#PoeTips are back! This time bigger and better, with more advice from your favourite poets. This blog post is one of a series in which we interview poets in order to uncover their golden nuggets of wisdom. In this post, we interviewed Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, PhD, an award-winning poet, magazine editor and creative writing tutor, and author of PBS Spring Recommendation 2019 At or Below Sea Level.
Q: What is your advice for a poet starting out?
A: It sounds obvious, but always keep a notebook (or two) with you. Try to write something every day and jot down those wacky lines, words, phrases or sayings that pop into your head. They have entered your head for a reason.
Q: How is form important to you? What is your process when you write using forms?
A: Form was very important to my first poetry tutor Caron Freeborn and my Arvon/Jerwood mentor Mona Arshi. Both encouraged me to use form and to experiment with form. In my first collection, I used traditional forms, the sonnet and the ghazal, for example, and in my second collection, I began to experiment with form by writing immured sonnets, for instance. I find that the constraint of form pushes me in new directions, so not really a constraint at all, but a different kind of journey.
Q: Could you suggest a writing prompt which you have found useful?
A: Here is a prompt from Jen Hadfield that was sent to me from Arvon:
‘Read the poem, ‘Bestiary for the Fingers of My Right Hand,’ by Charles Simic. Now lie down somewhere comfortable and do a bit of a body scan. Before you begin, invite and part of your body – a cell, a limb, an organ, your endocrine system – to speak to you. Now let your attention sweep from the crown of your head to the last nerve of each of your limbs. Which part of your body piques your curiosity?’ ©Jen Hadfield
Then Jen suggests asking the body part the following questions. Jen uses the kidneys as an example:
‘If they could talk, what would my kidneys say?’
‘What accent does a kidney speak with?’
‘Would its voice be like mine or radically different?’
‘How do kidneys’ form and function affect their language?’
‘What’s interesting about kidneys?’ ©Jen Hadfield
Jen finishes by emphasising the need to focus on as much detail as possible, grounding it in the real and not the abstract.
Q: When do you write? Do you think a routine is helpful?
A: I can only speak for myself – I live in a very loud and chaotic household with my three school-age children. I am a naturally disorganised person and routines terrify me. I try to write every day, but, for me, writing takes place at different times of the day and night. I do feel that chaos is not necessarily a problem for poets. Some of us thrive on it.
Q: What was the worst criticism you’ve received? What’s your advice on dealing with rejection?
A: I received a rejection slip from an American magazine that stated, ‘this is a lazy piece of writing.’ This wasn’t in response to a poetry submission, but an essay. I mention it though because it pushed me towards taking a creative writing course – I felt the response meant I’d reached academic burnout. When writing poetry now, I always ask myself: ‘would this poem pass the lazy piece of writing test?’
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received?
A: The advice I have gone back to again and again comes from Mario Petrucci, who once told me that if a poem starts to feel uncomfortable when you’re writing it, then go with it because that’s where the treasures lie.
Have a look at the rest of our #PoeTips interviews for even more brilliant poetry advice from leading poets. Happy writing!
We're delighted to announce that submissions to the Women's Poetry Competition and Pamphlet Competition are now open!
This is the second year we have partnered with Mslexia to bring you two exciting competitions promoting women's poetry. The top prize for the Women's Poetry Competition will be £2,000, mentorship with PBS Selector Sandeep Parmar, and a residency kindly offered by Cove Park. The winner of the Women's Pamphlet Competition will receive £250 at publication of their pamphlet by Seren.
Entries are open from the 1st of June until the 16th of September, 5pm GMT. You can submit online by clicking the Submittable button below, or click here for more information about the prizes, including the terms and conditions, and alternative ways to submit.