the wrong poem

two feathers

Years ago, I used to participate in an online poetry forum. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time, as I learned a huge amount and stopped writing teenage-angst, hearts-and-flowers poetry and started to – occasionally – write something worth writing. Perhaps even, though more rarely, worth reading.

I posted my own poetry, and I learned from the comments and critiques, and the subsequent discussions. When someone misunderstood what I’d intended, or found my word choice or phrasing unsatisfactory, it was always helpful, as it encouraged me to look more closely at what I was trying to do and where I had failed.

So I learned to be glad when I got focused negative comments – particularly from writers whose work I admired.

But even though I learned a lot from posting my own poetry, I probably learned just as much from the comments I made about other people’s work: the deep-reading and thought that’s required in order to give worthwhile feedback on a poem is incredibly instructive. The first few times you read a poem you begin to see what you like – what’s working for you – but at that stage you may not realise why. When you start to inspect and unpick it, you reveal the connections and patterning that are behind whatever it is that appeals.

Sadly, that forum no longer exists. Instead, for the last ten years, I have been posting my poems here and musing about poetry and creative writing in general.

However, as Douglas Adams had Slartibartfast say, “Nothing is lost forever, […] except for the Cathedral of Chalesm.” And, once something is posted to the internet, it’s pretty much impossible to delete it. So there are archives.

Earlier this week, when looking for something entirely different, I happened upon a discussion on the forum where someone had been disappointed with some aspect of a poem I had posted. Today I can’t locate that thread, but fortunately I’d made a note of one of my comments:

I all too frequently end up writing “the wrong poem” – the one I’m capable of, the one that is easier, the one that demands to be written, not the one I set out to write. Sometimes by doing so I learn stuff from it which is useful and makes the intended poem more feasible.

That idea has been very relevant this last week, when I’ve been trying to write a poem on the subject of fire for a joint project. Somehow, after hours of dibbling and dabbling, when I went to bed last night, I still had nothing more than a page of notes.

This morning, though, I woke up early with an idea and had a very satisfactory draft ready to discuss with my co-author at 9am.

Mind you, what I’ve written isn’t exactly the piece I was intending, which would be a large-scale, almost epic, view of fire, the element. Instead I’ve produced a very controlled little piece focused around different aspects of a candle flame. Perhaps this will pave the way to the bigger poem.

six feathers

I can’t post the candle flame poem here as it is still only a draft, as well as being part of a joint project. So, since the photos are of feathers, I shall post two short poems with birds in them. The second, at least, has an allusion to fire.

The first was inspired by New Street in Birmingham a long time ago. (They have now netted all the building façades so the birds can’t nest there.)


The day ebbs orange
from the sky. Twilight
seeps into cracks
between bricks
and around paving stones,
fills up the spaces
in the air and dulls
the iridescent chattering
of starlings
in city eaves.

This second piece was written in Spain, where the heat and light are altogether different.

El Dorado

At midday
incandescent angles
pierced my eyes.

Now all that remains
is honey-gold. Swallows rise
on updraughts: smuts
above the embers of the day.


And now another comment I found this week on the old forum archive seems appropriate:

My poetry seems, like my photography, to lack people most of the time & therefore lack a “storyline”.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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