Turning Life into Poetry

25 09 2010

Heard U.S. Poet Laureate (2001) Billy Collins at the Bookmarks Festival and love the way he writes about mundane subjects, then zings you with an unexpected line or twist. Or conversely, writes about a deep subject, then throws in something prosaic that totally reverses the direction of your thoughts. As writers we need to surprise readers, make them sit up and take notice, shock them, make them think about things in a new or innovative way.

Here are a few Collins thoughts that I jotted down (some are paraphrased):

To write is an act of faith. You hope someone will read it.

A poem is traveling to an unknown, non-existent ending.

Read until you find a poet who makes you jealous. Jealousy is the best motivator. English teachers call this influence.

How do you know your work is good? When you read it back and know that no one else could have written it.

You come up with an original voice by imitating others. (Yes, he really did say that.) He went on to say that you should absorb others’ work, then combine all these influences without others being able to detect it. So is that another way to phrase the old writing advice: Read, read, read??

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