  by intellect, the ability to conceptualise, or have depth & breadth of knowledge? Or something else? It's OK - feel free to ignore me! ; )  (Lesley Burt)


No, not at all. But the Lyrical Ballads project had a theoretical underpinning (to use a mot du jour) which sounded good in Wordsworth's first go at the Preface - to use a selection of the language that men use, if I've remembered it correctly. And to explore the way the universal soul manifested itself in Nature. Coleridge saw through this and was much readier to relate their ideas to God.


Wordsworth's second preface kind of made matters worse. He should have stopped digging once he was in a hole. Ironically, it was Wordsworth who turned to conventional religion once he was comfortably placed and the Lyrical Ballads were safely behind him. Coleridge was never comfortably off and, in spite of the laudanum, maintained his position to the end.


None of that makes the slightest difference to the poems. It was what they thought they were doing that depended on an intellectual framework.


Coleridge and his drug taking. Opinions vary about how much he was affected by his addiction or indeed whether a couple of 'druggy' poems are sufficient recompense for the pain and suffering he went through. What isn't in doubt is that after 1816 when he lived with an apothecary in Highgate who sort of controlled his laudanum intake, he never really achieved what his early life had promised. 

Biographia Litteraria is a masterpiece but it's in pieces and unfinished. His attempts at journalism were sporadic and sometimes brilliant, sometimes mad. His lectures on Shakespeare were extraordinarily brilliant but sometimes he failed to turn up. And he was almost constantly ill. So, yes - I reckon deeply compromised about sums it up.


On Eliot and Ginsburg, I said that they were important. Opinions can vary about how good they are, but there can be little doubt about the influence they had on poets who came after them or on poetry in general. Would any of us write the way we do if The Waste Land or Howl had never been written?


Obviously there are cases to be made for other poets. Maybe Pound was as important as Eliot - especially considering the work he did on Waste Land. I know Waiata would make a case for Ferlinghetti, but maybe not instead of Ginsburg. 


Is the metrical structure of a poem important or a distraction? Many poets go to great lengths to hide the form being used while others make a feature of it and are slavish to its adherence.  What do you think?  (Jim Bennett)


Is it a cop-out to say it all depends? It's important in some poetry but not in others. If the poet wants to foreground the music of their work then metre and rhythm is what they have to play with. I personally don't reckon to "perform" my poems very often. My one experience of a slam was a tad humiliating, being knocked out by a 9-year-old girl!


I haven't followed the still fairly current argument about scansion, being still slightly shell-shocked from the M5, but I do think it's worthwhile reading a poem aloud to check out the rhythm before considering it finished. That said the technical vocabulary of all that is pretty intimidating. I can recognise an iamb and trochee but beyond that I'm not that bothered.


Poets should cultivate their ears. If it sounds right then it will probably work. For myself, having spent a long time with Shakespeare over the years, I do have a soft spot for the iambic pentrameter. But really, English is a naturally rhythmical language, as opposed to French where it makes more sense to count syllables. A lot of speech is fairly rhythmical, so perhaps the answer is to trust our instincts rather than stressing over spondees.


I wonder if you could say a little about how you write.  Are there any particular things you find work better for you?  What triggers poetry for you?    (Jim Bennett)


Coming to the exact wording of your question, I'm dead against being slavish to anything....

I don't have a routine for writing, though the nearest I come is the monthly workshop that our group of Cherington Poets hold. Sometimes, this is the only writing I do, particularly if athletics is claiming a lot of time. The value of these workshops varies tremendously, though the quality is extraordinarily high, given that we take it in turns to lead. Certainly, they lead into areas where I might not otherwise have gone.


Apart from that I kind of wait for a poem to suggest itself, then roll it around in my head for a while, looking for a turn of phrase, a metaphor, some kind of parallel that suggests a way in to what I want to write about.


I was very taken a few years back when Tony Harrison described at a reading how he worked. He spotted a group of cormorants from the train, travelling up to Newcastle; that made him think of a photo that had just been published of a cormorant covered in oil in the Gulf with just a red eye showing, and that in turn lead him to the cormorants in the Lindisfarne Gospels. This process of forming connections between things is something I do try to do, but rarely succeed.


Perhaps an example of where it did (well, it was published) was something that made me think of the Holocaust as I was driving on the motorway and the number of Eddie Stobart lorries suggested that next time victims would be transported like that rather than on trains.


I always write first in pencil in a special notebook that I buy in numbers from Trago Mills whenever I happen to be in Devon. There might be a second draft in the notebook and then it's on to the screen, making changes all the while. I use the on-line thesaurus and I keep a rhyming dictionary at hand, just in case I feel like it. The rhyming dictionary has the advantage that it leads you easily to half-rhyme and para-rhyme, which I like better than the full-on kind.


What triggers poetry is hard to define. Places where I'm likely to find poems are on holiday (because everything is strange), on trains, different weather conditions (the atrocious weather yesterday on the M5 got me thinking of something), the sometimes odd conjunctions of place and music if I'm using the ipod. And so on.


Is a poem ever finished? Well yes, if it's published then work on it stops. Or one gets bored with it and stops working. On the other hand I have a poem that has been through four or five versions (not drafts) that will change the course of Western civilisation if I ever finish it, but that looks no closer than it did when I started. Very often I think a poem is finished, take it to the Cheltenham group, where criticism can be pretty trenchant, and come away with the sheet covered in notes for changes.


It's a funny old business, isn't it?


We are drawing to a close on your week of being THE POET.  So perhaps a question I should have asked before.  Is there a question you would ask of someone else and if so how would you answer it.  (Jim Bennett)


I actually asked Lesley this question, but she either didn't get it or was much too polite to answer it. Which poets would I send to the Oxfam shop?

Prime candidate: Jane Hirshfield who turned up as PBS choice once and I thought her work was a good way worse than stuff that turned up in the Chipping Sodbury competition. Poems written to fill a deeply mediocre book. I went to look her up on the bookshelf and find that she's already gone to Oxfam!


Jack Mapanje: probably deeply unfair. The man has had a hell of a time of it, but I don't think it makes him a good poet.


Les Murray: I've tried and tried, but there's just too much of him. Even a book I bought in Australia called Poems the Size of Photographs was too much!


Apologies to anyone who is best buddies with these people.


Given the privilege of sounding off like this for a whole week, I'm not going to give up just yet. I may come back with some more.....

Just one more thought and then I'll leave this ego-fest to whoever is lucky enough to come next.


Is there a question you would ask of someone else and if so how would you answer it.

Is there a question asked of someone else you thought you would be asked and were not, that you would have like to have answered,   If so what is it?  And what would your answer be?    (Jim Bennett)


Jim wrote interestingly about the influence of Liverpool on his poetry and I guess it's true for all of us that our geography plays a part in how we are as poets.


I've always been very proud of being a Devonian, growing up near Salcombe Estuary and going to school on the northern edge of Dartmoor. At university in Leeds I was accused of talking like a pirate and I still have living relatives with very broad agricultural voices. The landscape started me going and my very earliest teenage poems, which I'm happy to say do not survive, were Yeatsian rhapsodies on seabirds and tidal water.


After university in the North, I now live on the edge of the Cotswolds, which is almost a caricature of Tory England, except that underneath there is a whole culture of a different kind of rural life. There is also a strong poetic tradition - Gurney, Frances Horovitz, U A Fanthorpe - and if we stretch the definition slightly, the Dymock poets, Frost, Edward Thomas, Lascelles Abercrombie (who is famous as much for his name as his poetry).


The Cotswold landscape is a paradox. The valleys are wooded, post-industrial, desperately cute: the hilltops are flat, open, sheep-cropped and rather bleak. The Cotswold Edge - which I love - is a sharp demarcation between lowland and hill, with views across to Wales.


All this comes out strongly - I think - in what I write.


Many thanks to those who asked questions and allowed me to do this. It has been a great privilege.





Mick Moss lives in Liverpool UK.

Sometimes he writes poetry.

He will be 60 years old next year and is looking forward to getting his bus pass.

This will enable him to travel on public transport for free, a life-long dream.

Poetry can open up a window to the world.

But the view from the upstairs windows on busses is better.


Two poems by Mick Moss




sometimes it comes as

a little shiver

like ooh what's that?

other times it jumps up

and shouts at you

duh! obviously

a logical argument won

with no contest

Ah... Right!

and other times

it sort of seeps into you

like damp, like a fungus

either way

it's best not to ignore it

nor deny it

because deep down inside

you know what it is

and what it is

only you know





I could write my feelings down

on pages torn

from library books

the back of bus tickets

supermarket receipts

and betting shop stubs


quickly jotted observations

a perceptive perspective

on folk and their doings

their comings and goings


even if gerunds are

out of fashion

my musings too - so there


my private thoughts

personal moments

reactions to humanity

and my place in it

my sense of self


I could share these

with you and all

the world

and call it poetry

but why should I?

you nosey bastard






Is there any useful distinction between light/comic verse and serious poetry?

(Stuart Nunn)

Yes there is.

One is funny, and the other isn't.

That is quite a useful distinction.

However, much light/comic verse isn't funny at all, whereas serious poetry can often be hilarious.

The cultural bias / value judgments inherent in ‘verse’ and ‘poetry’, imply that one, is worthier than the other.

That is not a useful distinction. It is misleading and a poet must avoid it.

I hope this answers your question.



1. What area of contemporary poetry could you happily live without, if any?
2. How do poems come to you? (James Bell)

1.  All of it. And all pre-contemporary poetry too. It's not as if you can eat the stuff is it.

 2. Crawling on their hands and knees begging. It's important to make them suffer. Like poets.



1. What, for you, is most important when you (a) read other people's poetry and (b)  write poetry?

2. What role do you think poets have in 21st century 'western' society? (Lesley Burt)


1. (a) my reading specs. (Who says I read other people's poetry anyway?)

    and (b) that it doesn't take too much time. I have better things to do.


2. the same role they've always had. to comment. to mirror. to question. to voice the unspoken. give voice to the unspeakable.

I wish.

The reality is more like - to bore audiences to death in the back rooms of pubs, though this will increasingly be on the internet.

Which is better because you don't have to politely wait till they've finished before leaving.

But why only 'western' society?  Poets have a very important role to play in 21st century non western society too. During target practice.


What influence has music been? (And I guess that means what sorts of music as well).
(Bob Cooper)


Music has been incredibly influential. In all sorts of ways. You just have to look at all those hugely ornate opera houses. Not to mention MTV.

And I think it extremely unlikely that the Cameron Highlanders could have marched towards Napoleon's artillery at the battle of San Moreno in such an orderly disciplined and courageous way if they hadn't been influenced by the heartening sound of the pipes urging them on through the gun smoke, cannon fire and screams.

Caesar, since you mention him, hated music. Apart from the horns and drums used for signalling in battle. He never did say the 3 Vs line, he did come, he did see, but then went back to Rome almost immediately. Where he was stabbed to death for telling the senate to turn down the disco at his welcome home party.


I myself have been very influenced by music. But you knew that.


When does a person who writes some poetry cross over that magic line and become a poet? In other words, do you need to have some stuff published? Do you need a collection to have been published, or just some poems in anthologies? Do you need to have had any work published at all? Do you, as a poet, have a kind of measure?

(Andrew John)


I think a person who writes poetry becomes a 'poet' when something they've written touches some one's heart.

When it cuts through intellectual understanding and moves the essence of their being, in the unique way that poetry, alone among the literary arts, can.


It has nothing to do with being published. It is about having, as you say, the magic. You know if you do. And that's all that matters.


Being published is nice though. As long as you have a spare room big enough to pile up all the boxes.


Why do you write poetry? Why do you call it poetry? (James Bell)

Well someone has to, and it might as well be me.

 I have to call it something. 


 When you have an idea for a poem, does the language for it usually come with the idea, or later? I suppose I mean, does a 'concept' come first for you, or language, or a visual image?   

(Lesley Burt)


Good question


I have no idea.

But now I think about it - the language pretty much comes with the package. Depending on the style.

Perhaps a bit like knowing, or better, feeling, what the right chords to a song should be.

 (or for a song - oh pedantic ones)  your basic minor - thoughtful, major - strident, 7ths for blues .... (but break the rules kids!)


Music sounds and feels right when the key, harmonic structure, timbre and resonance fits the style.

English folk music. American Soul. Swap the sound over. Martin Carthy sings Heard it Through the Grapevine? Nah. Doesn't sound right.


It doesn't mean you can't try it, it's fun to mix and match, you might even invent a new genre, but for the sake of my incredibly badly presented analogy - let's assume that Marvin Gaye is better at delivering the sense and feeling of that song.


It's the same with poetry, I think.

Sometimes a piece works best in a 'formal' style.

Where rhyme, assonance, alliteration and the layout are as important as, and can enhance the meaning of, the words.

Rhyme and pattern are handy for stress and emphasis. I quite like the recurring short line after each stanza which serve to reinforce the concept. (as in Dylan's With God on Our Side) 

Style, in that sense, is language.  

Sometimes the sound of a piece, as above, makes me pay attention, and I might play with all that stuff.

But more often than not I'll try and be too damn clever, and mess it all up. 

As every one of you will know - 'formal' is a craft that must be learned, and used carefully. Very definitely not OVER used.


But I'm much too lazy to be messing about with any of that old nonsense!


I don't think too much about 'concept', or where the inspiration comes from. Something clicks, and I just bang it down.

If it works, fine.

If not ... next!


I don't tend to re-write many pieces. Most aren't worth the effort. 




 1         Can you say what you think about the use of poetry as a political tool, whatever way you use political?

2         What is it in a poem that engages you as a reader and does this influence what you write?

3         If someone you knew had been trying to get a word into a poem, say “blissom” do you think they can claim ownership of it and is it fair to steal the word

            and use it yourself?  Does this go for other poetry ideas also?

4         You are originally from another part of the country from which you now live.   How does this influence your poetry?

5         You run writers workshops,   What three pieces of advice would you give to a new writer to help them develop as writers.

6         What is your favourite quote about poetry, or from a poem? 

(Jim Bennett)


A much wiser person than me once pointed out that ALL poetry is political in one way or another. In that whatever a person writes is influenced by nationality, class, background, and time period.

Certainly, Wordsworth wouldn't have had the freedom to go off and see the famous daffodils if he had to work 12 or more hours a day in a Manchester cotton mill. So even if a poem itself isn't 'political', it has to be viewed from a political context. 


But poetry can influence political thought.

Lord Byron (or Gordon to his mates) wrote highly controversial poems in support of Catholics (still then banned from public office) and the Luddites, at a time when voicing such opinions was seen as very radical. He also wrote poems attacking conservative establishment figures like Wellington and Castlereagh.

And famously, his involvement in the Greek war of independence, and subsequent 'heroic' death, did much to gain support for the Greek cause back home. (if only he'd written more poems about the benefits of antibiotics!)  

Would his poetry have been as influential if he hadn't already been a charismatic 'mad bad and dangerous' highly fashionable aristocratic pop idol with a seat in the House of Lords?  Doubtful.


Federico Lorca, another well known 'political' writer and poet, told us that - workers get shafted, bad rich men own everything, life should be fairer. Of course. Great. Love it. The fascists shot him. 

Guns are more effective in wars than poems, but I do think poetry can be an effective propaganda tool. Poetry (and song) can boost flagging commitment to a cause, express the beliefs and values people may be fighting for in a popular voice, and in the very best examples provide a focal point that people can immediately identify with, cutting to the chase sans waffle.  A classic example of which might be La Marseillaise. Even if you don't understand French, you cannot fail to appreciate the powerful message of that song when they sing it in the classic film  Casablanca

It says 'Feck you Germans!' We might not have the most powerful army or air force in Europe (although, ironically, they did when Germany invaded in 1940!) but we have heart and courage and determination and we will not live as slaves under the yoke of tyranny.


Most 'political' poetry is for that purpose. To preach to the converted. To reinforce convictions already held. Which is fine?

(Dylan was a master at articulating the popular)


But I'm not so sure that poetry can change the opinions of others who do not already share the writer's point of view - unless the writer is already an influential figure, like Lord Byron. 



I don't actually read much poetry. Most poetry annoys me. (I am aware that this is partly due to my own cultural bias and lingering hatred of what was taught to us at school as 'poetry'. For many years a dirty word for me. I'm working on it.)  


It's easier to say what doesn't engage me as a reader. Which is poetry that tries too hard. If I pick up even the slightest whiff that the poet is trying to impress me, nah. I don't have time. Next.

( for the sake of balance, and to validate my stance on that, as a poet I've been guilty of trying to impress. but the only person you're kidding is yourself. kids) 


Poetry I do find engaging is that which - a) makes me work, to look beyond the obvious. b) may well have been uncomfortable for the poet to write, but they had to anyway, because that's what poets have to do. must do. c) is delivered in the most appropriate form / format / clothing for the job at hand. I do like it, and am continually impressed when I can see that a poet has put some thought into not just what they want the words of a poem to say, but also how they present that information to the reader. Sometimes the words don't matter at all. And may in fact be unintelligible. Prompting the old question 'Is this a poem?'   'Well is it?'  Sharks, bricks, a urinal, and national landmarks wrapped in fabric have forced the same question in the world of art.


I like reading the poetry of Charles Bukowski and Pam Ayers. In equal measure. They have both influenced me as a writer.



It is impossible to claim ownership of a word. Even if, like Shakespeare, you invented it.

Therefore it is impossible to steal a word and use it yourself. Using words, surely, is what they are there for?


One has to ask one's self - if a poet was intent on using a particular word in a poem 'someday' but hadn't gotten around to it yet, and broadcast that interesting fact to the world, on an internet poetry forum, where poetical possibilities are discussed, and the cross-fertilisation of ideas is encouraged, then when some other cheeky bastard seeing that statement goes and looks up the word, because he doesn't know what it means, and having found out quite likes it, and can see how it will fit in a throwaway piece of shite poem, and goes ahead and uses that word in a poem of no merit, like the aforementioned, and broadcasts it on the self same internet forum, before the poet who said they always wanted to use the word got around to using it themselves -  would not that poet be reminded of the wise old saying 'shit or get off the can'?

But more importantly - would not that poet then be spurred on to use that word in a proper poem, not just a throwaway piece of shite, where such a wonderful, and rare, word will be used to its full potential?  


Poetry ideas and is it OK to steal them?

It is absolutely not allowed to steal a piece that someone else has written and pass it off verbatim as your own work.

Not to be confused with stealing an original manuscript, rare limited edition, or similar valuable document of a poetic nature, that someone else, more famous, and hence more valuable than you, has written, and flogging it off to a private collector, no questions asked. That's a long established and respected tradition.

I myself have an incredibly rare W H Smths notebook filled with the, as yet unpublished, very early poems of Silvia Plath. When she was still alive. Written in her own, mostly illegible, handwriting, in pencil. Showing all the mistakes, corrections, revisions and doodles typical of a young tortured soul and spoiled middle class brat. It's yours for .. ooh ... let's talk.

Another long established tradition is flogging forgeries passed off as early drafts of poems by famous poets, showing all the mistakes, corrections, revisions and doodles.


Is it acceptable to steal poetry ideas?? You can't own an idea for a poem.

(if only I'd patented my vacuum cleaner idea before I told my butler Dyson to empty the wastepaper basket)

If an idea is good enough to inspire one person to write a poem, others can/may/will be inspired by it as well.

Ideas are like clay, there to be used, but not everyone is Michelangelo.


The Coen brothers film based on Dave Van Ronk is due out early next year by the way. Ahem ....




I moved around a lot in my youth, so can't really claim anywhere as being where I am 'from' in the sense of a lasting geographical / cultural influence on my writing. But my roots are working class south London, via Margate, Henley-on-Thames, mid Wales, Bath and Leicester.

I don't think living in Liverpool has influenced my poetry any more than anywhere else I've lived, except that I've lived here longer than anywhere else I've lived, and written some poems that I wouldn't have written if I hadn't lived here.


When I moved to Liverpool (1985, just after the riots) it was fertile ground for a poet.

The Thatcher government were ruthlessly pursuing their policy of quashing any and all leftist control of local government. And Liverpool was a prime target. It was the front line.

Honest second-hand car salesman and gobshite with the gift of a gob Derek Hatton and his posse of local Militant Tendency Rent-A-Trot

Vs Lord Hestletine of the Jungle, millionaire businessman, entrepreneur go getter, pillar of the Conservative Party, and Helicopter enthusiast.

He came, he saw, he commissioned a 'Festival Garden'.

How could the powerful ideology that had sustained the left for so many years through the hardship of continual class struggle survive when faced with the overwhelming might that was the Festival Garden.

Thus was a revolution thwarted. A successful media and second-hand car selling career started. A quite frankly, a poet disgusted.



Three bits of advice for new writers.

1. Write something. 2. Write something else. 3. Stop trying to impress.

But more important than any of that - aspiring writers must ask themselves why do they want to write, and do they have anything to say? 


As a writer I for one can categorically state, without fear of contradiction, that I haven't got one single worthwhile thing to say, about anything. And if you've read as far as this then you're even more stupid than I am!



My favourite quote about poetry is from Corporal Albert Dunstable, the Kings Own Kent and East Sussex Rifle Brigade, who said, just before they were sent over the top at Ypres .... 'Don't be stupid, Vidal Sassoon was a ladies barber. It was his brother what penned the poems what stopped the war.'


My favourite poem of all time is by Pam Ayers


I am a little rabbit

sitting in my hutch

I like to stay up this end

I don't like that end much.


And if that doesn't sum up the entire political history of the world in as few words as possible I don't know what does.


Have you learned anything about yourself as a poet through your tenure as Poet in the hot seat?  (Waiata)


Yes. I have learned that when Jim Bennett asks will you be the ask the poet of the week - say no.


But as a poet? I think it's taught me that I have a long way to go before I would feel comfortable being called ' a poet '.









Two poems by Waiata Dawn Davies


Loutro Dreaming


Daskalogiannis grumbles round the point

its gull wing bow wave spread white

Against blue water.


I breath brine scented air

Iron clangs on concrete

See sharp shadows etched

On blinding white walls

And hear grey doves call

Loutro Loutro


Apricots and sandalwood

Drift from young girls

Carrying fragrant coffee

To a babble of languages

At waterside tables

In cafes still redolent

Of last night’s chicken and goat

Spit roasted over charcoal.


A drift of tobacco

From old men basking

Reminds me of Kostas

Dead at 38

And his brothers smoked

As they dug his grave


Saturday Night


Such coming and going

Such to-ing and fro-ing

Such staircases creaking

Such young voices squeaking


Such dancing such prancing

Such laughter, such glancing

Such showering such grooming

And hair driers booming


Such discarded wrappings

From newly bought trapping

Like fluorescent sandals

Gem studded jandals.


Such pressing such dressing

Such perfumes such potions

Such lotions such notions


Such silence at last

As it all settles down

Our battalion of beauties

Have gone out on the town.



Waiata Dawn Davies


1. Do you carry a notebook around, like Jim, Bob and others? Or do you type your poems in preference to hand writing?

2. Do you write every day?

3. Do you ever get 'writer's block'; if so, how do you get around it?

(Lesley Burt)


I have a note book and a digital camera in my glove box as well as a memo pad in my pocket, but if I am stuck for something to write on I use whatever is handy, paper serviette in a cafe, the receipt docket in a shop.


I try to write first thing in the morning and also I try to read two hours every day, but I get guilty about housework and gardening.


Writers' Block? Yes, when I am preparing something for publication there's this  gremlin sits on my shoulder and keeps whispering, 'Who do you think you are kidding?' But I find about twenty minutes into a writing session something else inside my head knocks the gremlin flying and takes over.   



1.      We have only known you as a "middle-aged" lady. How has your poetry changed over your lifetime? and have you always written poetry?



2. New Zealand and its seasons feature quite often in your work. But I know you have lived and worked in other places. How have these places affected the way you write?

(Stuart Nunn)


I am not middle aged, I am an antique! 87 last birthday, and 'lady'? Thank you, I must have behaved properly when I was staying with you and Lesley.


Have I always written poetry? When occasion demanded it.


When I was eight I won a prize for a poem I wrote for the children's session on the radio. It was very preachy and goody good. That's all I remember about it. At High School we had inspired English teachers who showed us what a magnificent thing the English language is. that  writing it is a privilege, and whatever we write must be the best we can produce. That inevitably leads to poetry.


Over my lifetime I have come to appreciate the small things,  the sounds. smells and sights of places I live in.

And I do believe that anyone who masters Poetry, in all its forms, has a formidable tool to make their way effectively ih life.


Living in other places has taught me to appreciate what is in New Zealand and to tolerate its (many) faults.

We can be a narrow minded, self satisfied, begrudging lot and knowing other countries shows us other possibilities.


 I would like to know more about the poetry scene in New Zealand.  How is poetry seen, read?  Who, apart from yourself is very active as a writer.   I have seen a number of Australian poets over the years making a breakthrough on the world stage, what about New Zealanders?  Is there a prevalent style of popular poetry?

(Jim Bennett)


How is Poetry seen, read?


The average man in the pub will squirm and say, "Haven't got time to read poetry. Pouffy rubbish. But Sam Hunt's O.K. and of course we had to learn 'The Magpies' at school."


Yet there are Poet's Pub nights  just about everywhere. e.g. Angus Inn in Lower Hutt holds a Poets' Night once a month. The first part is open, anyone can get up and read. The second part is a featured poet, and there have been great poets reading there. Over twenty years Angus Inn has achieved three published anthologies.

 W.E.As also encourage poetry evenings.


Poetry is important in our school curriculum. The New Zealand School Journal is distributed free to schools and every issue has poems by top people, Margaret Mahey wrote 'Down the Back of the Chair' for the school journal. Jamers K Baxter worked on it and his Baxter Basics, a book of poems for children is still used. Children grow up reading, writing and knowing about Poetry. They lose interest somewhere in years 8 to 10; possibly because they have to learn so much for the national exams.


Most newspapers have a poetry corner. The Otago Daily Times publishes a poem every Monday, Emma Neale organises it, featuring poets who live south of the Waitaki River. The Christchurch Press does the same for Canterbury.  Takahe magazine, based in Christchurch. is published four times per year. The poetry editor is James Norcliffe. PoetryNZ is published twice a year by Brick Row Press, Editors Alistair Patterson, Bernad Gadd, Owen Bullock. And of course there is LANDFALL started by Charles Brasch and published by Otago University Press.


Unfortunately our current Government has eliminated funding for Adult Education and local night schools can no longer run programmes for creative writing or painting or music. But independent groups like U3A and WEA are active..




    Everybody. The New Zealand Poetry Society based in Wellington was started shortly after the war by Denis Glover (The Magpies) Irene Adcock, (Fleur's Mother) James K Baxter, Lauris Edmund and has encouraged New Zealand Poetry ever since. I was a committee member for several years and in my opinion being a poet is ten percent inspiration and ninety per cent stamping envelopes, organising venues, and arguing with bureaucracy over funding.


Living Poets,  just a few, too many of my contemoporaries have died.

BILL MANHIRE head of Victoria University Institute of Modern Letters

SAM HUNT has been a huge influence, especially on boys. His poetry is mostly  syllabic but very disciplined.. He travels all over New Zealand reading his poems and taking workshops in schools.

BRYAN TURNER( former Poet Laureate) writes poems mainly about the South Island.

JAN VERNON publishes occasionally in the Listener. Recently publlished Pele's Children..

JAMES NORCLIFFE A Canterbury poet, 2011 Burns Fellow (Otago)

ROBYN FRY writes about Wellington

VIVIENNE PLUMB don't be fooled by her 'pommy' accent, She did her M.A. at Victoria University,Wellington. 

MICHAEL HARLOW a Connecticut Yankee of Greek Extraction, lives in Arrowtown

CILLA MCQUEEN (former poet laureate) very active in anti nuclear movement, collaborated with Hone Tuwhare and Ralph Hotere (painter) on OUT THE BLACK WINDOW. 

PAULA BILBOROUGH daughter of novellist, Norman Bilborough, lives in Japan.

EMMA NEALE organises the Poetry Corner in the Otago Daily Times.


There are literally hundreds of others.




You have probably met FLEUR ADCOCK  who has lived in the U.K. for a long time.

Poems by ALLEN CURNOW and JAMES K BAXTER are in The Rattle Bag Anthology edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, published by Fabre and Fabre.




There are the ladies in pearls and twinsets who say categorically, "If it doesn't rhyme it's not Poetry."

Then there are people like the late Meg Campbell wife of Alister Campbell, both great poets who say,

"Where is all this rhyming rubbish coming from?"

But in Poetry NZ and Takahe most popular is free verse, but it must have a rhythm and every word must convey an image..


Hope this gives you an overview of what poets are like here.


 I know you used to run workshops - if you still don't – and go to Crete regularly for writing courses. What are the value of these, do you think? What can poets get out of workshops? And what makes a good workshop?

(Stuart Nunn)


 I do run workshops for the local U3A, but sadly the Ministry of Education considers writing poetry to be a hobby and won't fund regular courses any more.


The value of any writing workshop, gathering or course is the realisation that millions of people are writing. it is as much a human activity as going to the races or watching televison. So poets can get reassurance out of workshops. They can also get collegial discussion about what is evolving in Poetry, how it is developing, how other people are using it.


What makes a good workshop?.

A strong leader who knows and loves the subject, and keeps the group on track.

not too many participants,  and every participant expecting to learn, and interested in each others‘ work.


As for going to Crete, Loutro is a magical place I leave the South Island winter and for two weeks sit beside that tideless ocean in the sun listening to people who really know their subject and sharing writing with people from all over the world. It is pure enchantment.


 I would like to ask you about your thoughts on a particular interest of mine: how important are other arts to you, especially in your writing, and especially in your poetry? I am thinking mainly of visual arts, but also music.

(Lesley Burt)


I sing even now when age is cracking my throat apart. I play guitar and recorder and have a lot of CDs from opera (Carmen is my favourite) to Pink Floyd and I like to play them when I am writing.


I think the reason I work so hard on my poetry is I do not have the eye hand brain co ordination to draw or paint, although I have tried to all my life.


I love theatre, my father was an actor before he married my mother. I think any town which does not have an amateur theatre and opera company has not yet achieved civilisation.


I think all these activities are what being human is about. That is attempting to create real beauty, like Ferlinghetti says, we perform ábove the heads of our audience 'but realise that our ultimate goal, Beauty is far above us and we only  might achieve it.


I do draw and paint, 'giving myself permission to do it' but my efforts are for private use only and they get burned when finished.


Over the years has what you've written about changed?
And... Has how you've written about things changed?

(Bob Cooper)


Óver the years 'for me is a helluva long time!


My first experiences with real writing was for my father's little newspaper The Feilding Star when I used to help write the social column , so I early learned  about telling the truth, even in fiction.


In high school I wrote a lot of very derivative stuff, following patterns, but I did learn the rules and how great poetry was at heart political. At College my writing had to follow the lines and there was not a lot of leeway for experimentation if I wanted to pass.


As a young married in the fifties I wrote little paragraphs for The Women\s Weekly at half a crown a pop, and that is probably where I learned to condense and find the comic pith at the heart of most human activity.


Sixties, seventies and eighties was a blur or raising boys, fighting bureaucracy, and teaching  My writing was mainly notes to school principals telling them that the length of my sons'  hair was none of the school's business, to education authorities reminding them that New Zealand law expressly forbade the teaching of religion in schools. Somewhere here I encountered a wonderful young man called Donald Graves whose 'Writing Process' revolutionised the way creative writing was taught in classrooms. The concept that children owned what they wrote was revolutionary in those days. In all this I was writing opinion pieces about education and teaching and I found that wordy paragraphs were often ignored, but pithy poems were remembered.


Retirement and my marvellous husband (who probably wanted to get me out of the house so he could play bowls) packed me off to Summer School at Otago University where I enrolled for a novel writing course but one of the tutors there was the late Bub Bridger and she encouraged me to join her Poetry writing group in Wellington. Her definition of Poetry was Dancing with words'.


Where am I now? I still write prose and get published, and critics have commented on 'the poetic quality; of my writing. Also I have realised that Fame is not the spur people thought it was. What is important is the poem itself. Now if I write a poem it might be about something ephemeral. like sunlight on a butterfly's wings but there still has to be something that gives the reader a reason to pause and reflect.


Being part of a writing community like PK is very important to me. If I write something I am comforted when people who are serious about writing accept (not necessarily agree with) what I write.


Told you this would be a long story.


I would like to ask where you find inspiration for your poetry please.  (Jan Harris)


If I waited for inspiration I would never write a poem. Inspiration is what those notebooks in our pockets are about.

I write about things I see, hear smell and feel mainly around me like sparrown on the power line outside my window, fish who stare at me when I walk beside the river, our librarian in a wheelchair, but a tinsel bow in her hair,


What advice do you give to poets who might ask you how to get started as a writer?

 I know some of the poets you admire but would you like to say something about your favourites and what it is that engages you in their poetry?

 Have you ever been given any “favourite” advice by another poet?

 Is there something that you particularly keep in mind while writing?

(Jim Bennett)


What advice do I give to poets who might ask you to get started as a writer?
I do it the other way round. We're writers first, the final distilation is poetry.


WRITE. keep pen and paper with you, take notes of things you see and hear and smell and touch.

If you can, get Dorothea Brande's BECOMING A WRITER. Every morning when you first wake, while your brain is fresh but still a bit fuzzy from sleep write anything that comes into your head for twenty minutes if you can.

READ especially poetry but read everything you can with a questioning eye. Why is this being written?

POETS I ADMIRE Lawrence Ferlinghetti of course, John Keats, Hone Tuwhare, Rimbaud, Lucretius.



I would like to know more about the poetry scene in New Zealand..  How is poetry seen, read?  Who, apart from yourself is very active as a writer.   I have seen a number of Australian poets over the years making a breakthrough on the world stage, what about New Zealanders?  Is there a prevalent style of popular poetry?  (Jim Bennett)


 We have a history full of great poets, even the iconic writers of fiction like Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame  wrote poetry.


The New Zealand Poetry Society was founded by a group of poetry writers and still flourishes, mainly in Wellingtom. The founders were Denis Glover, his poem 'Magpies' is still the most widely recognised here; Irene Adcock (Fleur's mother) Lauris Edmund, James K Baxter.. Victoria University, Wellington has a strong poetry voice, Bill Manhire, of course, Vincent O'Sullivan. Harry Ricketts are on its staff.


Auckland's poets publish a poetry periodical, Poetry NZ twice yearly, Alistair Patterson, Bernard Gadd, Owen Bullock are the main editors, but a lot of us writers of poetry are grateful that we have such a quality journal to send our poems to.


Christchurch encourages poetry through the W.E.A. programme. and the very worthwhile arts magazine Takahe is published in Christchurch.


And of course there is Landfall, started by Charles Brasch, and nurtured by Otago University. I'm afraid I have never reached the heights required for publication there,


Then there is Sam Hunt who has worked all his life to keep Poetry where it belongs, in pubs, parties and among ordinary people. He travels all over New Zealand performing his poetry and taking workshops in schools. ANYTHING by Sam Hunt is worth reading, especially Mangaweka Road Song, and I Want To Come Back As a Wave. His poetry is very disciplined. mostly 13 syllables per line.


Hone Tuwhare was our greatest Maori poet, another wonderful character who travelled all over the world preaching that Poetry belongs with people. his collected works are published in 'Deep River Talk' . Jane Campion made a film about him.


If you come across . Vivienne Plumb, don't let her accent fool you. She lived quite a long time in New Zealand, and is a formidable performance poet as is Paula Bilborough who is over your way somewhere. Michael Harlow counts as a New Zealand poet, he is a Connecticut Yankee of Greek extraction, but he lives in Arrowtown New Zealand and writes great poetry.


.Two New Zealand poets, Allen Curnow and James K Baxter, were included in The School Bag Anthology compiled by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney for Faber and Faber. Brian Turner writes about Otago and out high country.








Catherine Graham grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, England where she still lives. Her awards include a Northern Voices Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared alongside internationally acclaimed poets including Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Benjamin Zephaniah, Sharon Olds and Bob Dylan in Soul Feathers (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2011) and with Paul Muldoon, Robert Hass, Fleur Adcock and Penelope Shuttle in The Stony Thursday Book (Arts Office of Limerick City Council, Ireland 2009). Catherine's first full collection Things I Will Put In My Mother's Pocket is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.


Two poems by Catherine Graham.




When I set out on my journey

I shall leave home early.


I shall wear shoes that breathe slowly;

button up my best coat.


My scarf will wrap itself around me,

brushing my cheek like a newborn hand


and I shall need a bag, the one

that smells of her favourite perfume.


A simple sign

nailed to a wooden post.


See her alight with only the ghost

of a well dressed smile.


This is the place

where dandelion clocks stand still.




Making Clogs At Gallowgate

for Doris



I let him believe I'm fourteen; old enough

to be a clog-maker. The rough, green overall

tied tight around my waist gives me the figure

I haven't got: I comb my fringe to the side.

Uppers hang in the workshop like kippers;

the genuine smell of leather all around.

Gripping the sycamore sole between my legs,

I squeeze my knees together, like mam

says I always should, and hammer like hell

at the horseshoe, braying the nails into the wood:

Slicing leather with the sharpest knife in the world;

my hands bleeding, like Christ up on the cross.

Soon I'll be promoted to stretching the skins

over metal lasts, if I keep my head down.

My workmates are five sisters, all would-be

opera singers. Listen, you can hear them

even now: Si tu ne m'aimes pas prends garde à toi!

And old Ebenezer next door, stitching:

Our would-be baritone. Every morning

we're greeted by a longtail that runs along the pipes.

The same R.A.T. (for it's unlucky to say the word),

comes out again at noon, scurrying around

like a frantic clerk of works, on the look out

for idle crumbs. The loud clock ticka ticka ticka ticks

its way to Friday when the shop window is filled

with beautiful black clogs, perched in pairs

on shelves, like lovebirds, and I collect my

seven and six. That's when I leave work

by the front door, so I can pass the window

and Fenwick's with its felt hats and blouses

made from the finest of satins and silks.


Poems from Things I Will Put In My Mother's Pocket (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2013)





Catherine Graham.


I wonder if you would tell me what value you think dialect poetry can have in the 21st C?  (Jim Bennett)


I believe that our regional dialects should be celebrated and celebrated in our poetry. I was at an event recently to hear poems from the Northumberland Language Society, the poems were beautiful and included landscape poems, humourous poems, love poems. It was a joy to hear the words, the voices. I would never want our regional dialects to fade and poetry is one of the finest ways to keep them alive. I never tire of reading/hearing the late and internationally acclaimed dialect poet Fred Reed!


Are you a page poet who performs...
...or a performance poet who (also) uses the page?  (Bob Cooper)

I'm definitely a page poet but I believe that every poet is a performer of sorts. I may not strut around the stage, hugely animated but my reading of a poem voice is entirely different to my reading for myself voice.

Must a poet be prepared to stand up and read their poetry in public and give talks to help market their work in order to be considered a serious poet? (Jan Harris)

I don't believe that you have to stand up and read your work to be taken seriously as a poet, but I find that people love to hear a poet bring their words to life and it's great to get honest feedback from your audience. 

What things do other poets do (in their poems, performances, or workshopping) that make you itch?  (Julie Ann Sih)


I can't be doing with poets who are full of their own importance. Poets who just turn up, do a reading and go - no interaction, nothing. Poets when they are audience members at readings, who make noises like Meg Ryan in that film When Harry Met Sally just because the reader is a 'biggie'.

What do you think about rhyming in modern poetry? 

Do you use traditional forms in your poetry?

How would you describe your poetry?  

Do you have a manifesto that drives your writing?

And just what books of poetry would you take with you to a desert island and what six etc. and what special items? (Jim Bennett)

You ask, what do I think about rhyming in modern poetry?

Rhyming is good if it is good rhyming. I believe that there is no place in modern poetry for rhyme that is 'forced'.

Do I use traditional forms in my poetry?

Occasionally. I enjoy the challenge of writing, say,  a villanelle - I've included two in my new collection, but generally speaking I write free verse.
How would I describe my poetry?

Accessible. I often write about the strangeness of everyday situations. I particularly love using imagery in my poems.

Do I have a writing manifesto?

Write poems that people will want to read and re-read, poems that people can identify with. Don't set out to bamboozle the reader.

What would my list of books, discs etc. contain if I were stranded on a desert island?

(I guess the rule is that I can't take your wonderful collection, The Cartographer/Heswall sequences of poems, Jim?)

So, Poetry Books:

Throw In The Vowels - Rita Ann Higgins
Rapture - Carol Ann Duffy
Family Album - Sheree Mack
Soul Feathers - ed. Ronnie Goodyer
Love - Pablo Neruda
A Choosing - Selected Poems - Liz Lochhead

Discs: Anything by

Dolores Keane
The Beatles
Leonard Cohen
Maura O'Connell
Joan Baez
Tamla Motown Records so I can dance around my handbag.

And my special items?

My family photograph album and our family Bible.

I think this will be quick and easy to answer - did you learn poems by heart at school? If so, what were they and can you still recite them? If not, did you learn any subsequently and why? (Lesley Burt)


No, I didn't learn any poems by heart at school. In fact, come to think of it - I don't remember being taught poetry at school?









James Bell - published his first poem in his school magazine at the age of 15 and then continued to be unpublished for several years until he went to Stirling University as a mature student at 26 and started to have some success, wrote poems in Scots and edited the student literary mag. While there he had the pleasure of having Norman MacCaig as a tutor who regaled in the title of Reader in Poetry in the days before creative wirting courses, but taught with the English department. He was also grateful to Norman Jeffares, the WB Yeats scholar, for being enlightening on this poet's work and attending folklife studies courses (still a rarity in UK Universities) with David Buchan, a specialist in the Scots Ballad. Poetry took a backseat for the next 17 years as he and his wife raised a family and earned a crust. In 1997 he won a poetry contest with an old poem revised for the purpose and started again, hence this pastiche of Larkin:
Poetry began for me in 1997,
far too old for a Gregory award
at the age of forty seven.
Note suitable punctuation, since dropped for his own perverse reasons. Previous lives have been lived as a photographic assistant, an actor and mime artiste, technical sales rep, van driver, park ranger and various other short term gigs like working in bars. Latterly, before retirement and a new life in Brittany, he was a careers adviser who worked closely with disaffected young people. Thoughout all this he has operated as a musician playing regular gigs with his various guitars at various venues with various lineups.
Publishing history:
O'Grady and Mount Fuji - CD of original poetry and guitar music (Haiku Beach Studios 2002)
the just vanished place - a chapbook - (tall-lighthouse 2008)
fishing for beginners - full collection - (tall-lighthouse 2010)
He also shows up from time to time in poetry journals, both terrestrial and online. He now contributes articles to an English language journal in Brittany and plans to start again on one of his two stalled novels this year and read more literature in French.

Two Poems by James Bell


 the art of balance

you look at water
& it helps to heal
memories of lesser times
when there was no vision
of tomorrow
& when to look at water
was only that
& no constituent of the current
part of its cut between
river flow & incoming tide
& the sight of a cormorant
who has just appeared
at the surface again
with a fish that wriggles
for life
it's instinct says it will be swallowed
while its scales sparkle with water
against sunlight
(from: fishing for beginners 2010)


at this moment
it's all the usual crowd today
who speckle the river with their presence
the small flock of Canada geese
the lone egret who lopes about the water's edge
no cormorants - human fishers stand
watch their lines from the quayside -
are pensive hunters
gulls & wind make the only noise
then a girl who wears angel wings walks quietly by
not near enough for you to see if they are real
or merely attached by some method
when she stops & takes in the scene
looks at the crowd as it minds its own business
you feel good that there is some kind of angel
who is around to watch over you
(from - fishing for beginners 2010)


James Bell


How important is Scottishness to you?  (Bob Cooper)


Like Stevenson in Samoa I become more Scottish in exile especially in France where there in an auld alliance and also in Brittany where, as part of the Celtic fringe, Bretons see me as a cousin.
The great triumvirate of MacDiarmid, MacCaig and Morgan. Carole Anne is not bad but feels more recent poets are more celeb orientated though Crawford and Herbert have done some cracking good stuff.

I'm not too up on people writing now in Scotland apart from the aforementioned. I could have said Don Paterson, but my mate Alistair Paterson is much better.

If I were answering the question I'd also have W.S. Graham tucked in my shirt as I waded ashore on any desert island. (Bob Cooper)

I didn't forget WS. I love his stuff ... I just forgot to mention. Unforgiveable.


If you were to be asked to give some pieces of advice to someone who was starting out writing poetry and who said they wanted to make a career of it, how would you respond?

 What can Sonnets or other forms offer that free verse does not. And/or what can free verse offer that Sonnets or other forms do not.  (Jim Bennett)



I’d be inclined to tell them to think again. However, get established as a poet through publication and reputation then get a job on a University Creative Writing programme. As I dislike these kind of programmes it would stick in my craw to say it. Get a job that pays money and experience life as it is lived and write your poetry as you live it. There have been some magnificent examples.
The sonnet form is variable now; I’ve seen extreme ones that stretch the name to the limit. Yet those very limits give something to free verse, which, allegedly does not have any form, but the wise books by academics say otherwise; there is form there too, hence peole like Whitman of Ginsberg who wrote free verse but cadenced in biblical verses. The sonnet too provides a discipline to work within, so when you free up there are still points of referral elsewhere. I could go on a bit, but life’s too short.


This is about where to draw the line. I read some free-verse poems and

ponder and


and just can’t

see why

a line is

split just



I often don’t see any technique slipping in, such as half-rhyme, syllable count, each line a kind of “sense unit” – indeed, anything you’d call “structure” at all – and yet the lines seem to be split in odd places that seem arbitrary. Am I always missing something? Or are there “rules” (I use that word loosely; to mean guidance you’d be better to follow unless you were breaking it for effect)? I was reading some Seamus Heaney recently (I forget which poem) and was thus struggling. So, even with free verse, are there better and worse places to create new lines, or does it matter? (Andrew John)


Heaney is a good example to focus on. Some of his later work, in “District Circle” for example, has loosened up, but earlier work tends to work in four line stanzas of a longer or shorter line. His friend and near contemporary Ted Hughes had a much freer style earlier, but again in earlier work tended to go for the same four line stanzas. Something to do with nature and nurture perhaps. I don’t think there is an arbitrary line end, its more complex than this; a poet friend of mine agreed part of it was the size of the notebook you wrote in. I’d say other things will take over, such as working for effect. MacCaig once told me he was a “short breathed man” meaning he wrote short poems, but this extended to length of line as a breath, he was a great reader of his own work, so it is a form of notation like printed music you then sound with an instrument such as the voice; remember poetry was once orally transmitted exclusively and I don’t think we’ve lost the habit. Another way of looking at line breaks on the page is more to do with trying to decode what the poet is doing, some of which could be quite unconscious – that’s my excuse anyway. Hope this helps.


Where do you stand in regard to linguistically innovative poetry, sound poetry, Lanpo. How important are the experimentalists in defining a way forward into a new poetic?  (Jim Bennett)

There has, thank goodness, always been linguistically innovative poetry and my stance is that experimentalists are very important in making ground towards a new poetic. I'm not sure about defining as that is as bad as not doing anything. As with all experiments they are not all necessarily successful, but if we stick strictly to the status quo, whatever that is now, we might as well forget about writing poetry. Somebody else asked about rules and was getting quite uptight on whether they were following them. I think it's good to be aware of and acknowledge where we have came from but need not be hidebound by it.






Julie Stoner (a.k.a. Julie Ann Sih) holds degrees in classical languages and library science from the University of California at Berkeley. She enjoyed writing poetry in her teen years, but quit in disgust after a few years of scraping together enough babysitting money to subscribe to "the best" American poetry magazines, only to find herself hating every single poem in most of the issues. If that deliberately obscure, impenetrable drivel was "the best" that poetry had to offer, clearly Julie's hard-earned cash and her attention were better spent elsewhere.


Poetry did not cross Julie's mind again until her daughter was born with serious medical problems. Poetry-writing seemed a more productive use of eternities spent waiting for doctors than crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Julie kept her poetry-writing addiction private for many years. Not even her husband knew. 


She finally confessed to a writer friend, who advised Julie that reading contemporary poetry was unavoidable if she wanted to be any good at writing it for a modern audience. When Julie shared her opinion of "the best" American poetry magazines, her friend astonished her by saying that poetry was a big tent, with room for many different varieties, and that "the best" was a very subjective designation. There were contemporary poets (like Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Wilbur) still working in form. There were even form-friendly magazines. (British poetry magazines tend not to be so polarized regarding free verse and form, but most American ones have strict "no rhyme" policies.) Julie has found that even the free verse chosen by form-friendly editors tends to have the qualities that Julie enjoys--e.g., wonder, sincerity, craftsmanship, and emotional connection.


Julie's fan letter email to the author of a poem she admired in one of those magazines resulted in an invitation to Eratosphere, the online poetry workshop associated with the magazine Able Muse. Julie eventually became a moderator of Eratosphere. Her family medical situation has forced her to scale back her involvement there over the past few years, but she is still a manuscript-screener and proofreader for Able Muse


Julie firmly believes that there is nothing either superior or inferior about using rhyme and meter; they are simply tools to help a poet convey an emotion or message. But there are many other tools at a poet's disposal, and Julie intends to concentrate on developing facility with those this year, with the help of the PK Poetry List.




One of several book reviews Julie has written for Able Muse (this one with cameo appearances by her daughters, now aged 16 and 13 1/2):


Julie often uses light verse to explore serious (and sometimes theological) topics. Two examples:


"A Vulgar Thought, Vigorously Expressed"


"Advent Carol"


Julie is part of the international task force that gathered material for the posthumous collection Grasshopper: The Poetry of M.A. Griffiths (Arrowhead Press, 2011) and is preparing a selected volume. An article she wrote about the project:



Two poems by Julie Stoner

Your Native Language

I’d probably be fluent in it now,
two decades since your first dismissive no.
You laughed, “What for? You had me at hello!
when I aspired to go beyond nǐ hǎo.
I parroted a tape till I could vow
(unauthorized) wŏ ái ní. You said, “Oh...
wow...I love you, too.” You’d grimaced, though.
I xiè xie-ed thanks. That’s all you would allow.
You begged me not to bother anymore.
Too troublesome. Too tonal-based. Too late.
Your parents’ dialect was Shanghainese,
not Mandarin. Impractical. “What for?”
you asked. “We manage to communicate.”
But when we don’t, I harbor thoughts like these.

[Not previously published]


Advent Carol

Hush that anguished hymn you're humming: 
   "Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
Trumpet Christmas! Fix his coming
  firmly at "The First Nowell."

already come in glory! 
  Why plead, "Savior, come at last"?
Let's talk Christmas! Tell a story
  safely in the distant past. 

Drown out John the Baptist. Edit
  out "Prepare! Make straight the way!"
Cut to Christmas! Buy on credit. 
  Square things up another day. 

Advent's dreary. Let's start living
now! Wear red and green!
While we're at it, skip Thanksgiving!
  Deck the halls at Halloween!

Then, when the Incarnate Verb
  overnight becomes passé,
carry Christmas to the curb. 
  Pack the Prince of Peace away. 

Published in First Things (December 2009)



Julie Stoner


How do rhymes work for you?  (Bob Cooper)


Why are the shortest questions always the hardest to answer? LOL!


Caveat: Anything I say about how rhyme works in my poems is actually how I hope rhyme works. When I workshop, I often find out that I have failed to accomplish whatever I'd intended. And however clever a writer may think he or she is, the reader's opinion is the one that counts.


One example of this is the "Your Native Language" sonnet I posted recently, in which the As off-rhymed sourly with the Bs. I was hoping to capture the infelicities of the narrator's pronunciation of Chinese tones. But many readers found eight lines of those clashing vowels inexcusably unpleasant. (As is their right.)


I also used twangy, disorienting off-rhymes in a poem about one of my daughter's stays at the local children's hospital. It's one of my personal favorites, because I'm proud of myself for being able to salvage a bit of joy out of a very stressful situation. But that poem's been rejected by more editors than I can count. (Again, as is their right.)


So, how I would like rhyme to work in my poems.... 


I would like my rhymes to surprise the reader with something unexpected. If the reader knows what's coming, I've failed. 


Often, I would like the rhyme to draw attention to certain things in the poem. But that only works if, in other places in the poem, the rhyme fades into the background while I'm setting up my punchline (or whatever it is I'd like to emphasize). Which is why I use a lot of enjambment and multi-syllable words in the de-emphasized parts.


When I feel that the subject is appropriate for a not-traditionally-Poetick treatment--in poems about war or abuse, for example--I write very prosaic, tell-y poems with few images or adjectives or literary flourishes. In those cases, I want the rhyme to provide a foil for the prosiness, as if to say that certain subjects are unredeemable and can't be made beautiful. 


I've just glanced at your artlcle on doing a posthumous collection of MA Griffith's poems. I used to know her as Grassy on the now defunct Pennine list and always valued her comments, which did not take prisoners and I'm sure made me write better. What took you there?  (James Bell)
I helped to retrieve grasshopper's extant poems from a few other forums, but a different Grasshopper Task Force member retrieved Maz's poems from the Pennine Poetry Works archives. After the book was published, I started to become uncomfortable with the notion that none of Maz's responses to comments on THE-WORKS had been retrieved along with the original postings. (Just think how often each of us has responded to critiques of our poems by saying, "Thanks, Jim, I've thought about what you said about L3 and have changed it to...") 


So that's what sent me into the Pennine Poetry Works archives myself...and that's where I saw her very complimentary mentions of the PK Poetry List community. Which brought me here.


Margaret clearly wanted her poems to be preserved, as indicated by, among other things, her taking the trouble to designate a literary executor in the will she had drawn up by a Poole solicitor. (She missed her appointment to sign it, though, and so died intestate...which meant that the British members of the task force had to track down her heir for publication permission. This took some doing.) 


We feel a continuing obligation to try to establish as definitive a text for each poem as possible, with the understanding that the author herself felt that some of these were unfinished, or silly little doodles, or simply failed experiments, and would not necessarily have wanted everything shared with the wider world. (I would certainly not want some of my own workshopped poems to be published as representative of my best effort.) Which is one of the reasons that work is also underway on a smaller and more selected volume of Margaret's poems, which will be marketed to a mainstream publisher.

I've read your Petrachan sonnets with admiration on the list and remember you sayinng something about it being obsessive, I know the feeling. How do you explain the obsession?   (James Bell)


I am obsessed with sonnets in general because 14 lines seems such a convenient little package for so many of my ideas. That length keeps me from getting too verbose, yet forces me to include enough details that I "show" rather than "tell". 


Also, the tradition of a turn or volta appeals to me--perhaps because I am both opinionated and indecisive. I often undercut my own arguments a few minutes after I propose them. A sonnet is one of the few occasions on which this flip-flopping is a good thing.


One of the things I like about the Petrarchan sonnet structure in particular is that the sestet provides much more room do develop a counter-argument than the Shakespearean structure does. The Shakespearean couplet can be a very effective little zinger, and I'm fond of it, too, but for more complex and nuanced rebuttals, it's a bit too short.


I'm also obsessed with the Petrarchan rhyme scheme (ABBAABBA). To me, it represents the combined challenge and opportunity to do something unexpected (and yet natural-sounding) with all that repetition. It seems so restrictive, particularly in a comparatively rhyme-poor language like English. And yet within that straitjacket one is free to make a number of small decisions with big impact. For instance, I usually choose to downplay most of the rhymes through the use of enjambment, saving the end-stopped emphasis for ideas I really want to drive home at the end of the octave. 


Repeating forms like the villanelle, ballade, triolet, and roundel also have an obsessive quality because they are repeating entire phrases, not just the final sound of the final word. In these forms, too, I enjoy introducing small variations that defiantly proclaim freedom within the restrictions of repetition. Just slipping in a comma or a period can be so subversive. :-)


When you set out to write a new poem do you decide the form it will take before you start writing or does the poem gradually evolve into a sonnet, free verse or other form. (Jan Harris)


Generally I don't set out to write a new poem at all--I write in self-defense, when an idea or phrase just won't leave me alone, and writing seems the only way to exorcise it. Control issues on my part, I guess. (And bending things to fit a received poetic form certainly reinforces the illusion that I'm in control.)


I never think I'm trying to shoehorn things into the sonnet form that really aren't a good fit for it, but I'm sure that I probably do--several people whose opinions I trust have said so, about particular poems. 


This year I'm hoping to be more spontaneous and simply let my poems be what they want to be. Scary! I'm a linear, narrative, left-brained person, so letting things be non-linear and lyric and right-brained is definitely out of my comfort zone. 


Do you ever get the dreaded 'block'? And if you do, how do you deal with it? And if not, lucky you!  (Lesley Burt)


My one-word solution to writer's block is...PLAGIARISM! :-)


When I run out of ideas, I really do appropriate them from elsewhere. But in ethical ways, of course.


The easiest way of doing this is to translate a poem from another language. The ideas are all there, ready-made. In fact, translators are not supposed to introduce their own ideas, so feeling uninspired is a good thing. All I'm supposed to do is put the other guy's (or gal's) ideas into effective English. So, I get to have the fun of rhyming and alliteration and such, without any pressure to come up with a brilliant punchline. Sure, if I do a good job, Cervantes or Villon or whoever gets all the credit...but I think that's fair. All I did was put a new frame on someone else's masterpiece.


Most often, when I'm feeling uninspired, I write a poem "Based on a line by So-and-So". This is another socially acceptable theft, since it's credited. (I do feel obliged to develop the borrowed line in a very different direction from the source poem, though--otherwise it looks as if I'm just rewriting their poem because I thought that I could do a better job of it, which is profoundly insulting.)


I find that another very productive use of poetic fallow time is to write reviews of others' work, or simply to critique it in workshops. If I don't like someone's poem in a book or magazine I'm just reading for enjoyment, I turn the page and move on. But if I don't like someone's poem in a workshop setting, or in a book I've been asked to review, I'm forced to put my finger on why. And the discipline of articulating what I like and don't like sometimes sparks new ideas. 


For example, a few years ago I told another poet that his poem about hiking and rock-climbing lacked life and sparkle because he had used no active verbs in it at all. The poem was simply a list of objects and sensations. No motion. In a poem about physical activity. It just didn't work. 


A few days after these comments, I realized that what I considered a flaw in that athletic-themed poem could be a big plus in a poem on a different topic. At the time, my husband was very ill, and his illness had been dragging on for some time. So I wrote a verbless poem about our situation, using a becalmed ship as a metaphor. The lack of verbs allowed me to convey the hopelessness I felt without getting all sentimental and tell-y. 


I would never have had the idea to remove the verbs if I hadn't just commented on the lack of verbs in someone else's poem.


I've been using the term plagiarism jokingly above, so I should probably clarify that actual plagiarism--attempting to pass off others' images or phrases into your own work, without attribution--is never acceptable. Occasional kleptonesia strikes us all at one time or another...i.e., every couple of years or so, I think that a turn of phrase is my original poetic creation, only to recognize it later in a song that I must have heard before. At which point I remove it, because consciously stealing others' work, or being careless about crediting others for what we appropriate, is quite a different kettle of fish.

Returning to the subject of writer's block, I'd be interested in whatever advice others may have. Some people swear by setting a timer and writing as fast as they can, whatever comes to mind, uncritically, for a set period of time. This turns off the internal editor that says to many of us, "What's this you're writing? This is no good. Don't say that. Don't say that, either. In fact, don't say anything at all." Theoretically, when the time is up, one can go back and pull out the good stuff for later use. In my experience, though, after the timer goes off, my internal editor comes back with a vengeance, and thinks it's all crap. And then I have nothing to show for my fifteen minutes but a sore hand.


I would like to point out, though, that writer's block is a relative thing. A friend of mine occasionally bellyaches that he's only written a handful of decent poems in the past month, "I don't know what's wrong with me lately," etc. Sheesh, a handful of decent poems in a month is an absolutely stellar month for me. I sometimes go months without writing any poems at all. But even when I don't feel like writing, I'm always reading, and thinking, and observing what's going on around me, and I consider all of these non-writing activities important parts of the poem-writing process.


This will seem like sacrilege to some, but do you think it’s possible to write straight to screen, or is the palpable presence of pen(cil) and paper a necessity? My own background is journalism, and I’ve always been able to – because I’ve had to – write straight to a keyboard (a typewriter way back, of course), yet do get a rather different experience when writing with pen and paper.   (Andrew John)


I'm forty-four, and did not have my own computer until after graduate school--until after I was married, actually, and my husband got tired of me using his. So for the first quarter-century of my life, typing things up was a monumental bother, involving my much-hated electronic typewriter, and having to retype the whole page if the professor was picky about too much White-Out on the page. As a result, even after I had convenient access to word-processing software, it took me years to even consider approaching a keyboard until the handwritten draft was just about perfect. No composing anything on the fly in those days.


But for the past decade, I've composed directly at the keyboard, no problem. I miss the almost-ceremonial feel of deciding that a poem is at last ready to graduate from handwritten form to electronic, but it's just so convenient to copy and paste multiple drafts of something, swap things around, revert to the way I'd originally had it, etc. I still scribble bits of poems down on paper on a near-daily basis, when I'm out and about, but my "real" working drafts are always electronic now.


Are there issues of dialect in American poetry?  (Jim Bennett)


Heh! Issues of race and class permeate every aspect of American society, so it would be very odd indeed if those issues didn't pop up in poetry. 


Actually, my first published poem was a sonnet series in which each sonnet had a different narrator, one of whom spoke in a Southern black dialect, with lots of respellings and apostrophes for dropped letters. Various sections of that sonnet series have been reprinted three different times, but no anthology editor seems willing to touch the dialect sonnet with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Maybe they just don't think it's as strong a sonnet as the others. But I suspect that three other factors are making people gun-shy.


First, poems in dialect really do require extra effort on the part of the reader. The editors may not feel that the payoff is worth the effort in this case.


Second, the editors may be uncomfortable with the fact that I am obviously not a member of the subculture whose dialect I am using in that poem. They may feel that the poem represents yet another case of a white person exploiting black culture for her own purposes, and they don't want to be seen as complicit in that exploitation.


Third, none of the narrators in my sonnet series was a sympathetic figure. So, in the case of this dialect sonnet, I'm not just speaking in the voice of a black person, I'm portraying that person in an unflattering way. Which makes it even more likely that my use of dialect could cause offense. 


So that was my first, and probably last, attempt at writing a poem in dialect.


In American, and particularly Californian, poetry magazines, I do see lots of poems with non-standard usages (e.g., "So me and Billy was drivin' to town, and I says to Billy..."), meant to reflect the speech patterns of various subcultures, particularly in the rural South. But I can think of only two categories that would really require a glossary. The first is the hip-hop urban stuff, because the slang is so up-to-the-minute that it's out of date by the time it's published. The second is the poetry written by Chicanos (i.e., Californians of Mexican heritage) using Spanglish (i.e., English with untranslated Mexican Spanish slang sprinkled into it, or English-Spanish hybrid words). Living as I do in northern San Diego, about 20 miles from the border of Mexico, and 120 miles from Los Angeles, I see lots of Chicano poems...the majority of which feel identical to me in subject matter and treatment. It's clear that, with few exceptions, these poets' individual poetic voices are being drowned out by their use of dialect.


I know that the USA has policies of affirmative action which are the equivalent of positive discrimination in the UK.  These are interpreted in the UK as things like women’s only poetry magazines and competitions. So where it is quite normal to see a competition for women only.   So is this sort of affirmative action needed in the world of poetry?   If so why?   (Jim Bennett)


What magazine reader hasn't encountered a truly mediocre poem by somebody famous, and thought, "The only reason this poem got published here is that the magazine lowered its standards, in order to have the cachet of printing something by a celebrity"?


I doubt I'll ever be famous, but I am, obviously, a woman. I would hope that no one will EVER say of one of my poems, "The only reason this poem got published is that the magazine lowered its standards, in order to publish more women."


Last year there was a well-publicized kerfuffle about the huge gender disparity in publication in the most competitive literary magazines. Where are the women? Oh, the injustice of it all!


By and large, magazine editors responded that the gender composition of the work they accept accurately reflects the gender composition of the submissions that they receive. I.e., if 75% of their submissions are from men, 75% of what they publish is from men. 


There's nothing dastardly or discriminatory about that. 


As a female writer, I probably contribute to the problem (if it is a problem), by not submitting much for publication, and by giving up on repeatedly-rejected poems sooner than a male writer might. But at this stage of my life, with my current family obligations, I don't want to have a particularly active literary career. Many other women have different priorities, which is fine. But I refuse to allow anyone to make me feel as if I'm somehow letting down my entire sex by my current lack of literary ambition.


If I were trying harder and still not getting published, or if I were trying to support my family by writing poetry [brief pause for side-splitting laughter], I might be more likely to find something sinister in publishing's gender disparity. But aside from some male squeamishness about menstruation poems, I really don't think there's anything sinister going on. The imbalance can be largely attributed to the number of female writers who, like me, have higher priorities than writing for big chunks of their lives. 


Some editors go out of their way to deliberately solicit manuscripts from women, to assign more reviews and other articles to women, etc., etc. These measures do result in more contributions from women, without sacrificing quality. But are all editors required to take such measures? No. And I don't think such measures should be taken too far. 


For one thing, I can't quite see how it is the responsibility of magazine editors to rectify all the injustices of the world. Not in the job description.


For another, if I am such a delicate flower that I require an extraordinary degree of extra hand-holding and coddling and ego-stroking to get my work to press, instead of being able to take my lumps and change my approach accordingly, like everyone else (including a lot of women), maybe I'd really be better off in a less soul-crushing, competitive field than writing. 


(Actually, I think that a few male poets are too quick to send stuff out for publication within days of the initial inspiration...and it wouldn't hurt for them to be a little more ashamed of sending out shoddy work again and again, unrevised, until it's published somewhere. Seems a bit desperate and un-choosy to me. On another list, proud announcements of "I've placed twenty new poems this month--shattering my old record of eighteen!" indicate a little too much emphasis on quantity over quality, for my taste.)


I have never submitted anything to a "No Boys Allowed" journal, anthology, or contest. I don't want to be a good female poet, I want to be a good poet. And I want to get there on my own merit, not because certain competitors were not allowed to play. 


Or maybe my ego just can't stand the thought of putting my marvelous work in some female-only ghetto of a journal, where half the potential readers are not made to feel welcome.


I don't think female-only venues are necessary. In my own case, if I'm too busy with family obligations to submit work to a mainstream journal or contest, I'm also too busy to submit anywhere else. So the female-only venues I've seen tend to be full of poems by writers who do just fine elsewhere, and don't need their own private club.



While accepting that every poem is an experiment of sorts, Experimental poetry has been identified as the more avant-garde approaches, Concrete, sound, Language and all the other terms used to sort or identify poetry into categories or schools.  What value do you think this has when the vast majority of readers still identify poetry as “something that rhymes”?   When in fact the Inauguration poem is getting criticism BECAUSE it does not rhyme are we all fooling ourselves and in a back road that will lead either into a blind alley or back to formalism?  There are probably three questions there, sorry.   (Jim Bennett)



Whatever doesn't grow and change is dead. 


So, yes, on a macro level, poetry needs to keep growing and changing with the times, or it is dead. 


And on a micro level, we as individual artists need to keep growing and changing, too, or we stagnate.


I strongly believe that all art is communication between the artist and the audience. Effective artists think carefully about the audience they wish to reach, and tailor their art accordingly. They are not overly upset when someone outside that intended audience complains that the piece didn't speak to them. It wasn't intended to. But as a reader, I do tire of poems that seem written only to impress a narrow audience of clever academic types.


Artists like to think that posterity may eventually form part of their audience, but we should never lose sight of the fact that, first and foremost, our art needs to speak to our contemporaries. It's no secret that I am fond of the sonnet, but seriously, if my poems aren't relevant to readers in the 21st century, who else is going to read them? Certainly no one in the 18th or 19th centuries. No one in the 22nd century, either. So, if I want my sonnets to be anything more than curious anachronisms, I've got to keep experimenting and reinventing. Varying the line lengths. Fooling around with various types of rhyme. Trying blank verse sonnets. Trying other crazy stuff.


But as I experiment, I keep the following things in mind:


1.) Not every poetic experiment works. And that's okay. 

     True, failed experiments result in dud poems, and that's disappointing. But these can be very valuable for helping me identify and avoid similar pitfalls in future poems. So I try not to let fear of failure keep me from trying new things. 


2.) Not every poetic experiment works. And it's NOT okay to pretend otherwise!

     Remember how it feels to be told, in patronizing tones, that you're just not sophisticated enough to understand someone else's brilliant experimental innovations? I always keep that in mind when I'm the one experimenting.

    Sometimes audiences don't like experimental stuff because they just aren't ready for something that different; but more often, the audience doesn't like it because the resulting poem just doesn't work. No one should berate audiences for not properly appreciating avant garde innovations. Sorry, but "it's experimental" doesn't give a bad poem a pass. And experimentation, by its very nature, generates a lot of bad poems for every successful one. 


3.) Generally speaking, if an experimental poem requires a lengthy explanation of what's going on and how to correctly interpret it and how very, very clever and original the poet was, that experiment is a failure.

    (Sadly, a lot of the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E movement poems fall into this category, in my opinion.)


4.) Just as in science, there are happy accidents sometimes; but we are much more likely to have successful experiments if we start with a hypothesis--i.e., an educated guess about the outcome--and change only one thing at a time. 

    If I may return to an example from earlier this week, "I think I'll take all the verbs out, just for the hell of it" is the kind of juvenile experiment that is unlikely to result in a good poem.

    However, after I noted that the lack of verbs in someone else's poem seemed to sap the life out of it, and hypothesized that this effect could work to my advantage in a poem about a depressing situation, I was very pleased with the result. 


5.) Sometimes things work in an experimental poem for no apparent reason. 

     This is magic. 

     Magic is rarely, if ever, able to be duplicated. Know when to move on.




As Jim pointed out, the vast majority of people still identify poetry as "something that rhymes". I agree with him that experimentation is unlikely to appeal to people with such a conservative comfort zone. 


But I'll counter by pointing out that the vast majority of people still identify painting and sculpture as "something that represents something else in a recognizable way". Yet we easily accept the idea that, among people who have a special interest in art, there is a wide range of tastes, many of which are open to more impressionism, abstraction, and experimentation. Representational art will never go away entirely, just as formal verse will never go away entirely, but the best of it continues to evolve and adapt to better communicate to a modern audience--not only in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of overall conception and technique. And abstract art sometimes incorporates "old school" techniques and representational elements. 


I think that the same is true of formal and free verse poetry.


Since art is communication, it's important for artists to consider the preferences of their audience...but not every piece needs to have the same audience. For example, the audience for Waiata's lovely occasional poem for her friend's 50th wedding anniversary was quite different from the audience for her startlingly original and sometimes stark free verse poems. She recognized this, and tailored things accordingly. 


I don't happen to care for some of the hot trends in poetry, but that's okay, too. They are designed to speak to a more academic audience, which, I'm sure, appreciates them. 


Some folks will never appreciate free verse. But I don't think that poetry will inevitably end up back where it was, either. Because the poetry of the past spoke primarily to its own contemporary audience, and poems written now must speak to a post-Glasnost, post-9/11, post-Great Recession, post-lots-of-stuff audience, dealing with different touchpoints and issues and concerns. As a society, we have changed. Even the old constants, love and sex and the approach to death, have changed. No amount of nostalgia can undo those changes. And because poetry speaks of what it means to be human in a particular time and place, poetry must adapt accordingly.


I'm also struck that in UK when we talk about dialect we mean geographical markers whereas you straightway go for class and ethnicity. Just as valid of course - just different. (When I used to teach dialects it was the standard line that the US has much less variety of accent than we do with only New York and southern states being really identifiable. Would you agree with that?)   (Stuart Nunn)


Well, as a U.S. dialect map shows, there is a wide array of regional accents in the United States; but most of them are not featured much on television or radio, so they aren't widely known outside of those areas.


And geographical speech variants also tend to get downplayed in the U.S. because people tend to be so mobile here. Employment-related moves of 500 miles or more are not uncommon. A quick glance at the second page of the 2010 Census document shows that, in some areas, fewer than 40% of the American-born residents of that state were born there. 


That's a lot of dialect dispersal.


In contrast, a survey sponsored by Bosch Power Tools last year showed that the average Brit moves house eight times in his or her lifetime, averaging 32 miles per move, and ends up only 63 miles from his or her birthplace. 


So, on average, British children seem more likely to hear their parents' dialect reinforced in the community around them.


My own father had been born and raised on a farm in Iowa (in the Midwest), and his "warsh up in the crick" accent seemed freakish to me as a native Californian. I would have been crucified on the playground if I'd uttered anything like that. There was no way I was going to adopt his pronunciation and expressions, except to make fun of them behind his back. 


He wasn't embarrassed about his accent, but he wasn't particularly proud of it as part of his heritage, either. He seemed as unconscious of it as I was hyper-conscious. 


I'm interested in how poets' environments impact the work they produce. It seems to me that American poets are often more different from poets in the UK than other European countries. So the question: Is being American a significant element in your work or merely an accident that makes no difference?   (Stuart Nunn)


Whoa, Stuart! This is a tough one! 


I've been trying to answer this question for three days, and so far I am not happy with what I've come up with. So let me ask for more information. Can you give me a few specific ways in which it strikes you that American poets are "often more different from poets in the UK than other European countries"? Then I'll try to comment on them.


In my own work, I'm sure that being an American makes a difference, but I'm often unconscious of things that seem completely normal to me, as someone immersed in them. Subject-wise, I haven't written much about my childhood on a ranch in the Mojave Desert, which I'm sure would scream "American!" if I did. But I've written some political things. 


Are there any questions that others have been asked that you would like to answer?  (Jim Bennett)


Jim asked several other people in the ask THE POET seat about the influence of other art forms on their poetry. I especially liked Lesley's discussion of the ways in which the visual arts often spark her poetic ideas, and how visual images particularly resonate with her, both when she is writing and reading poetry.


I am a pretty serious singer. I have sung with symphony choruses, small madrigal groups, jazz ensembles, a Southern Black gospel choir (inclusive of all races), even a small Spanish-language choir. I have been a cantor (i.e., soloist) at church since I was fifteen years old. My husband comes from a very musical family in which everyone plays instruments and has absolute pitch. His mother earned a scholarship to the United States by becoming the piano champion of Taiwan, my twin nieces are concert pianists, etc. etc. 


Despite being so steeped in music, I am much more of a visual learner than an auditory one. For example, I envied my school friends who could just listen to a lecture and somehow absorb the material. I always had to translate the lecture content into visual format (by means of written notes) if I hoped to retain any of it. 


Many poets insist that poetry isn't properly experienced if it's simply read on the page. They say that, since poetry originated in public performance, it must never be thought of as something flat and static and page-bound; it must be heard aloud, preferably in the poet's own voice at a reading, etc. Personally, I prefer to read poetry on the page. For one thing, poetry demands a high degree of concentration, and I find all the other sounds in the room (humming light fixtures, sniffles and coughs from the audience members, conversations in the back of the room) much too distracting. Often I find that I've been concentrating so hard on blocking those things out that I can't remember what the speaker was actually saying. 


I also like being able to get a sense of the entire poem at once. How long is it? Are the lines long or short? Is there a rhyme scheme? All of these things are immediately obvious on the page, and are important parts of how I experience (and remember) poems. I feel bereft of these when I'm just hearing someone else's voice. 


It occurs to me that this visual preference is probably why I'm more attentive to punctuation and spelling than most of my fellow poets. I suspect that most of you are much more auditory than I am, and that's why these presentational things that seem so important to me don't bother the majority here at all. But while I'm obsessing over picky little visual details, I probably overlook other things that seem far more important (and obvious!) to you.


Online poetry workshops have been great for me, not only because they bring together people with different strengths--some visual, some auditory--but also because these forums are entirely visual. I get to enjoy the sense of community without having to remember what people's names are when they've already told me twice. Every comment has a name tag!  :-) 


I'm not entirely visual. I really appreciate the sonic qualities of poems, particularly the use of alliterative consonant combinations and off-rhymes (yes, even in free verse). And I'm very sensitive to meter, too, and enjoy little substitutions and irregularities that are clearly intentional and purposeful.









Lynn Ciesielski lives in Buffalo, New York near Niagara Falls.  She has lived there all of her life except for a brief stint in California in her early twenties.  She taught Special Education on a variety of levels for eighteen years.  Currently she is retired and devotes most of her time to her family and her writing.  Lynn took several poetry courses from Jim Bennett which she really enjoyed.  In 2011 she had the opportunity to serve as guest editor of the online magazine Transparent Words.  She subtitled this edition Beyond Four Walls

Ms.  Ciesielski produced her first chapbook, I Speak in Tongues approximately one year ago.  It was released by Foothills Publishers, a small family-operated company.  She has also been published in several countries including Britain, the US, Australia and Canada.  Credits include Obsessed With Pipework, Slipstream, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Pulsar Poetry Webzine, Barbaric Yawp and a number of others.  Lynn writes poetry book reviews for P
ulsar Poetry Webzine and has hosted two poetry series in Buffalo.

Two poems by Lynn Ciesielski


Making Pierogi


Mama uses her corkscrew shaped finger to scoop filling,

creamy cheese, from a bowl on the table and licks.

Gramma had bought dry ingredients and butter

From the Market down Broadway just after it opened.


Visits took Gramma on journeys in her mind,

back to old country, shopping in Krakow,
a child, lost among the pani’s her mama knew,

eye level with flowered housedress waists.

Mama measures flour, salt, mixes grains, white

in an aluminum bowl, cuts butter in with fingers.
When it forms into little beans, she adds egg,

sour cream, kneads until it’s a soft pillow.

She grasps a rolling pin’s red spindles;
stiff  hands push.  Her face is a twisted cloth
as she works the dough, stamps circles with a glass,
fills circle with cheesy mix, folds, seals.
When Gramma rode the ship with her mama,
they prayed each night on crystal rosaries.
Fifty-three Hail Mary’s for better fortune. 
Two generations travelling to a new land.

Mama drops pierogis, six at a time into boiling water,

cooks pockets, fills my plate, says, “Smacznego”,
like Gramma did years ago, like I will in years to come.


"Making Pierogi" appeared in Ascent Aspirations, September 2012 and in I Speak in Tongues, 2012



How to Let Go of a Grown Child



Don’t call her every night just to check in.



Don’t cancel plans waiting for her to call.



Don’t drive past her apartment at midnight

to see if her car is in the driveway.



Paint over the  purple walls in her bedroom.

Use primer and three thick coats in a neutral color.



Peel plastic “starry night” off  the bedroom ceiling.



Remove school photos from the wall and mantel.

Put them in box with dance award certificates.



Eat the ice cream sundaes with caramel topping

and whipped cream you’ve avoided for twenty

years of setting good examples.



Give up thinking each time you decide on a date,

“I wonder how my daughter would feel about it”.



Avoid Junior’s Departments in clothing stores.

Ignore second-pair half-off sales on low-rise jeans.



Write down your regrets.  Fold into an airplane.

Throw it off a bridge.



"How to Let Go of a Grown Child" appeared in Wild Goose Poetry Review, Winter 2012 and in I Speak in Tongues, 2012.



Lynn Ciesielski


Q; I can see echoes in your work of New York school poets. I wonder how much you have been influenced by O'Hara, Ashbery, Koch etc.  (Stuart Nunn)


I am embarrassed to say that I was unfamiliar with the New York school poets.  However, now after researching the three you mentioned, I can see why you would find similarities between my work and theirs.  I do write a lot about travel and paintings.  My style is often a little quirky and has a wry sense of humor.  This style just seems to come naturally to me though until just now I hadn't read any of their work.

Actually, my favorite poets are Robert Hass, Rita Dove, Gabriela Mistral and Amiri Baraka.  Their styles are more lyrical and introspective.  I would love to write that way but it just doesn't come naturally for me. 


From where do you draw your inspiration?  And how do you balance the elements of profound Truth that you want to get into a poem with the strictures of keeping to fact and truth?  (Jim Bennett)


I draw a good deal of inspiration from events that occur in my life and those lives of loved once.  Occasionally I use a news event, a work of art or a song to influence me.  Sometimes, I admit, I become too bound to the truth.  However, I do try to insert something profound at least at the ending.  Of course, there will often be some clues interspersed throughout the narrative that lead up to this.


Thank you for this answer.  I am interested in why you think a poem should have something profound inserted into it.  Is not a poem a profound statement in itself, even if it is dealing with say clearing out the cat litter tray.  Is profound in the mind of the poet or the reader?  Perhaps you could expand on this a little if you do not mind. (Jim Bennett)


I don't necessarily think a poem has to have something profound in it, but I do think it's kind of a bonus if it does.  It helps, I believe, to at least include something clever. 


Notwithstanding, I do enjoy William Carlos Williams' work which is not necessarily clever or profound.  I does have a lovely ring to it though.  This, I suppose, could take the place of profundity.


You and I have both undertaken Jim's courses. Is it too difficult or intrusive a question to ask you to identify a couple of the most significant things you learned about your writing, and anything you might have changed or added as a result? (Lesley Burt)


Probably the most significant things I learned from Jim's classes were to use clear and vivid images that address as many senses as possible.  Also, I learned to show not tell.  I remember he said to me on many occasions, "If you can't see it, hear it, feel it, touch it, taste it...don't say it".  That's a statement I try to use in my writing and also when I give others advice.

How do you make a decision about which bits of PK feedback to use and which to ignore? (Lesley Burt)


As far as PK feedback, there is always a stronger case for a criticism if it is repeated by two or more members.  Also, if it was something that I had questioned the validity of in the first place.  I won't use the feedback if I'm thoroughly satisfied with an aspect of the poem which someone criticizes.  Unfortunately, I do lack confidence and at times I can be very easily swayed.

What's the best title (or the best titles) you've got for a poem (or poems)?
Do titles come ready made with the poems?  (Bob Cooper)

Titles are generally a huge struggle for me and the almost never come ready-made with the poems.  I suppose the best titles I come up with are either enigmatic or point to some double meaning within the poem.  "The Buzz at Church," a poem from my chapbook is one of these.  "Buzz" can mean a few different things and it also relates to a metaphor I use in the poem. 

Another of my favorites is "Junk Food and Poetry at 3 AM".  It's kind of a quirky, slant-humorous poem and when I do it at readings, it always gets a laugh as soon as I read the title.


I've noticed that female poets, myself included, seem to have a hard time adjusting the facts to get at the Truth, while still remaining emotionally honest. Of course there are exceptions. Are you one? 


A related question: what is your attitude to "exploiting" factual events that involve loved ones, in order to get a poem out of them? Some poets seem more concerned than others about potentially violating their family members' privacy. (For the record, I have very much enjoyed the poems I've seen that include your family members, and don't feel that you're exploiting them. Do you sometimes not write a poem about something that affects you strongly emotionally, in the interests of protecting others' privacy?)


Finally: what do your family members think of your being a poet? Do you share what you've written with them? 


Wow!  That actually sounds like quite a few questions.  I hope I can answer all of them to your satisfaction.  This is going to sound silly but I used to feel like I was lying if I varied facts from my life.  There is also the issue of having some difficulty coming up with fictions.  I do take a lot of poetic license in my work but I don't often change events completely.  It seems like a challenge.  My friend George always says it seems like I'm afraid to take "crazy risks" and that sometimes my work suffers for that.

I probably should be more respectful of my family members' privacy but I don't always consider that.  Really I don't say negative things about them in my poems but I do share things that may be a little sensitive.  There have been times when I've avoided writing certain things especially if I had negative feelings toward something that perhaps my husband or daughter did.  Of course I would never want them to come upon any type of venting like that years down the road.  I have a poem that I wrote awhile ago.  It's dedicated to my daughter and it's called "How to Let Go of a Grown Child".  When I shared it with her, she said she was hurt and implied that I wanted her out of my life.  Actually it's a very loving poem.  So sometimes you have to be so careful.

For a long time I thought my family didn't take my writing seriously although I put a great deal of effort into it.  Then one night I had a big reading.  My younger niece gathered all of them to come out and support me.  They brought me flowers and everything.  It was beautiful.  When I had a launch for my chapbook, they helped by making cookies, bringing wine and hosting.  They were great!


Do you think Rita Dove's prominence in Poetry helped the U.S.  to accept Barak Obama in the White House? (Waiata Dawn Davis)


It's difficult for me to speak on the political views of the public as I am not as aware as I could be.  For me, Rita Dove had nothing to do with my acceptance of Obama.  I was simply ready for a major change in administration.  I tend to think a lot of people felt that way.  In fact, I was unfamiliar with Rita Dove's work until a couple years ago when a friend gave me a book of former US Poet Laureates.  Perhaps the converse is true.  Racism has diminished somewhat over time.  This might allow for both events, Barack Obama's election as well as Rita Dove's prominence.  That is not to say racism still doesn't exist.  I believe that Obama fought an uphill battle throughout his first term.  I'm hoping more people will get on board with his politics this time.

So tell us please . . . you're on that desert island, you've managed to salvage six cds and six poetry books.  (Catherine Graham)

After some long thought, I have come up with the following:

Six CD's:  Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill;  Vivaldi, Four Seasons;  Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker Suite;  Simon and Garfunkel, Greatest Hits,  Green Day;  American Idiot,  Enya, Watermark.

Six Poetry Books:  The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt; Alice Walker, Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful; Catherine Pierce, The Girls of Peculiar (She is someone I reviewed for Pulsar), Black Voices, edited by Abraham Chapman (actually a literature anthology but it contains much of my favorite poetry);  anything by Robert Hass;  Gabriela Mistral, A Reader.


The old "pet peeves" question: what things do other poets do, in their poems or critiques or readings that make you sigh in exasperation? (Julie Stoner)


I hate it at readings when poets give long, drawn-out explanations for each of their poems.  Let the work speak for itself.  In critiques, I find it much more helpful if the critic at least finds one or two things to like in my work rather than make it completely negative.  In poems, I don't like things that are too abstract or obscure.

Have you ever written a poem inspired by a piece of music? Do you have, say, a Vivaldi cd playing as you write?  (Catherine Graham)

When I took one of Jim Bennett's classes, he had me write a poem inspired by the Leonard Cohen song, "Hallelujah".  I believe that was the only time though.
Actually it's very difficult for me to read or write with any background noise.


How long do you reckon to spend actually writing/typing a poem?  (Lesley Burt)

I would say it takes one to three days to write a draft.  But then I hone it, get some feedback and hone it some more.  Overall it probably takes about two weeks to complete a piece.  Of course, there are those that I put aside for years before I finish them.  I started one about a PA family about two years ago.  It's finally done.









Grant van Wingerden grew up in a remote outback community that Google still haven't mapped, and has actually shrunk in size (32 families when he lived there). He was rubbish in his teens but publication in the annual high school arts magazine maintained his enthusiasm til, by his twenties, and a move from Perth to Sydney, he was a regular in the open mic readings at Writers in the Park at the Harold Park Hotel. He has submitted work to a range of themes in ePoetry publications and never suffers from writer's block. There seems to be an endless supply of things in the world.
Grant is a longstanding active member of PK list, enjoying the sage advice of fellow poets.


Two poems Grant van Wingerden


Calm Clam Claim


Oblivious to this history it's brought us

More than what once we thought had taught us

Languorous longevity is too important

to leave to its own device

We must open up what's inside

examine this aging vessel


For fortune such as this

 Four hundred and ten


yet we fuss over fossils

and force ourselves

to bring up our shortened reigns


When the moon pulls the waves over

our bivalve existence 

washing our serried shell

impervious to the mercury



Never tire of the tide

barely register the barnacle

the mussel bound craft

the poise of an oyster


our eon defying 

chowder clouding

bake foresaking 

don't give a dam


Scientists speculate

some of us could be

six hundred years old



Now Don’t Give Me Any Grief


Don't give me a corpse to coddle or a sick child to scare me so

If there's bad news on the horizon I guess I'd rather not know

Once I was steeped in weeping

 from go to woe is me


Don't dispatch some sort of disaster

Despite it being character building

I can get by with joyful sloth

flabby in my content


I don't have a need for gnashing 

and I'm trailing on the wailing

all I see is a breathtaking view

when I look over the railing


I'm weary of the dreary

the dear old depths 

& a stair down despair


Give me a raise and a rainbow

Give me some comic relief

Give me some self belief

but don't


Grant van Wingerden


From someone who often suffers from writer's block, I find it amazing that you never do. Where do you find your inspiration and how often do you write?  Of the work you create, what percentage of it do you consider fit for publication or at least presentation at a reading?  I ask this because of the poems I write, a lot of them end up in the circular file. (Lynn Ciesielski)


Presently I find my inspiration from three sources: 

Phrases - I'll often start with an expression or turn of phrase, make that the title, and then riff off it

the day's events - this was thanks to the introduction of Friday snaps. I hadn't done a lot of slice of life stuff beforehand and found it a liberating exercise to 'put away the clever clever stuff' and document

News - usually the odd, the offbeat, or the scientifically significant

I don't keep track of how often I write but it would be a rare week where I didn't write anything.


Nowadays I tend to be able to write to a consistent standard (with some notable exceptions that all here know about!). When I look back over my exercise books of work, it's all too apparent that such was not always the case. It was more like one in every fifteen or twenty poems had something about it; only it wasn't something I could quite put my finger on, or replicate. It's a wonder I persisted, the payoff was so infrequent. I guess it was only because I did keep getting better, albeit slowly, that I was encouraged to stay with it. 

Then at some magical point I had this light bulb moment where I realised that the Muse was camping on my lawn and I didn't have to wait for inspiration. I don't know why this happened because other people have been writing just as long, maybe really struggling or only having bursts of creativity. But I have complete confidence that it's here to stay. To say this was humbling would be disingenuous but I do find resonance with a comment that Pete Townshend made, to the effect that he doesn't feel like he consciously produces great work; that it comes to him. Or Stephen King's reflection that a story is less like something you block in meticulously from the workings of your own thought process, so much as it is a nugget you unearth, brush off and polish.


My question Do Australians still read C.J/Denis and Banjo Patterson? Although they belong to a different century I admire their work. (Waiata Dawn Davis)


I think there are more who still read Banjo Patterson, and Henry Lawson. We were exposed to CJ Denis in primary school but, even then, a lot of the language was archaic and required footnotes. That's what makes his work The Sentimental Bloke so special, of course. It's a document of a time past.

I think Banjo kept his currency by the fame of The Man of Snowy River, which was adapted into one of the last of those old style Aussie films where the producers felt it necessary to import the lead to lift the profile. And his association with Waltzing Matilda. My own favourite is Clancy of the Overflow.



Having read many of your pieces over the years I recognise you have a very distinctive style. So here's a tough question - but where does it come from?
O.K., I know the answer could simply be "from my head and fingers" but who else writes like you?    Who do you admire for their style?  (Bob Cooper)

I am probably more influenced in my style by songwriters than poets. I have always been a big Elvis Costello fan - blanching at only his sillier wordplay. Like many poets, I hold Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in great affection. I adore Tom Waits and a good bit of Nick Cave (the only Australian to make the list). Essentially I appreciate wit in every field; I even collect books from political "enemies" of their witty ripostes.


I have fairly eclectic tastes, though I've never really warmed to hip hop; perhaps it's an age thing as my daughter assures me there are rappers who know their way around  inventive use of words. And I'll appreciate a line like Cohen's "I call to you, I call to you/But I don't call soft enough" - which is profound as well as clever - over a smug throwaway remark.



Do you think of your writing as mainly for the page or for performance?  I think I asked Mick something like this too: what comes first for you in the process of writing - the thought, the image or the words?  (Lesley Burt)

It's a bit of both. Because I employ so much wordplay and punnery (if that is even a word), the joke is lost when read aloud. On the other hand, there's also a lot of alliteration, rhyme, and euphonious sounds, which would work well in delivery. The truth is, I don't write for one or the other; they just come out the way they do.


It used to be the words: I'd come up with a snatch of something that sounded promising and then try to construct a poem around it. Now that I'm more in control of the process, it's almost always the thought. I apparently don't think predominately in pictures, as I can't think of a time when I would have written from an image.

I don't think I'd know for sure, just from just reading your work, that you're Australian - do you think there is something different about poetry written in English by poets in non-UK cultures?   (Lesley Burt)

I think there can be differences in poetry written in non-UK cultures but I'd hazard a guess that there is a weight of theory behind this. For instance, the Jindyworobaks was a movement that wrote stylised verse to capture the modern Australian landscape, perhaps in a conscious move to distance from the work of Lawson, Paterson, Adam Lindsay Gordon... the 19th century bush balladeers.


What, if anything, makes poetry special?  Does it in your opinion have any importance in the world today, beyond a s a diversion or pastime?  (Jim Bennett)



Poetry is special because it distils great thoughts and concise observation. Poetry is special because it uses language in a way that delights the senses and brings to light those aspects of life that may previously have only been viewed through the lens of cynical reportage or workaday distraction. Poetry is special because it celebrates our facility with communication and our ability to define the ineffable and divine the inevitable. If all faith should vanish and landscapes shrivel, we will still have poetry.


Despite the often low priority afforded it by non-poets and prosaic philistines in general, poetry is very important: it is proof that we are not all driven by animal lusts and soulless greed; though these too make good subjects for poetry.


A poem can be memorable because it is spectacularly bad, ludicrous, erudite to the point of scholarly genius, or containing elevated language. Perhaps it deals with an arcane or little discussed area of  discovery or thought. There are so many reasons and sometimes it's difficult to put your finger on.

What makes a poem memorable? (SK Iyer)

Work by a Charles Manson or William McGonagall is memorable because it isn't just clumsy, it hacks at your sensibility. McGonagall's scansion is all wrong, his rhyming schema is trite, his observations are off kilter, and there's that sway for the reader between all the musements from 'a' to 'be'. Manson's work is as ugly as the individual composing it. His madness could construct a completely incorrect reading of the meaning behind the songs on the Double White Album and still be cohesive and contain their own internal logic, yet his own work doesn't merit any attention.


But, naturally enough, I prefer to focus on the positively memorable, and here it's not the measure of fame of the poet, I believe. Nor is it the amount of research they do, the drafts or re-writes. A memorable poem can come to you like a bolt out of the blue. It can arrive when you're thinking of something else at the time, even engaged in some activity, and there it is. There's no prescription for what makes a memorable poem, nor gives you a surefire method for creating one. We each employ our styles, our grammar tickle era, and these define our approach at describing a given subject or theme. Then, somewhere along the line, we do create those pieces that are clearly more breakthrough than what we normally produce.

A memorable poem is one that makes you want to recite it for it's parade of bon mots or the way it hits peaks and troughs in expression. There may be one striking phrase or clever couplet, or it may be the poem as a whole. The first poem to impress me this way was Kubla Khan, the way those caverns measureless to man ran on. And then Howl for different reasons, not the use of language - which is also memorable - but for the narrative verve and the whole electric way you get swept up in it. The reach goes back past pastorals and hymnals to Andrew Marvell's To a Coy Mistress

If that's not the most poetic attempt to get someone in the sack then I don't know what is.


I read almost all the poems that I come across on the net - irrespective of whether I like them or not, for I strongly believe, there must be gems in the heap of rubbish. Do you agree with this and if yes, why? (That said, I don't know, if there is even a grain of gem-like glitter in the heap of mine!). (SK Iyer)

To address your final point first: there most definitely are gems aplenty in your verse.


I admire your approach in wading through undernourished ventures in the hope of finding poems that are satisfying to read. There will inevitably be good, and indeed great, work buried away in every cyber corner and on message boards and Bebo bulletins that the wayback machine did not salvage. There are poems written on coasters, occasional verse only ever heard by that roomful of invited guests. A wedding speech can be a work of art. 


I have done similar things in record shops and second hand book stores, browse through acres of stuff I'm not into and then (silently) whooping as I pick out a Herbie comic (the kid with the lollipop, not the love bug) from the pile. I can't say I do that with poetry as much, although I do keep a lookout. I hear good things about Auden.


I'm getting into filmpoems - that is to say, I've only recently discovered them. (There's going to be a fab filmpoem festival in summer, in Dunbar, Scotland). If someone asked if you would be interested in suggesting one of your poems to be recorded as a filmpoem, which of your poems do you think would work best and why? (Catherine Graham)

That's a delightful question and I did have a long winded response in draft but I should just pick a poem methinks. It would have to be something between 'Calm Claim Claim' which doesn't need a visual accompaniment as the story is all in the narrative, and something so opaque that a visual representation would ruin the ambivalence (too many to name). It would be a great honour and I would want to choose something that would maximise the 'film' and 'poem' aspects so the collaborators and the audience would all derive benefit. 


It's something I obviously should have thought of in all these years I've been writing. I'll sleep on it.


A small question on a large subject – how important do you think imagery is in a poem.  (Jan Harris)


I think imagery can be very important to a poem. I certainly use it extensively. If you were writing a tone poem or some experimental piece where the content was the combination of words, perhaps in nonsense formation, or even the physical shape of the poem, then it would play little to no part. But, of the comparatively small audience poetry has, the lovers of sterile verse is a much smaller subset again.


Imagery helps to form a picture in our head as we read the poem and is therefore a valuable lead into the theme or subject. Potent imagery will get a poem across the line where clever dickery that fails to engage will not.










 I was born in Israel in 1960. I studied Plastic Art in Thelma Yelin school for the arts in Tel Aviv. I am a graduate of English Literature and Philosophy from Tel Aviv university and got my MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Bar Ilan university.

I published my first book of poems in 1991. My editor was Natan Yonatan, a known Israeli poet.  My second book came out in 1994 with Itamar Yaoz Kest, another known Israeli poet as its editor. I had quite a lot of poems published in magazines and e-zines throughout the years. I also had a few solo exhibitions for my paintings and a lot of group exhibitions which I participated in.

I am the mother of two daughters and a dead son. He committed suicide at the age of 15.

I work as an English teacher in high school, and I also do healing and channeling. Writing is the most important thing in my life, but unfortunately I don't have enough time for it because I have to earn my living. I hope I'll be able to make more time for writing in the future.


Two poems by Tammara Or Slilat




Time peels all wounds. Meticulously,

in pre-appointed dates: birthdays, anniversaries,

memorial days. I lick my wounds, saw them up

with a needle of forced joy, but even

when I think I'm just going blackberry picking,

I suddenly find myself staggering

on top of a hidden cliff – that tiny

inescapable change in my mother's voice when

she proudly counts her grandchildren

and comes down to twelve

minus one.




Still Life with Pomegranates 


Be still, watch:

Crimson and cadmium red

pomegranates set against

cascading ivory cloth, an old bottle

of wine in emerald green

and a leafy bough to bring the diagonal

uplifting energy to the composition. 

We're so used to seeing that we've stopped

looking. This is what I want you to do:

forget everything you know, everything

you believe to be true.

                                                                            Knowing depends

                                                                            on the point of  Perception:

change that and

you've changed the world. 

When you put your brush to the canvas

                                                                           focus not on what is

                                                                           there, but rather on what is not.

Objects are defined by the empty space

around them, just as people

are remembered not only

for what they did, but also for what

they forgot 

·        I wrote this poem in Jenny Feldman's workshop. The task was to write an "instruction poem". Since I'm also a painter and have been teaching painting for some years I've chosen to write about a painting lesson. The most amazing thing was that only after I had written the poem and read it out loud to myself I realized how deeply philosophical it was.

Tammara Or Slilat


To what extent do you think your travels have influenced your writing? (Lesley Burt)


Travelling is a very important part of being a poet. Every poet is a traveller, even if he/she doesn't go to far and exotic places like I have done last year.

The point about being a traveller is maintaining a high level of curiosity and a sense of wonder towards places, people and things that are happening around you.

I think this is an essential and intrinsic part of being a poet. The problem with most people, as opposed to poets, is that they sink into the rut of mundane life, and "go through the motions" without really noticing things around them, without being fully aware, without being "present in the moment" - as the New Age gurus like to call it. 

So my cure for a dry spell is simple: go somewhere, even if it's the next town or the supermarket near my home, pretending I'm a traveller from a far away land, or even an alien! That makes me look at things with a fresh eye. I hope I answered your question.


I have been reading poems written in Hebrew but then translated, usually by people other than the original poets.  What do you think the job of the translator is?  Is it creative or mechanical?   If creative how does this affect the ownership of final poem?  (Jim Bennett)


Translating literature from one language to another is always difficult, all the more so when you come to translate poems. Contrary to common belief, as demonstrated in the various on-line translation devices, language isn't a brick house. You can't simply replace words from one language with equivalent words from another. Language is much more than a brick wall: it is a living, breathing, constantly changing cultural background, a hidden world of associations and a way of thinking about the world. Karl Marks wrote that our consciousness is defined by the words we use and Ludwig Wittegenstein said that the limits of his language are the limits of his world.

When you write in your own mother tongue you take all this wealth of hidden layers of meanings for granted and you incorporate it in your poems without thinking. But when you come to translate a poem to another language you often find that you'll never get a decent poem just by translating the words. You have to find other rhymes, other puns, other word games, other associations. What works wonderfully well in one language may fail totally in another language. 

When I translate my poems from one language to another I feel like I'm writing them from the beginning. Actually, an interesting thing happened to me with the translation. Before I studied my MA in English Literature and Creative Writing I wrote almost only in Hebrew and translated my poems to English. But during those 2 years at the university I had to write a lot in English and so it happened that I started translating my poems from English to Hebrew. While doing so I noticed an interesting phenomena: those later poems were better than the previous ones! I think it stems from the fact that writing in English makes me slow down the process of writing. It makes me look up words and their meanings and because I'm not the virtuoso in English the one I am in Hebrew it makes me think very hard on what it is that, that I want to say and how I say it. In Hebrew I sometimes tend to write too much or put in too many rhymes in just because I CAN. 

As to the question of ownership of a poem, I think the translator is no less of a poet than the original poet himself. As a matter of fact I think the translator should label his poem A Variation of .... and not A Translation of....


How do you feel about writing in a second language? (James Bell)


In addition (to the above) I can tell you that I really enjoy writing in English since it's so different from Hebrew. Hebrew is much harsher in sounds, less fluent, but much more economical and rich in connotations. There are more possibilities for multiple meanings for words and expressions. Each language has its own flavor and word games, and you have to find the things that work with that language. 

I've started learning English at a young age but only in the last decade I've gained enough confidence to actually publish in English. However, I've only published poetry. It's much easier to control the language in poetry than it is in prose. I try to "collect" as many new words as I can. Every new word I come across I write on a post-it note and stick it on my wardrobe doors. I also try to talk as much English as I can and it really helps that I have an English boyfriend....

Are poets born or made? (Bob Cooper)


This question throws me back to the old sociological debate whether a man is the outcome of the environment he grew up in, or the expression of his genes? In other words, are people born like they are or are they made so?

I think it's as an infertile debate as asking whether poets are born or made, so the answer is, of course, BOTH. No one can become a poet unless he/she has a natural inclination to playing with words, but the environment they grow up in certainly determines whether they would develop and nourish that inclination or let it wilt away. 


The first poems I read which I really enjoyed were by Nurit Zarchi who is a poet who writes both for adult and children. She has a wonderful sense of humor, natural rhyming ability and good rhythm. I tried looking up a translation to her poems in English but couldn't find one.


What is it about poetry that makes it such an attractive form? What are its inherent features that make it more appealing than other forms, or is it just a personal choice because you find it fits your own writing style or inclination more?  (Grant van Wingerden)


I'm sure every poet has his own reasons for preferring to write poetry more than prose, but for me it's primarily the poetic licence. I've always felt better working within a framework where I can just make things up as I go along instead of following the rules. I enjoy playing with words and am overjoyed when I can compress multiple meanings into the same word or phrase. That is the poet's privilege and what differentiates him/her from the prose writer. 

I find it so much easier to write poetry than prose that I started doubting myself, thinking I have to train in the "harder" work of writing prose. To my everlasting surprise I learned from my fellow students in the Creative Writing course at Bar Illan University that they are scared of writing poetry! They think it's much harder than writing prose and can't understand how I do it so easily! 

However, it saddens me to see that most of the literature readers don't share my enthusiasm for poetry. In Israel the situation of poets is so bad with regard to readers, that sometimes it seems that a poet's only readers are his fellow poets. Dozens of poetry books come out every month and most of them don't sell more than fifty copies to friends and family. I think one of the reasons for that is that people have forgotten how to use their imagination. They've become too spoiled by watching TV and consuming popular media. In contrast, reading poetry is very challenging, as I learn daily by watching my pupils' baffled faces when we read poem in class. They find the poems that we learn much more difficult to understand than the short stories. I hope it changes in the future and more people will learn to enjoy poetry.


I have admired your erotic poetry because it's so difficult to do successfully. First, there's the challenge of saying something fresh (no pun intended) and new about love, which is probably the most-explored poetic topic of all time. Second, there's the challenge that what one person finds erotic, another may find laughable or over-sentimental or simply disturbing, so even if the poet has captured the experience brilliantly in words, it still may not go over well. Third, it takes a certain amount of courage (which I lack) for a poet to offer up such intense and vulnerable feelings for possible public stomping.  Can I ask what you think?  (Julie Stoner)


You're right. Writing love poems IS the most difficult topic to write about, just as painting a landscape in the sunset is the most difficult subject to paint without relapsing into total cliche and kitsch. 

When I write love poems I try to be very true to myself and my feelings. I concentrate on what I feel and try to find the best way to describe it which isn't a cliche. You'd be surprised to know that the most personal poems I've written, the ones I thought no one would understand, are also the ones that most people find touching and feel they can relate to. It's a strange paradox: the more personal your writing is, the more universal it becomes.

So my advice to you is to forget about the need to explain or to please. Don't worry about other people's reactions and whether they're going to find it erotic or not. It's not your problem. Anyway each person looks at the world through his own life experiences and personality, and there's no way two people are going to understand a poem exactly the same. 


Where do you find the ideas that generate your poetry?

What are the elements for you that define the best of poems?

Why do some poems come ready formed while others are worked on over weeks?

How do you come up with a title?

What, for you, is the hardest thing about writing poetry?

What advice would you give to someone who is new to writing poetry? (Jim Bennett)


 Ideas for poems can come from anywhere. It can be a beautiful sight, a words someone said, an emotion, an idea, something I read, something I heard etc. The sources are many and varied. I think the more accurate question would be: WHY does anything become a trigger for writing a poem? I think the answer is both very personal and very general. It's personal in the sense that each person finds himself/herself moved by other things. A meaningful thing to me can be completely meaningless to another person. However, it's also general because in order to react to the trigger one has to be in a constant state of unbiased awareness. I admit it's not always easy. That's why I don't write every day. But when I manage to adopt this innocent point of view which looks at the world with curious wonder, then I'm able to write.


A good poem, IMO, should be both familiar and fresh. It should be familiar enough in order to create interest in the reader and make him identify with what is being said, but it should also be innovative, surprising, new in some way, so the reader can feel that he has learned or experienced something valuable that he hasn't experienced before.


Why do some poems pop out ready and some take months of agonizing pregnancy? God knows... not I. 


Titles of poems are very tricky. I either take a phrase that I liked from the poem, but not the punch line, or call it by the first line of the poem. On rare occasions I write a title that actually means something, because I feel that such a title takes attention away from the poem. 


The hardest thing about writing poetry is not having enough readers. It's a constant source of frustration... we slave on our poems, spit blood, sweat and tears... and in the end we're lucky if we get a handful of people to appreciate all our efforts. 


The 10 commandments for young poets:

1) Read a lot of poetry.

2) Write a lot.

3) Erase most of what you've just written.

4) Write it again.

5) Erase half of what you've just written.

6) Write it again.

7) Let some time pass, like weeks or months.

8) Revisit your old poems and see which can be made better.

9) Erase the misbehaving poems that refused to improve (brace yourself and show no mercy)

10) Try publishing the good ones and be patient. Very very patient.