Doing Poetry: No Sweat

My ebook Made in Birmingham: The Poems’ is a collection of approximately seventy poems. One was called ‘Doing Poetry: No Sweat’:

I’m going to be a poet.

It’s an odd thing at my time of life

but a choice that is becoming

more popular, I’ve noticed.

I’ve bought my first garret

and cut down on food.

I now only need access

to a pub full of artists

and a distant woman

to impossibly love

and I’ll be off

doing poetry.

No sweat.


It isn’t autobiographical, just a poem. There is no garret; I don’t eat to excess but that is a health thing not a starving poet thing; and a distant woman to impossibly love is definitely off the agenda (unless you count Agent Lisbon from ‘The Mentalist’,  or the woman detective from ‘Castle’, or Ziva from ‘NCIS’. Do I detect a trend here..??).

A bit of a push

In an earlier posting I talked about planning. Each year I have a set of loosely-sketched intentions. For the near future these include ‘Having a bit of a push on poetry’. This is a broad statement of intent, but I have several elements in mind that might add up to ‘a bit of a push’. I also have a specific image when I talk about ‘poetry’: Not poems that pour out of me, like it or not, but poetry to order, poetry on demand, poetry to a schedule.

Recent attempts at producing poetry to a theme include:

  • Poems written as part of workshops linked to art exhibitions at University of Birmingham’s Barber Institute (and the invitation to read some of the work as part of a public event)
  • Poems written in response to contemporary art works in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s ‘Metropolis’ exhibition
  • Poems written in response to the Royal Academy’s ‘Sensing Spaces’ exhibition.

Developing a poetic career

A few months ago I attended an excellent workshop run by the editor/director of Nine Arches Press which is a UK small press that specialises in publishing poetry. The theme of the workshop was to try to understand what might be meant by the career of a poet. It was clear that (except for a very small number of people) this rarely meant creating a full-time high-income role from writing poetry.

The figures speak for themselves:

95% of poetry sold recently was written by dead poets. Of the small amount by living poets 90% was via one major publisher and the bulk of that was the work of a few outstanding, award-winning poets. The remainder – a very tiny proportion of the total amount of poetry published for sale – was published via a few small/medium sized publishers, each publication maybe selling only tens of copies. On that basis, if the poet earns royalties of around 10% then they need to move to a garret and cut down on food!

To reach this point of having a collection published by a small press, selling in fairly small numbers, and bringing in very little reliable income, a poet may follow a career ie a development trajectory, that could include:

  • Regularly writing poems; regularly reading poems by contemporary established poets
  • Submitting to online poetry magazines (and being accepted)
  • Entering poetry competitions (and being successful)
  • Taking part in events, readings, open-mic sessions
  • Operating a poetry/writing blog of ones own
  • Having sufficient poems that have been tested by public airing, and putting these into a small pamphlet for publication??

So, to have ‘A bit of a push on poetry’ means that I will have a concerted attempt at some of these steps – moving the ‘poet’ part of myself across a development arc so that I might feel some sense of progress.

The aim is to find time, space, energy, motivation, inclination, stimulation etc to write 50-70 poems and to test some of these publicly in open reading events or in online publications. With a bit of extra polishing maybe 15-20 of these might be worked up to a stage where they could be considered good enough (by me; by others; by an editor of a small poetry press). This, at a stretch, might just lead to a pamphlet of assorted poetry. That might be as far as it gets. Beyond that we get into the realm of having sufficient ability and confidence, and a robust enough track record, to put together a small collection of poems on a theme.??There is no timescale to this, and it may not get anywhere near this far but maybe, just maybe …

Poets: Undomesticated, almost feral, things?

Many years ago a friend wrote a dissertation taking the song title ‘An engineer can never have a baby’ as its theme. The song undermined the outdated idea that women have babies, engineers are never women – so an engineer will never have a baby. Recently this retranslated in my head to ‘Can a poet have a family?’

The poet in ‘Doing Poetry: No Sweat’ was a caricature of a single person, living alone, spending nights in bars and writing poetry from within that ambience. If a poet has a home to maintain, relatives to interact with, grandchildren to play with, monthly finances to regularise – in short, if a poet is domesticated – then is there still enough time, space and ambience for poetry?

Having moved house; and then had builders knocking down walls and filling the air with dust and radio music, I looked to local coffee shops as the place to do writing. That worked if I avoided the times when the places got taken over by lunchtime schoolchildren or mid-morning mums or afternoon shoppers. Especially around the buzzing busyness of Christmas finding quiet corners in which to think and write became more and more difficult. This problem itself prompted a poem:

The table I sit at holds firm

The table I sit at holds firm

as people swirl and twirl;

twisting, turning through spaces

in which I’ve quietly settled.

My coffee cools slowly in freeze-frame hold.

Theirs get gulped, drained, in fast-forward blur;

their chitterchatter all gibblegabble.

My silence of monastic proportion

as I seek out just the right word.

Their minds whirring, churning,

as crowds carry them off:

The table I sit at holds firm.


So I am off, not to find a garret but to find a table firm enough to write at. I have scoured around for opportunities for local readings and events to go in my diary. I have booked into a couple of national things. I have regular blogs that I follow. I have put out of my mind all thoughts of female detectives with dark hair. The commitment to having a bit of a push on poetry, and the motivation to do something about it, is there – we will just have to see how it works out.

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