A writer of poems.

A writer of poems. The Oxford dictionary definition of a poet. The definition goes on to say much more about ‘possessing high powers of imagination and expression etc’. which of course is a matter for the reader to decide.

You can read some really good interviews with some really fine poets (or writers as some may prefer, although they all write poetry) by clicking this link to  a website  which is called ‘I don’t call myself a poet’. I’ve read some of the interviews with poets I know and like first, then had a brief scout about.

Favourites so far are Clare Pollard and W.N Herbert and Daljit Nagra for their obvious intelligence, clarity of thought and straight talking. These people know what they are talking about.

You’ll perhaps have noticed that the title of the site includes the dreaded words ‘poet’ and ‘poems’. I remember reading a Bob Dylan quote in which his Bobness declares ‘anyone who calls himself a poet probably isn’t.’ I also remember Bob singing ‘I’m a poet, an’ I know it, hope I don’t blow it!’ So much for the enigmatic trickster and on-going contradiction that is Dylan.

I set this site up one night on a whim and didn’t consider if others would regard me
as pretentious for using the ‘p’ word about myself.  It was supposed to just read ‘poet’ but somehow ‘poems’ got into the title as well and I’m not sure how to change it now. And I’m not really that bothered. If someone reads a poem by me and are interested enough they can find this particular Roy Marshall quite easily and not mistake me for a cricketer. What else should I call myself? Nurse-Dad-grass-mowing paella-loving-writer of poems? Alright, I’m being silly now.

I’m not sure I understand the problem with people who write poetry for publication and performance not wanting to be called ‘poets’.
I sometimes tell people that I write, but it feels that when I say this I am giving in to a modesty and embarrassment about writing poetry which may be quintessentially english. Perhaps instead I should stand up for one of the most difficult and beautiful forms of expression and say the name out loud. After all I’m doing my best to earn it.

Maybe this is the problem; perhaps by calling oneself a poet one might be impertinently suggesting some kinship  with the greats, whoever they might be or are about to be. Perhaps the unwritten rule is that the title should be bestowed by others. Is this a universal situation I wonder? Do poets around the world refuse to self-label?

Jon Stone suggests that ‘the idea of being a poet is slightly off-putting in a way because it’s got the kind of connotations of being very wasteful, lying around …’

Contrast this idea with Michael Hofmann introducing Robert Lowell
‘What makes a poet? Interest, distinctiveness,trustworthiness, the assiduousness and resourcefulness with which he has been able to process his life and times into poems.’

Of course I’m not sure how tongue in cheek Mr Stone is being in his interview, but
I get the sense here and in the very title of the website that there remains a reluctance amongst poets to describe themselves as poets due to it not being perceived as a proper job. I’ve had some pretty hard jobs and I still find poetry to be  hugely labour intensive and consuming if I’m doing it properly; don’t laugh. My brain, eyes, back and fingers often ache. I forsake the great outdoors. I forget to eat or check out the news, to interact with humans and animals, music, machines.
I’ll write a poem when I really must clear out the attic.  Seriously, I’m working hard at it and I’m not even full-time.

Although, like everyone else I imagine, I’m sometimes frustrated, disillusioned and wonder what the point of writing poetry is, I still love poetry and poetry above all other forms of writing. I don’t really care about stereotypes. I’d like to write poems that non-poets can enjoy, relate to, and understand.  But I don’t mind if others don’t. Jon also mentions the ‘negative cliché of academic’s writing for other academic’s’. I’m not an academic but I’m not aware of being biased against anyone’s poetry because of their other job. So William Letford is a roofer by trade. Do I like his poems. Yes. Is it because he’s a roofer-poet? No, it’s because he’s good at writing poems.

Another poet interviewed talks about associating the name of poet with capes, a monocle and consumption. Again, I might be taking things too seriously, but why not. I am serious about poetry, mostly. I don’t think some of the young poets I know are about to sport the cape and monocle anytime soon, particularly the women, who are more sensible about these things as a rule.  But if some people are still into capes, hats and funny walks, I’m not convinced it’s a major problem.  I think I’ve seen the wonderful Gerard Benson, who brought us Poetry on the Underground, surely one of the most, if not the most inclusive and important public poetry promotions since the days of the broadsheet and the Globe, walking down a street  in Sheffield wearing a cape. I might be wrong. He was certainly sporting a wide-brimmed hat and looked magnificent.

This is the 21st century.  Wear what you like. Love your pure poet self!
Call me a poet to my face.  I’d consider it an honour.


  1. Hi Roy – this is a subject I think about a lot! The aspects I mentioned in my interview (it was a video interview, so my thoughts were a little jumbled) refer largely to my experience of how poetry is perceived by others. The Chatterton/romantic stereotype is so prevalent, and I’ve seen the contemporary poetry scene repeatedly criticised as being insular and overly entangled with the academy. I’m not an academic, so I know that isn’t true, but the point I was trying cackhandedly to make is that I try to be guided by the possibilities of poetry (which are many), rather than the title of ‘poet’ and what it might confer.


    • Hi Jon, thank you for your comment and I am glad you are cool about being quoted!
      I’m not sure how well written or reasoned my piece was but I think what I was getting at is that I feel that those who write poetry have it in their hands to challenge the sterotypes associated with the title poet. My point is that rather than accepting the romantic sterotype of a poet, for example ( although those inclined to this should go for it if that’s their scene) we can as individuals present our own version of a poet and part of this process is by not being afraid to call ourselves a poet. I dislike being labelled and see generalisations as to what a poet is as reductive. If poets themselves are haunted and daunted by stereotypes than what chance has the title of representing the variety and diversity that I feel it encompasses? I think with development of the slam/performance/festival scene and with recent globally inclusive events such as the Parnassus and of course the advent of internet communication poetry may be embracing a new age which will leave stereotypes behind.

      With regard the arguement about acedemia should explain that as someone realatively new to the whole scene (I discovered there were dedicated poetry magazines in the now defunct chain Borders about 4 years ago!) I am blissfully unaware of a lot of the ongoing critisims that surround it.


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