Becoming a poet

Some of the time you feel that your obvious talent is being ignored. Your ego pounds the table and shouts ‘not fair’ as you watch other (obviously less talented people) parading their successes. But your monstrous ego won’t always win out. You will feel genuinely pleased for other people too. The poet you met at a reading and had a good chat with, the poet who you went on a course with, the poet whose work you love, whose kindness and humility you remember. You will seek feedback.
'And do we want to know why a haiku is like a thong?'

Some of the feedback will annoy or upset you. The poem will be fatally wounded. You will abandon it. You will seek more feedback. You will ignore it. You will learn to listen. The poem full of holes is patched up. It floats. It is magical. You float in it. You begin to recognise and accept good advice. You know what to reject and why. You become a better writer. You argue for your poems. You justify your choices. With persistence and effort, you shall go to the ball.


But after a glittering occasion (launch, award ceremony, reading in a noisy pub ) you do not receive another invitation for a very long time. You feel like a fraud and wonder how you ever wrote anything. You are embarrassed to admit that you write poetry. You tell people you are a writer. You hope they don’t ask what you write. You wonder if you are a success. You wonder what success is; are you successful now you have a poem in ‘Third Ear Journal’? Or is it the feeling you get when you have written one poem you truly love, or better still, a poem you will still love in three years and maybe forever?  Poems arrive unbidden after periods of absence (I don’t use the term ‘block’ – sometimes we need to rest and regroup.)  The new poems are the best you’ve ever written. You are a genius and you don’t care who knows it. Some idiot who can’t write writes a review. He won’t understand your book. He will upset and anger you. He is an idiot.  Someone else will write a review. It will glow. There are things in your work you didn’t know were there. You want to share the review. You worry about showing off.  You feel ignored. You are generous to another poet. You are bitter and twisted. You are energised. Someone writes to tell you they loved your poem in ‘Mapping the Void’. You are happy all morning.
Happy poets
You receive a poetry magazine and everything in it is amazing. You are inspired. You want to give up. You receive a poetry magazine and everything in it is rubbish. Why don’t they take your stuff? They take your stuff. You wish you hadn’t sent it to them. The poem could have gone somewhere better. You write nothing of worth for three months. You find old poems and think ‘hey, that’s pretty good’.  The old poems don’t sound like you. You wonder what you sound like now. The answer is you sound like your next poem. Your next poem is a new departure. You doubt your work. You feel the editors who accepted your poems got it wrong, that the stuff they took is rubbish. You are anthologized but still no one asks you to open Glastonbury.

Poet cartoon

You are humble. You are boastful. You are sombre. You write a poem. It is wonderful. You are heady with delight. You feel pride. You read it the next day and realize it is awful. You are surprised when you read one of your pieces and realise it is really rather good.  You will be amazed at the kindness of other poets. You will have your faith in human nature restored by their support and praise. You trip over someone’s ego at a reading. Their head blocks out the light. The lady in the post office thinks it’s cool that you are a poet. Nothing comes through the door. Your submissions have disappeared. Your e-mail inbox is empty. Your book has sold out. You buy a new stack. You travel a hundred miles to read your poems on a rainy Wednesday night. No-one buys your book.  Someone tells you they loved your poem about the fly.  You have never written a poem about a fly. The poem you sent to ‘Fraying Fringes’ has been gone a year and still no word. A friend tells you that ‘Fraying Fringes’ has folded. You become focused. You become distracted.  You give up social media. You feel isolated. You take up social media. Euphoria will come and go. Despair will come and go. Feel and do all this enough times and you will begin to recognise Groundhog Day when it comes around. This is the process. You might even be able to meet and treat those two imposters ‘success’ and ‘failure’ the same. You will put envy aside. You will find no-one to blame. You will write poems. You will be a poet.

See also this Maitreyabandhu article  in Magma magazine and other posts on this blog-    The Healthy Writer, Mice Nests and Parcels,  and  Submission, Rejection , Acceptance, Reward, 






  1. Yes. But how do you think I feel every time you show up on here in your waistcoat, poem in hand?
    Think I’ve hit a cord with this post John – 900 hits in 2 days and rising. It’s all downhill from now on.


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