How to be a Poet

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book — for me, surely — and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.

My own essay represents a manifesto of sorts — again, not about how to write, but how to be as a writer in this mad, mad world. It is called “Making Peace with Poetry”.

If you’re writing poems, or have secretly wanted to, know someone who writes, or are just curious to lift the curtain on the writing life — I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

The book is available from Nine Arches Press, with options for international shipping.


Troubadour Poetry Prize Reading

OwlI made my way to Earls Court on Monday night, to participate in a very special installation of Coffee-House Poetry wherein I was awarded one of twenty commendations in the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize. These were selected, along with first, second, and third prize, by George Szirtes and Deryn Rees-Jones from more than 3,300 entries this year.

Particularly special for me that evening was being asked to also read the third-place poem by Tim Nolan of Minnesota. I found his poem, “Red Wing Correctional Facility”, about teaching poetry to young men in prison, very moving, and was honoured to be able to lend it my voice that night on my countryman’s behalf.

In second place, Mona Arshi’s “Bad Day at the Office” was a funny and affecting surrealist romp through the domestic details of a very bad day indeed. To accept her first-place award, Hideko Sueoka joined us from Tokyo. Even as her poem, “Owl”, deconstructed the sounds of English, gradually reassembling them into the language of owls, so too did Hideko herself seem to transfigure before us.

It was a great pleasure to hear Deryn Rees-Jones and George Szirtes read their own work in the second half. As George was reading, I was reflecting on our Transatlantic Poetry broadcast in August, and thinking how nice it was to be able to hear him read without having to worry myself with any of the technical details. At that moment, one of the stage lights blew. In any case, it was a pleasure to shake his hand — something not possible over the Internet.

Congratulations to everyone involved, and to Anne-Marie Fyfe for seven years running of this notable international poetry competition and the delicious evening that goes with it.

Read all of the prize-winning poems at Coffee-House Poetry.

<a href="https://soundcloud.com/peakepoetics/still-life-with-bougainvillea" target="_blank">Click to hear an audio recording of the commended poem "Still Life with Bougainvillea"</a>