Last night I finally finished In Their Own Words by Helen Ivory and George Szirtes. Yes, I was
reading it last month and, yes, it has taken this long to finish, partly because I lack time (I wish
I had) to read and partly because I have terrible tendency to try and read about ten books at the same time, and then take forever to finish them all.
It was a wonderful book though and it gave me much to think about on the subject of my own personal poetics. Don’t ask me what they are, I really have no idea, but I did get a couple of big take-aways from the book. A lot about listening, which was apt given my post last month on this topic, but essentially they all boiled down to this: doing the work.
That’s it. There is only the work. The work of reading, writing, editing, listening. Then reading more, writing more, editing more and listening more. There are no short-cuts, not tricks, no magic solutions to this game. You either do the work or you don’t. Of course every writer has their own unique approach to this process but at the end of the day it still boils down to the basic building block of doing the work.
This month I was reminded just how much of this work I need to do. Looking back to the start of the year I can see how far I’ve already come, but it is still a mere slither of what needs to be done if I am to truly get a grasp on the actual craft of writing poetry. I’m a subscriber to the lovely
HappenStance. If you don’t already know this small poetry press then I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a lovely independent press that publishes high quality poetry at affordable prices. As a subscriber I can pick up a poetry pamphlet for just £3! There are also books of poetry, cards and gift subscriptions, you can even pick up a wee game of poetry bingo! As a subscriber you also get an insight into how the poetry publishing world works with a chapter of the HappenStance story sent out to you when you join. The blog itself also contains a wealth of information on how to get your poetry published. As if this weren’t enough Helena Nelson, who somehow does all this single handedly, also offers two submission periods where you can send in work for feedback. I was delighted to take advantage of this offer and it was this wonderfully detailed feedback that shone a light on how far I still have to go with my work.
I admit, sometimes I wonder why I am doing all this. It feels too little too late. I have no background in literature, I am playing catch up in a big, big way. There’s just so much to learn that sometimes it feels impossible, and all the work I am doing starts to feel a bit pointless, like a child trying to learn brain surgery in the morning and then go to work on a patient in the
afternoon. My work is clumsy, amateur and embarrassingly inept. I can see the gap between where I want to be and where I actually am. I say gap, chasm would be a better word. The big fear I have is that there is no way to know if I can ever cross that chasm. Maybe I never will. All I can do is keep doing the work and hope I can somehow engineer a poetic bridge across to the land of knowing how to write something half decent one day.
In the meantime hundreds of other poets who are already far, far head of me are busy doing their work with much more experience and poetic flair. Sometimes this scares me too, but something in me believes there is space for all our voices. So I keep going, keep doing the work, keep trying to read, write and learn as much as I can with the limited time and resources I have. I do the work and then I hope one day it will be enough.
Stephanie Arsoska lives on the east coast of Scotland with her husband and two children. She originally trained as an actor before gaining a BA Hons in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She has worked extensively in theatre and education, and trained to be a Drama Teacher in 2005. More recently she gained a post
graduate certificate in Physical Theatre from Royal Holloway University.
Stephanie writes at her own blog Beautiful Misbehaviour where she runs a monthly virtual open mic night for mothers to perform their creative writing without the need of a babysitter. She was featured in Word Bohemia’s first quarterly journal and in February 2014 she will have a poem published by the Emma Press in their Anthology on Motherhood.