If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from poetry, it’s that I cry when I’m happy. All I seem to have done this year is weep over phone screens, bawl over letters and sob on magazines. You can tell I’ve used a thesaurus. And I’ve realised just how much I love words and the effects they can have.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. Since I was five I’ve been writing a diary on and off, first in a Hello Kitty notebook, but now my stationery tends to be leather-bound and/or gilded. I like how you can write out all your thoughts and feelings without the journal ever answering back, or judging you. It’s the best feeling ever, writing up a good day’s events or scenes. It also makes sure I write creatively every day.
When I was younger I thought all poetry had to rhyme. I blame it on my mother’s old ‘First Poetry Book’ which had funny poems about dragons with colds and witches’ spells which go wrong, and every line rhymed perfectly. I tried as hard as I could to turn out neat rhymes but I always started making words up, and it sounded terrible. So I went back to writing my stories, which I slaved away at until they got too long, and, terrified at the enormity of what I’d done, I made all my characters either repent or die. I remember typing one epic up on my mother’s computer about a wicked princess, until I got bored at the 15th chapter and made her repent and die, which I’d say is a bit much!
When I was six or seven I started reading the Miles Kelly book of Great Poems, and found them quite interesting but not as good as the endless Enid Blyton’s I was reading then. But when I was nine I got my own book of poems and that changed it for me. Maybe it was because it was all my own. Whatever the reason, I marked all the pages with my favourite poems on with those little sticky bookmarkers. I hadn’t fallen in love with the poems but the words; the adjectives and the alliteration. I still thought that I should leave poetry alone on the writing front, so I started my novel ‘Viola Fairing’ and read my poetry book when I could be bothered.
Everything changed in 2015, because I inherited my mother’s copy of ‘The Odyssey’. It was nothing special really, a second-hand Wordsworth Classic with a lengthy foreword. But when I’d skipped to the main story, I was enchanted. Because I was taken to a magical island with a clingy enchantress and an exasperated hero who just wants to get home, even though almost all the gods unreasonably hate him. I loved how none of the gods and goddesses could be described as anything other than ‘honey-tongued’ or ‘thunder-loving’. And it still amazes me that ‘ The Odyssey’ was written at least a thousand years ago. I ploughed through the whole book in less than a week. At last I’d realised that all poetry doesn’t have to rhyme.
By July (I’d read it in January) I’d written a few terrible poems and entered ‘My Kingdom’ into the Betjeman Poetry Prize. I was quite proud of that one, it was full of Homeric adjectives and I thought it painted a picture of the South Downs. It didn’t get anywhere in the competition and I forgot all about writing poetry and began my novel all over again.
It was only the next year, when I was hurt and everything felt like a mess that I went back to writing poetry again. ‘Viola Fairing’ had been consigned to the (metaphorical) flames and I’d had an idea which came from an art exhibit in Bexhill. So I wrote a poem (kind of) about Brexit and sent it to a local paper which had promised to ‘publish your poems whether good, bad, funny or sad’. Mine probably fell into the sad category.
In July 2016 , ‘Paisagem Noturna Calmaria’ was published for the first time. Pretty ambitious to have a Latin title…but I was pleased with it so I dropped my latest story (about the Spanish Civil War) and started writing out my feelings into many more poems. And I sent the best to Poetry Rivals (a really good competition by the way, I highly recommend it) and I managed to become a finalist. The good thing about Poetry Rivals is that they make you read your poem, and I think that if you have to read a piece aloud, the best thing to do is practice. I left mine a bit late, so I had to practice in a hotel in Peterborough the night before, not ideal. But it was the best experience possible and gave me the courage to enter the Foyle Young Poets Award.
Now if I have any “wise words”, and I’m not at all wise, it would be to check out the Young Poets Network website. Seriously. It has everything you could possibly need to start broadcasting your poems; competitions, tips, interviews and a roundup of the best magazines, competitions and poetry websites. You won’t regret it.
I found out about Hebe Poetry there. And my final wise owl tip is never stop writing. You could be writing the worst stuff in the world, but if you persevere it will always get better. And please don’t think you aren’t good enough to broadcast your poems far and wide. Enter every competition that catches your eye, submit to every magazine. Because someone, somewhere, will love your poetry.
So ‘keep writing’ as a literary Bruce Forsythe would say. I mean it.
Words by Meredith LeMaître Nugent, illustrations by Lotta Skule