On poetry and blogging

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In preparation for this year’s Aldeburgh Poetry Festival I was asked some questions about my blogging by Festival programmer Dean Parkin. This interview first appeared in the Festival newspaper, The Poetry Paper.

Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging very reluctantly. As I came back into circulation after serious illness in 2006 I became aware that poets were contributing to blogs and discussion groups. I was even invited to participate in one. ‘But what on earth would I say?’ I told them. Some years later a friend who has nothing to do with planet poetry, asked me directly how on earth I could expect people to find me if I didn’t have an online presence. Not long after that I attended a seminar at work about publishing and communicating our research findings. We were asked which of us blogged about what we got up to. Not a single hand went up. The guest speaker said: ‘So here I am, among some great thinkers, and not one of you wants to share what you do with the world?’ I took it as a call to arms, and have been blogging ever since.

How much of a commitment is it – how long do you spend on your blog? Does it get in the way of other writing?

I try to see blogging as writing, rather than ‘blogging’. One reason I do it is that I am naturally heroically lazy. Having a blog, with actual followers, means I am now obliged to write. It’s become a public way of enforcing a private habit. I’m dogged about it. I don’t wait for great ideas or inspiration. I make myself do it. I’m starting to see the benefits of that creeping very slowly into other writing I do, in terms of poetry and for research. It just becomes a thing. As Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said: ‘I don’t much like writing, but I love having written.’

What are the rewards?

First and foremost, the reward, as in writing poems, has to be in and of itself. That is an absolute given. If I can’t generate an intrinsic reward in the work under my hands, then I am doing it for the wrong reasons. One of the things I’d say I was looking for is to be surprised. To describe a thought or experience which I did not know (or had forgotten about) until I wrote it. There is nothing better. As time has gone on, however, there are external rewards to the process, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. When someone leaves a comment to say how my reading of a poem has changed what they thought about it; or when WordPress have posted my work on their Freshly Pressed pages. The other day a woman told me she began reading my blog on a friend’s recommendation as she came back from serious illness. She told me it had opened a door into a world she knew nothing about. That sense of being woven into people’s personal stories and histories. That’s a privilege and a responsibility I would never have dared dream of. I’m humbled by it.

What influence does it have on your own work – does it help you write poems or generate ideas?

I’m genuinely not sure what to say about this. Writing poems is both mundane and mysterious. And blogging shares a lot of this also. Just as I don’t ever really ‘plan’ my poems (how could you?) I don’t really plan my blog posts. I begin scratching to see what hurts, usually, or inspires, or both, and push towards that. If I end up somewhere I did not expect to, then I am happy. I do think in this sense that writing poems is a superb training ground. It teaches you to get out of the way of your material. The other thing they share is, hopefully, an attitude of openness. The practice I have always subscribed to, carrying around a notebook, snooping on conversations on the bus, it is all material. The way a writer holds herself at a reading is just as fascinating to me as the poems she reads. The incidental. The stuff in the gap. As Raymond Carver advised about short stories: write about what everyone knows, but which no one is talking about. That’s what I’ve always found fascinating, and I don’t see that stopping.

What’s the future – how do you see your blog developing?

As I say, I don’t plan. One day not long ago I found myself beginning a post with ‘I am at a thing…’ I didn’t know there would be others that used the same opening, that it might even become a ‘series’. But that’s what it now is. I think (I think) there is still more to say there. But it arrived unconsciously. An idea I found myself being much more conscious about is that of ‘influences’. I don’t just mean ‘poets I have read and liked’ I mean a much broader thing about being creative, being alive in the world, having a fully individuated life as Heaney would say. The way my brother made his sandwiches as a child. My art school friends always having pencil and paper to hand. Michael Laskey pounding the steering wheel. It’s taken a while to get going, but now I’ve started I need to keep pushing at it. It needs doing. Other than that I have no plans at all. I once heard Stephen Knight say ‘If I am reading well, then I am writing well.’ As long as I can find poems that have knocked my socks off to talk about I am confident I will be OK.

What advice would you give to someone starting a blog?

I think the main thing is to make yourself do it. Do not worry about traffic and stats and becoming famous. Just do it. The single best advice I was given is to write often and passionately. If people see you care about stuff they will follow you and engage with you. Develop a likeable tone of voice -nothing is more important for a blog.

In terms of ‘technique’ I’d advise writing short posts, with short paragraphs, making sure you include lots of links to things you see and like. In that way you create a vision of your own aesthetic. Share stuff. Give things away. Be generous about what you love. Be generous with yourself! Someone once said about fiction writing that nothing much needs to happen, but if people believe in your tone of voice they will follow and return to you and share what you say.
The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival blog

16 comments

  1. Pingback: Tell Me « Poetry Therapy News
  2. Brian Ings

    Love that Dorothy Parker comment! How absolutely true, and yet so unexpectedly true, other writers forgot to mention it! This bears out your own remarks about what poets and writers should make their focus, everyday habits. the uneventful but crucial aspects of their experienced reality. It’s all there, just waiting to be written about, if we had but world enough and time to notice! I really enjoy reading your blogs So revealing about a working-poet’s life..Too many poets hold their cards so close to the chest, that readers will have to wait for their biographers (pretty well as much in the dark as their readers , as so many ‘biographies’ have amply demonstrated) to cast ‘light’ on the writer’s ‘true’ intentions. Keep dem blogs comin’, AW!

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  3. john foggin

    ‘It needs doing’. Leaving nothing to be said. Or, tying up everything that went before. So that’s why I feel guilty if I’m late with a post. On the other hand i really do have to plan ahead. I may have no idea what will be written, but I do have to think I lnow what I might write. Anyway. Thanks for your just doing it.

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  4. Simon R. Gladdish

    Dear Anthony

    Totally unaware of Dorothy Parker’s quote, one of my ‘Aphorisms After Oscar’ (2009) is: ‘My father enjoyed writing poems whereas I enjoy having written them. There is a huge difference.’ It just goes to show that great minds think alike and there is nothing new under the sun!

    Best wishes from Simon

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  5. Peter Raynard

    Recovering from ill-health (although I always seem to feel that way), I started my blog (proletarianpoetry.com) in September and it has been a great way to reconnect with the outside world and has got me out there as well, meeting many great poets. I agree also, that blogging is a great way of keeping your writing going, whilst at the same time feeling like you have achieved something (that’s why I like poetry and don’t think I will ever write a novel). But then, hopefully, in a year or so I will have a narrative that may turn into a book, without the burden of feeling like I am writing one. Finally, I like both the writing and having written a poem, blog post, or like this, a comment on someone else’s. Great work as always Anthony.

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  6. evelyneholingue

    Really like what you have to say about blogging. I also consider blogging as writing. Your ending about not caring about numbers (followers, stats…) and more about voice and generosity is, I agree, crucial if the goal is to keep blogging for a long time. Best to you, to your blog, and your poetry. Cheers to your health too.

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  7. Sean Wright

    I think its important for Poets and Critics to blog because, at least from where I sit, there’s a dearth of casual or at least plain English discussion of contemporary poetry in mainstream media.

    I’m Australian and living remotely in Australia. I have to subscribe to the Guardian poetry feeds and the Poetry Foundation to get varied commentary on poetry.

    I find poetry blogs to be virtual Salons where I can observe and learn. I loved your recent showcase of Chrissy Williams and the associated commentary you gave.

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  8. Nell Nelson

    You have a way of writing about yourself that (when you read it) is really about me. I mean me, the reader. Personal without me-me-me. If you could bottle it, you could sell it. If you could bottle it, you probably couldn’t do it.

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  9. Pingback: On the value of blogging. | Josephine Corcoran
  10. Pingback: the generous art of blogging | wind.horse
  11. Louisa Archer

    Thank you so much for this post Anthony, it has inspired me. I also love the photo of the zebra and the rocket, is this in your house? I completely agree with everything you say about the art of blogging, I too, learnt the hard way and I think it is crucial to focus on connection and generosity rather than stats, something I, in the past have failed to do. Anyway, I am, as a fledgling poet, very excited to have found your blog and look forward to reading some of your archive section,
    have a great day,
    Louisa

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Dear Louisa
      Many thanks indeed for your kind comments.
      This isn’t my house; it is a junk shop in Amsterdam.
      Generosity is the only way forward. That is my only goal.
      Thank you for spotting this.
      As ever with good wishes
      Anthony

      Liked by 1 person

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