Thoughts on Poetry by Carolyn O’Connell

Poetry was a feature in the November meeting as Ruth and I will both be reading in the Elevenses slot in the Cheshire Literature Festival and that, together with Liz and other poets reading in the meeting, led to a discussion of the type of poetry written and accepted today.

I am only a new member of the group having lived in Cheshire for just a year and therefore I hope you forgive anything that might be unhelpful or known to other members.  Let me introduce myself, I am a poet, writing in this form rather than any other. Why?  Well I’ve always been interested in writing but it was only when disability due to a back injury reared its head that I was able to find the opportunity to write. I don’t have the back for novels – the hours needed at a desk are too much.  In 1996 when I first got a poem published, poetry became my way of fulfilling my dream which was finally realized by a pamphlet published in 2002 and a collection in 2014.

I’ve worked with many groups from those in Disability Arts, Survivors Poetry, Solo Survivors, Lapidus, Camden & Lumen to Poetry Unplugged; Meetup Groups of local poets they are prevalent in London but could they migrate here? Rhythm & Muse, Poetry at 3, and Platform 1 at the Poetry Café, home of Poetry Society and together with the Poetry Library, Facebook, and The Poetry Kit reliable sources of information as to what’s happening, where  to submit  etc. Keep up with the magazines and find the ones that publish poetry you feel comfortable with but don’t be worried about trying a new one for they are always changing, some like Amaryllis, I am not a Silent Poet, The BeZine are only online as the cost of printed magazines rises Reach is one I submit to that is still printed.

Talking about online have a look at it’s a showcase for you and your poetry. I’m a member and if you do, or more important don’t have a website it’s a window to an online presence and a way to promote you and your work. If you think it’s for you come and have a chat.

However life brought me to Cheshire and I’m finding new friends with you and in this “New Landscape” would welcome any company or help to access such opportunities here.  I am working with the Sandiway Library running a drop-in group on the 3rd Thursday of the month 11-12.30 – if you’re free please come.

When I started writing poetry I took a course at the Poetry School to discover what I needed to learn about how to write it!  Yes I knew the classics – the ones Mr. Gove knows- but I knew that I’d never be able to write like Shelly, Hopkins Elliot and I wanted to know how to write as ME!  It was a 10 week 1 day one to one with Mimi Khalvati.  From her I re-learned the “rules” of the classic forms Ballads, Sonnets, Haiku, Villanelle, and Tertza Rima; I know it sounds hard but it was fun and might be available at the Poetry School on the online Campus where you can post poems or take a course from home if you’re tempted. ”!    Here I found a way to write where the words would come and when I wrote them I could see where the rhyme and rhythm fell – I was singing!  I also found it was OK to go to an open mic, get up and read, send poems out –not be afraid of rejection, being able to paper the walls with rejections was a mantra that’s helpful, and joined a poetry group.

Having learned the rules, I learned how to break them and here are a few notes from that course which I’m passing on:
The Caesura is the friend of the modern poet, together with internal and cross rhyme. They form a sort of grid where the rhythm comes almost unconsciously and then can be harnessed into form, whether traditional or free verse, to craft the finished poem; sometimes it forms of itself in that secret odd part of the brain it’s “inspiration” or “the found poem” that comes fully formed.

I learned these Tools:
* Enjambment or end stop gives significance or balance.
* Caesura has the effect of cutting a poem in half. It’s now used as a break in the flow of the sound within the line caused by a break within the meaning.
* End Stress and Front Stress – The rising and falling line.
* Using The Rhythms of Speech where accent and stress can lead to varied line lengths.
*These can be used within the traditional forms by the use of near-rhyme and stress group rhythm
and they can be used when writing and/or editing a first draft.
* Remember that you will always write your own poem but criticism, especially from someone you respect is helpful but remember it’s as valuable as saffron.
* Read and buy books by poets you know, admire and find.  You might find a new friend or inspiration.

This information together with the support of other writers and poets has been vital. I keep in touch with a lot of friends via Facebook, email (I am still a member of my London Group via this) and meet when I can.

I hope that these notes from my journey to becoming a member of the group gives you an insight to my writing and might be of some use to other members.

Carolyn O’Connell, November 2018

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