“I like how words can fall on the page of a poem, how words look when they are put in funny and wrong places. I like not having the pressure of capital letters and full stops. It feels a bit naughty, a bit cheeky. And I like being cheeky.”
I keep saying, whenever I’m asked about poetry, that I’ve never written it before. That it was some kind of beautiful accident, a trip over a gap in the pavement, a missed step and a broken leg sustained whilst walking around oblivious and minding my own business in the world of fiction.
I had a novel and short stories published and I was happy enough, looking ahead to writing more novels and short stories, quietly enjoying reading poetry but not thinking I would ever write it. I wasn’t clever or deep enough to be a poet. I did take poetry as a module in University once, but it all went over my head. That might’ve been because for most of the classes I turned up hungover or still drunk but, you know… it just wasn’t for me.
Or so I thought. Some years later I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and, at the same time, left a horrible relationship and then Gillian Clarke went and made me start writing poems about it all whilst I was a Writer at Work at the Hay Festival. During that poetry module at University our lecturer, Alice Entwistle, told us that the definition of poetry is “words that don’t go to the end of the page”. So I took that loose, probably misquoted, advice on board and ran recklessly with it and never looked back. Six months later, I had put a collection together. Then I had a publishing contract. Then I found myself in Sweden launching the book there. It was a bit of a shock, really, that anyone wanted to publish my poems. I wasn’t a poet. I didn’t know what I was doing.
How do I write poems? I write them when I’m travelling on buses and on trains and on planes. I first write them on an app on my phone or in a notebook, whichever is to hand. I get a thought and I spew it all out and then I take it home and chuck it on my laptop and try to make it into something tangible. If it isn’t working, if something jars, I sulk and give up on it.
I like how poetry is different to prose. I like how words can fall on the page of a poem, how words look when they are put in funny and wrong places. I like not having the pressure of capital letters and full stops. It feels a bit naughty, a bit cheeky. And I like being cheeky. I like the complete control and dominance I have over the words. I like how I can pick them up and play around with them like I am a magician shuffling cups, a dealer dealing cards at a poker table, a painter recklessly chucking colours at a canvas. I am basically an unruly child making a mess with her toys.
There is no real method. Loads of thought and practise doesn’t go into it. And it makes me feel like a fraud. Back to the point I made earlier, though- about me never writing poetry before. I did. Recently, while moving house, my mother found this in a box of dusty memories:
Clydach Vale Primary School.
I wrote loads of the little fuckers.
I remembered enjoying the praise I got when my teacher told me I had written a good one and when she stuck a gold star at the bottom of the page in my exercise book. Writing poetry isn’t new for me at all. It seems I’ve just gone back to it, back to being the 8 year old poet writing about her annoying dog, or something else silly. My spelling was a bit shabby. I hadn’t mastered the whole i before e except after c rule that isn’t actually a rule and I didn’t really have a clue what a poem was, didn’t know what I was doing- I guess I just tried to find words that rhymed. Shed and bed. Tricks and sticks. Genius. Now, Miss… where’s my gold star?
It seems poetry is where I started. And so I suppose I’ve come full circle and now I’m going back around again. And I still don’t know what I’m doing.