Llyr Gwyn Lewis on How He Writes a Poem

‘resist writing — the act of getting words down on paper — until much later in the process of composing.’

For October’s ‘How to’ we invited Llyr Gwyn Lewis to share his fascinating thoughts and approach to his writing:

Read, read, and interact — but keep in mind that it’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation.

Writing in cynghanedd and in freer metres need not involve entirely different approaches regarding form, imagery, and content. Let them bleed: let the minute, line-by-line approach and careful marriage of form and content seep through into free verse; let the freshness, the upside-downness and carefree possibilities of free verse enliven the cynghanedd tradition.

Begin at the end: know what your final line will be, and then find a way of getting there. The myriad possible ways of getting to that line, and the choices taken along the way, are what makes the poem interesting.

Resist using language that is unnecessarily overblown or convoluted, but be awake to those fleeting moments of preciseness and possibility when heightened language can glimmer. Again, poetic language can be pedestrian, as long as it’s going somewhere.

The distillation of idea, image, and expression: try to allow as much of this to happen internally as possible, before spilling everything out on to the page. In other words, resist writing — the act of getting words down on paper — until much later in the process of composing. This is the one I need to try hardest to do: I’ve always tended to do my working out on paper, resulting in a lot more work for me, and very often for the reader too.

Finally, tradition is betrayal. If you want to be able to pass a tradition on, to keep it alive, you have to be prepared also to betray it.

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Raised in Caernarfon, north Wales, Llyr Gwyn Lewis studied at Cardiff and Oxford, before completing a doctorate on the work of T. Gwynn Jones and W.B. Yeats. Following a periods as a lecturer in Welsh at universities in Swansea and Cardiff University, he now works as resource editor at the Welsh Joint Education Committee in Cardiff.

He has published poetry, fiction and articles in periodicals includingYsgrifau Beirniadol, Poetry Wales, Taliesin and O’r Pedwar Gwynt.

His first prose work, Rhyw Flodau Rhyfel (Some Flowers of War) (Y Lolfa, 2014), won the Creative Non-Fiction category in the 2015 Wales Book of the Year award, and his poetry collection, Storm ar Wyneb Haul (Storm on the Face of the Sun) (Barddas, 2014), was shortlisted in the poetry category.

In 2017 Ll?r Gwyn Lewis was selected as one of the Ten New Voices from Europe for 2017, part of an innovative project, Literary Europe Live (LEuL), led by our sister organisation Literature Across Frontiers (LAF).

His first short story collection, Fabula, was published by Y Lolfa in 2017, and was chosen for the 2017 Exchange Bookcase. 

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