A.J. Walker


Poetry Rules

Nine years or so ago I did an Open University course in Creative Writing. I’d had years of writing and reviewing technical reports for environmental consultancies (and before that my degree in Geology) and this meant a large number of words had been unavailable to me inside this world. In reports like this many words are absolute and description is always blandly factual; adverbs and adjectives were to not so much frowned upon as outlawed - to be fair any repors could end up in dispute or court so ‘quite blue’ or ‘very contaminated’ has to be a no-no.

Anyway I’d written some song/poem/descriptive extracts back in the early 1990s when I was strumming some songs in a band of brothers (and a cousin). But as a whole I wasn’t doing much in the way of writing outside of work. By 2010 or so I longed to get into away from technical reports. When I took the opportunity to do the OU course it was mainly to extend my writing and to take me a little outside my comfort zone. It was just one course which could have become part of an MA degree if I’d wanted to go that route and do a couple more courses, but I’d never even considered making a degree out of it - I really just wanted to give myself a bit of a nod and a nudge before taking myself off the leash with the adjectives. Honestly, that was very much the point.

At that time I hadn’t been involved in any writing groups. But once I got to the end of the course I had the confidence to join a writing group (The Poised Pen) and from there I went on to get stories published in anthologies and the like - and also find myself to be involved in the fabulous Flash Dogs.

But hang on, I’ve missed something out here: a stepping stone - Poetry. Shush! Keep this quiet.

The OU course involved a range of writing requirements, one of which was poetry. When I signed up for the course poetry was the part I was looking forward to the least. At my crappy Secondary School in Southport we’d done a cursory nod at Keats and a few other bits and bobs, but ‘Ode to a Greek Urn’ and ‘Ode to Autumn,’ whilst interesting, and indeed lovely, were not something I was wanting to build on myself.

As it transpired the poetry part of the OU Course turned out to be enjoyable. I think partly because of my love of songs, of word games and of quizzes. Writing to fit into a required number of lines or a rhythm is very much different to just writing a sentence that works to convey information. Poetry often requires every word to become part of a solution... hopefully.

So it was that I had to write poetry for the first time for an absolute age: and for a purpose (points towards the Course). One of these poems was called ‘The Caravanette’ and I’ll talk more about this at the end of the week. But needless to say it is both bizarre and cool that it has made it beyond the OU course, and my immediate family, to Twitter and the World Wide Web via the wonderful #ReadMeSpeakMe. It is going to be well weird to hear other people reading my words out loud as part of this Twitter phenomena. Get involved if you like the idea. And I’ll tell you about the poem later in the week.

But the link between the poetry and my writing as it is now? Well, before I joined The Poised Pen and then getting confidence and getting published; I used to go to watch lots of the poets at The Dead Good Poets at Blackburne House - one of the organisers of the Dead Good Poets was my local OU contacts (Sarah McLellan) - and then after several weeks observing I went up and read some of my poetry in front of everyone. That was always one of the hardest things I’ve done - there’s something about reading your own poetry which is so much more exposing than reading prose. Anyway if the poetry thing hadn’t happened, and then the confidence from reading at Dead Good Poets hadn’t then maybe I would not have moved on to write my silly stories and be confident enough to put them out there.

In summary: Poetry Rules. Or at the very least it has its place.
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