#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 Sean Kiely, a poet published in Poetry Ireland Review, the Honest Ulsterman and The Echo. He is currently studying for his MA in Poetry Writing.
Q: What is your advice for a poet starting out?
A: This is an adventure: nourish yourself. Read poetry. Listen to poetry. Go to book launches, readings, events, find your people there. Carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. Write something every day: a poem, a sentence, a word. Every day! Find a way to listen to the world––it’s speaking to you.
Q: How do you know when a poem is finished?
A: When I’ve stopped nagging it and it’s stopped bothering me. There’s a truce, maybe even a friendship of sorts. That’s as finished as it gets. Sometimes, rarely, there’s a flash on the page –– and it’s done.
Q: How do you overcome writers block?
A: I ease the pressure. Instead of attempting a full poem I just write a phrase or even a solitary word in my notebook. I make myself do that every day, no matter how inconsequential it seems. The key is to do it every day. And I walk: walking always helps. The daily phrases and words form a pattern over time and become complete poems eventually. Jacob Polley taught me that, I’ll always be grateful.
Q: Could you suggest a writing prompt which you have found useful?
A: This is more of a poem-generator than a prompt. It takes a little practice to get it up and running but I’ve found it invaluable.
Very simply, I keep a notebook by my bedside and use it exclusively to record my dreams when I awake every morning. As I’ve said, it takes a little practice to do this. Dreams aren’t always easy to recall, and writing before you’ve fully shaken off a night’s sleep requires a little willpower. But it’s worth it. There’s gold in dreams. A notebook of your own dreams is a treasure chest.
Q: Is failure important for a poet?
A: Sometimes failure is just bad luck, sometimes it’s your own fault. Either way, you have to take responsibility for it. Either way, it will happen sooner or later, and when it does you must not allow it to devour you –– you must devour it.
Q: You have worked with 'found poetry' before, could you explain what found poetry is, and how you go about making a 'found' poem? How does this process vary in comparison to your usual style of working?
A: With found-poetry you lift a text from its original habitat and use techniques for writing poetry to shape and frame it until it becomes a poem. To put it another way: you can use random text you notice –– for example on a sign on a wall –– in the same way a street photographer can use a scene unfolding on a sidewalk. In the poet’s case it can be a chapter found in an instruction manual, a snippet of conversation overheard on the street, text on a poster, an obscure law. When writing the poem you choose where to begin, what to leave out, where to end. You choose where to break the line. You can omit words. Simply adding a title can shift a found-text’s centre of gravity.
For example, a few months ago at a fundraiser for a Women’s Refuge I found an old book of rules for sail boats. One chapter dealt with issuing distress signals in an emergency at sea, constantly referring to sailing vessels as “she”. The stories I had just heard of women in dire need of refuge seemed to be vibrating through the antiquated terminology of the text so I copied two paragraphs and worked them into a poem on that theme. The text was still an extract from an instruction manual, yet it also became a meditation on patriarchy and its damage to women lives.
Q: Why do you like to use this style of poetry?
A: It’s alchemy, I guess. An attempt to turn lead into gold. A good found-poem has a whiff of the uncanny about it.
Q: As a farmer, how do you find a work life balance with your writing on top of your farming?
A: With difficulty! It was impossible when I tried both at first. Farming demands all of you: your mind, your strength, your hours. There was little space for poetry. I had to make a conscious decision to scale back my farm to make time for poetry. Simple in theory but complex in reality –– it took a few years, but I think I’ve achieved a good balance. It’s like a marriage between two very different personalities. It’s symbiotic. Somehow it works.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received?
A: When I was beginning to write and unsure of myself the Irish poet Paula Meehan leaned across a table to me and said, “You must place poetry at the centre of your life!” She’s a wonderful poet, a magical woman –– I listened to her. It was simple advice, but profound at the time. It changed everything for me.
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.