I have just come back from the Greenbelt Festival where I was delighted to give a talk about writing poetry on the Small Talks Big Ideas programme. The idea behind these talks is that each presenter is asked to speak for strictly ten minutes on a subject about which they are passionate.

Subjects ranged from: Is God a Woman/Muslim/Jewish/Gay/an Evangelical? to How to: kill a chicken/curate an art exhibition/be a DJ/develop children’s spirituality/find rhythms of grace.

There were no interruptions and no questions, just speaking from the heart. Every talk was filmed and so will gain another life after the festival once it is uploaded onto the Greenbelt website, TED-talks style.

You can listen to a recording I have made of my talk, and download the script of the talk below. My main point was that to write poetry you have to read it. Lots of it. Here is how I concluded my talk, with some hard-won top tips:

  1. Keep a notebook for writing down what you notice and what you hear, especially what you notice. This is much more important than writing down what you feel.
  2. Write at predetermined times. For example, decide to write while you are running a bath (and only then). Or set your alarm clock half an early for a week and write in the pre-verbal silence of the morning.
  3. Write in uncomfortable places, such as a moving bus, or a supermarket queue, or traffic lights, or in a place where your native tongue is not spoken.
  4. Write in the dark.
  5. Write in the voices of others, such as a stone, a painting or one of Picasso’s wives.
  6. Translate poems from other languages (you do not need to know the said language to do this).
  7. Write with your eyes closed.
  8. Join a writers’ group. Show other people your work. Listen to any advice you are given. Give others feedback on their work.
  9. Send your work to magazines and to friends.
  10. Order poetry books from your local library. It is your responsibility to train them to buy it in.
  11. Delete the first three lines and the last three lines of the first drafts of your poems.  And finally and above all:
  12. Listen to any advice you are given.

Finally here is some advice for evaluating the poems you write:

When you have written a poem and have worked on it with seriousness and delight and energy, giving to the poem everything you feel is possible, including taking everything out of it which does not belong there –ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what you have written surprising to you?
  • Is there something about your writing you do not fully understand?
  • Have you actually made something?
  • Is the poem built with the body, the mind and the dream?
  • Does your writing take the reader to a place which is different from where she began?
  • Does your poem in some way give credence to the possibility of the miraculous?

Your answer should be ‘Yes’ to each one.

You can download the full script of my talk here: How to Write a Poem_Greenbelt 2012_Anthony Wilson

You can listen to the talk here: