Mad Skillz: Ali on being poetic

Ali writes a poetic blog. Which by default means it’s deep. It’s not necessarily all about poetry but it’s the type of blog where just reading makes you feel more artistic and creative. That’s her milieu (to steal an artistic French word). To my knowledge we’ve never met – but we’ve both lived in Townsville. Ali is a former “Steve Irwin” style animal wrangler (as indicated by her link). This gives her some sort of credibility with those who don’t like poetry…

Here are Ali’s tips on how to be, or appear, poetic.

Let me first just say, I don’t get around calling myself a ‘poet’ so I feel like this is something of a joke, and there are those out there who with more credibility than me, so feel most free to comment/differ/add stuff. (My other option was editing, which might have been more use to some but would have been just as farcical. However, if you would like to know how to catch a koala, read here.

I supplemented this with some material from a course I did with Judith Beveridge, so you get something from a real expert.

  1. Read poetry. Read lots of it, and read the great poetry so your bar is high, but also read contemporary poetry (they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but a lot of the known greats are actually dead). Having said that, the thing that actually started me writing poetry – even though I’d read it since school – was a friend giving me a poem they wrote for me, and it suddenly came within the realm of possibility, when I had never really thought about it before.
  2. Find out what sort of poet you are, your sympathies and approach. Then learn by imitation. It is actually the way to learn all art forms.
  3. Know the elements and rules of poetry. Read a book like “Rules for the Dance” by Mary Oliver (otherwise this post will never end). Only when you know the rules (rhythm, metre, line, form, sound, image, metaphor etc) can you break them effectively and do the “freefall” (as Mark Tredinnick called it) nicely (same goes for grammar might I add – that’s what MT was actually talking about). As with all creative writing, show and don’t tell. (So mostly don’t use abstractions – eg a word like “beautiful” is an abstraction so describe the elements of the beauty instead – or else interpret the concept/abstraction with an object eg “quiet as a house in which the witch has just stopped dancing” – “quiet” is the concept, the rest is the object (and obviously the whole thing is a metaphor) – I snitched this example from Judith Beveridge.)
  4. Work hard on language and find the language appropriate to the experience, and the appropriate form. The style and the content are inseparable. With the language you want the reader to feel like they are going through the experience and to be engaged on a sensory level. The vocabulary doesn’t need to be sophisticated necessarily but using ordinary words in different ways is good. (This is a kind of summary of stuff from the Judith Beveridge course.)
  5. As with all creative writing or creativity or skill, keep practicing and writing and also revising and editing and be prepared to fail along the way. (Seeing some drafts from the masters is enlightening – we tend to think poetry just rolls effortlessly off the tongue of the greats – not so, so be encouraged.)

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.