Starting Out

Starting Out

Michael Rosen (Poet and Children's Laureate) gives expert video advice on: Does everyone harbour a hidden poet?; What poets would you recommend for beginners?; Where can I learn about 'technical' poetry? and more...

Does everyone harbour a hidden poet?

Always know that anyone can write poems. Now, sometimes people need some help, nudging or whatever, but anyone can write a poem. I would say, that if you want to write a poem, probably the best thing you can do is give yourself some time and space to read some poems by a variety of authors.

What poets would you recommend for beginners?

I think if you are looking around for poems to read and you are feeling a bit kind of uneasy, I would go maybe dig out some anthologies. You know there's plenty on sale and in libraries and just flick over the pages. Don't feel intimidated by it. You don't have to read every poem. You don't even have to read most of the poems. Just flick over the pages and when you see something that catches your eye, read it. You don't even have to read the whole poem and maybe start finding some phrases, some verses, some whole poems that intrigue you. And then sort of speculate as to why you are interested in that poem. Why that has an echo for you. Why it resonated with you. So play with poems. That is the crucial thing.

Where can I learn about 'technical' poetry?

If you're really interested in using the resources of poetry of the past with all the technical inventions that people have developed over hundreds of years, Stephen Fry has done it for you. He's got a book called "The Ode Less Travelled". He's got virtually every form that has ever been used, your triolets and your dactyls and your spondees and the whole lot all laid out page after page so that you can follow his do it yourself guide. "The Ode Less Travelled" by Stephen Fry.

How important is a poet's note book?

I think one of the most important things that someone who wants to be a writer can do is just to have a notebook. And in that notebook, don't feel that you have to write something amazingly interesting or important. Just jot down sounds, thoughts, observation, things you've heard people say, anything that surprised you or that you thought was a little bit odd, a little bit interesting, little bit profound. It could be lines from poems, proverbs, something you heard on the bus, something you saw, some kind of contrast that interested you, or a comparison. It's really your bank of ideas. Use it, read it, look back at it, play with it, scribble on it -- that's an incredible resource for you.

What advice do you have for wannabe poets?

I think if you've started to write, but you haven't written much and you think, "Oh, I'd like to do some more, but it's got a bit sort of sticky and it isn't working," I say you've got to give yourself the time and space to do a little bit of reading around. Get a sense of the movements of poets that have been in the past; the romantics, the Georgians, the free verse lot, the objectivists - find out about these poets and what kind of got them kind of all wrapped up and excited by inventing new forms. And then play yourself, say, "Well, I'll have a go at writing that, I'll have a go at this observational thing, I'll have a go at this image-ism, I'll have a go at this confessional stuff," and see what happens. I mean, it may be rubbish but it doesn't matter. You've got to play with it, you've got to have a sense of what's out there and what you can do.

What advice do you have for those who don't 'get' poetry?

I don't want to bully people into reading poetry if they really don't see the point, though what is quite interesting is that some people say they don't see the point, and then something happens, and they turn up at a funeral and find that they want a poem because they feel they want to express something about that moment that is going to be interesting, or different, or sonorous in some way. All I can say is that no, I don't want to bully anybody, but there are many <a href="http://www.videojug.com/interview/types-of-poetry-2">types of poetry</a>, so one day a poem might come up behind you and whack you over the head, and you suddenly find, "Oh, it does speak to me. How odd."

Can you teach someone to be a good poet?

I think that there are people who know how to accompany people who want to be poets. Somehow or another they can create some kind of electricity in the room, through reading other poems and helping people learning how to write, that actually helps someone to develop into being a good poet. Yes, it is possible. It's some kind of journey that you can go on with another person through reading and writing with that other person. I think that is possible, yes.

What do you think of fridge poetry?

I quite like fridge poetry for a bit. It's one of those things where you think you might like to eat something and then you just eat a bit too much of it and then you don't like it quite so much. I think the problem with fridge poetry is that, to start off with, it's like, "Hey, amazing, wow, look, I've got this incredible thing going here" and then somewhere or other you get slightly tired of it. But the first flush is great, and I think if you do like poems and you do like writing poems, it can be quite a platform where you can take off into other areas, but it seems to be a law of diminishing returns with it and I'm not quire sure why. I suppose it's because the word bank itself is finite.

Are there any tools that can help with writing poetry?

I think if you're looking around for tools to support the writing of poetry then the Roger's Thesaurus is not bad. This is because, if you are trying to find a word for being dismayed, and you look up dismayed in the Roger's thesaurus, then you can see twenty other words there. The advantage of Roger's is it's got kind of the negative affect. You say, well, I don't want any of those words and you suddenly think, I want the word "sad", because it actually works better because you've got a few s's in that line. That's a good trigger I think, Roger's Thesaurus. Rhyming dictionaries are handy if you're looking for rhymes. I often think the best tool is just a book of poems. So, you open the book of poems and you say, hey, wow, I could write about something a bit like that. It's nearly always done the job for me.