how to approach a poem

May 14, 2017

Dear Poets,
I realise I’ve been remiss in speaking about exactly how I approach a poem, and the trajectory of my own poetic writing experience since I began trying to finish poems when I was in my mid-twenties. I could quote indefinitely from various other writers about how this is done, from Mary Oliver to Ted Hughes, to Czeslaw Milosz etc., but it’s time I laid my cards on the table and spoke to you about how I proceed. It may – or may not – be helpful.

I began when I was very young, by which the discovery and realisation struck me when I was 9, that hooray – this was something I could try for myself. And so I wrote a rhyming verse of four lines, which my mother insisted I send to a British publisher (Paul Hamlyn of Octopus Books [that publisher no longer exists I think]). As it happened, I struck gold, not because he published my four-liner which had rhymes like ‘mouse’ and ‘house’, but because he wrote back and said how much he enjoyed my poem. He was kind enough to tell me he did not have a niche right then for my work (I had to look up ‘niche’ in a dictionary), but that I should continue to write my poetry. So, two good experiences while young – a validating Mama and a validating Brit publisher, both of them making me feel this was something I should be doing. At least, that’s now I interpreted it, which says something about my disposition as much as it does about them.

Mary O’Donnell
How I write Poetry

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