#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 Natalie Crick, from Newcastle, UK, who has poems published in The Interpreter's House, The Moth, The Manchester Review, The Lonely Crowd, Banshee, Strix, Bare Fiction, Lighthouse, New Welsh Review, The Honest Ulsterman, Crannog, Poetry Salzburg Review and elsewhere.
She is studying for an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University and will commence an MPhil in Creative Writing at Newcastle University in October 2019. Her poetry has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize twice, shortlisted for The Anthony Cronin International Poetry Award 2018, commended in the 2019 Hippocrates Open Awards for Poetry and Medicine and one of her poems was a runner-up in the PBS & Mslexia Women's Poetry Competition 2018, judged by Carol Ann Duffy.
What is your advice for a poet starting out?
For a poet starting out, I would probably advise three things:
1. Be bold in your writing because there are no limits in poetry and write about what you enjoy.
2. Aim high – lots of fabulous magazines with great reputations like Mslexia, BrittleStar and Envoi are excited to read and accept work by unpublished writers.
3. Expect rejections and don’t let it deter you from continuing to write.
How is form important to you? What is your process when you write using forms?
Almost all of my poetry is free verse poetry. I admire poets who can write complex poems, like a Sonnet or a Pantoum, but I have always struggled to commit to adhering to the technicalities required to write in these forms and dislike the restrictions that such forms impose upon my writing. I find rhyme particularly challenging.
I have, however, recently begun to enjoy experimenting with form by introducing a more musical Ballad form to some of my poetry and have written a couple of broken Sonnets without full rhyme.
I am currently studying for an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. I have found seminars on structure and form very useful, and have begun to recognise the importance of some aspects of form, such as white space on the page and lineation in stanzas.
How do you know when a poem is finished?
I think redrafting poems is a hugely important thing. I usually do numerous drafts of every poem I write before I am happy that it is at a stage which could be called ‘finished’. Reading a poem aloud can be helpful in determining whether a poem is ‘finished’ or not. Sometimes when I read my poems aloud to myself, I realise that the rhythm or flow of particular lines do not work, or perhaps there are too many adjectives in a particular sentence. When a poem is nearing a ‘finished’ stage, I usually begin to focus on details like line endings. When my ‘finished’ poems are verging on complete, I often detect a sharpness or clarity in them.
I do believe there is an argument that a poem is never finished. Is there such a thing as a perfect poem? I often go back to old published and unpublished poems I wrote years ago and can’t resist playing around with them and altering things here and there.
How have poetry competitions been helpful to you in your career?
Poetry competitions have been very helpful to me in my years as a poet, mainly because success in some competitions that I have entered has given me more confidence in myself and my abilities as a writer. I prefer to submit to competitions which include publication as a prize. It was so lovely when I was a runner-up in the PBS & Mslexia Women's Poetry Competition 2018 to not only have my poem ‘Chadlington Village, Hampshire’ recognised as a worthy runner-up by the incredible judge Carol Ann Duffy, but also to be given the opportunity to be published in the pages of a wonderful magazine like Mslexia, published online and to be listed in the Spring 2019 PBS Bulletin.
Success in poetry competitions has also made me a more confident reader. This year my poem, ‘The Mouth That Did It’ was commended in the 2019 Hippocrates Open Awards for Poetry and Medicine. As a commended poet, I was invited to attend the annual Hippocrates Prize conference and awards ceremony at the Centre for Life in Newcastle, where I could read my poem aloud. Reading at such a formal, somewhat daunting event has shaped me into a more self-assured reader.
How do you find inspiration?
Writing poetry is quite a personal process for me; an alchemy of production. I extract my ideas for poems from a vast number of raw materials (art, music, films, novels) and stitch them together to create drafts of poems. Depending on what subject I choose to write about, sometimes I research and gather stimulus about my ideas in detail. During my research, fragments of ideas usually begin to form in my mind which will later turn into drafts.
I am particularly drawn to writing about art; I write a lot of ekphrastic poetry. I hope to include some ekphrastic poems in the creative element of my forthcoming MPhil study (Newcastle University), in which I will work to define a poetry of violence in the work of Pascale Petit, Simon Armitage and Mark Pajak.
How do you overcome writers block?
At times when I do run out of ideas for new poems, I usually find this is because I have been spending too much time writing poetry, so I try to vary my activities, by doing more fun, relaxed downtime like spending time with friends or enjoying hikes in more rural areas to clear my head.
Sometimes when I encounter writers block I realise the reason is because I have been writing about the same theme, or perhaps even attempting to write the same poem, for too long. Moving on to writing a new poem can be refreshing in this circumstance, and a break from the poem I had been struggling with can make ideas for this original poem come together at a later date.
Could you suggest a writing prompt which you have found useful?
Over the last few years, the majority of poems have been very ‘heavy’ in tone and have usually explored trauma and extreme emotion. I was recently advised by my university tutors to experiment with mini-writing exercises by studying something innocent, like a telephone box for example, and writing a simple poem about what I can see. I have found that writing in this more light-hearted approach has given my writing new dimensions and possibilities whilst paring down and fine-tuning my poetry.
When do you write? Do you think a routine is helpful?
Being a university student, I often find myself writing poetry at a computer in a library on campus, but I actually prefer writing with a traditional method of paper and pen. I also find that ideas come to mind more easily when I write outdoors, so I do enjoy writing in the garden. In terms of a routine, I find setting up an organised workspace useful, with necessary objects around me like iced water, different writing pens, a notebook of drafts / ideas and lots of biscuits! I also seem to work best in the afternoon and into the night – my brain seems to take a few hours during the morning to prepare itself for the business of writing a poem!
What is the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I have probably received is to trust my own voice and trust my own instincts. Before beginning to study for an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University, I wrote some quite vague, timid poetry about subjects that I did not feel particularly excited about, such as aspects of the natural world like flowers and more romantic subject matter about love and relationships because I hoped that such poetry would be well-received by poetry publications. I did achieve some success in publishing poetry of this subject-matter, but did not get true satisfaction from this style of writing. My tutors at Newcastle University have been very supportive in encouraging the subject matter in my poetry to be more bold and adventurous. As a result my confidence in my overall writing skills and ability has increased hugely.
What was the worst criticism you’ve received? What’s your advice on dealing with rejection?
I obviously have been exposed to some negative remarks about my poetry over the years, but I actually do not regard anything as a ‘criticism’ but more as ‘developmental feedback’. I actually find more negative feedback far more useful than praise, because I like to continue to try to learn from others and improve different areas of my writing.
I think rejection is something that all poets should expect to happen to them. I was lucky in that the first few poems I sent anywhere in my late teens just so happened to be accepted by a few poetry magazines (‘Alliterati Magazine’, ‘Cannon’s Mouth Journal’, ‘Cyphers Magazine’) but I was obviously soon initially disappointed by the numerous rejections that followed. I receive far more rejections than acceptances when I send poetry submissions to literary journals or enter poetry competitions. I have quite a resilient personality so usually I don’t feel too disheartened when submissions are rejected these days, but I can understand why many poets are reluctant to submit anywhere in fear of receiving a rejection. I think it’s important to remember that selection for poetry magazines often takes into consideration how an individual’s poem will work alongside other poems in the same issue, and of course competition from other talented poets is always high.
Is failure important for a poet?
I think it’s important not to set the bar too high. Rejection and failure is surely something that even the best poets will encounter at some point in their careers. I think we all see ourselves as a failure in some ways. I have definitely considered myself a failure in different ways at different times during my life. Failure can be clear to those around us, or more hidden inside of us. Sometimes I think, as poets, we can take inspiration from our ‘failures’, whatever they may be, to write beautiful poems. And, of course, a successful achievement to one individual is a failure to another.
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.