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How to Avoid Being a Famous Poet

Updated on December 22, 2016
FatBoyThin profile image

Colin's novels, story collections and stage plays are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

Very short poem by Colin Garrow
Very short poem by Colin Garrow | Source

I'm Not Really a Poet...

I'm not really a poet. I like rhymes and quirky words, which is useful, but I don't have that poet's mindset - the sort of thing I imagine is essential if you want to Be a Poet. I did try, in fact I tried for many, many years to be a poet, but it didn't work and eventually I gave up and turned to other literary pursuits. However, it's not all bad news, as a few of my efforts did make it into the world of 'published work'.

When I left school, I decided to be a Writer. And since I didn't really want to embark on something as epic as a novel, I thought I'd try poetry. I spent a lot of time in our local library - reading, researching, trying to discover something that would give me a clue as to how I might produce this particular art form. I didn't know much about poetry except the odd one or two classic poems we'd studied at school. The main one I remembered was Alfred Noyes' 'The Highwayman':

Poet Alfred Noyes, author of 'The Highwayman'
Poet Alfred Noyes, author of 'The Highwayman' | Source

The Highwayman

By Alfred Noyes

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

I loved this poem but never thought I could write anything like that, and to be honest, this sort of romantic narrative style didn't sit very well with my 16-year-old self, but I thought it was simply because I didn't know how to read and interpret poetry, and I certainly didn't know how to write it.

So I set out to teach myself.

So I Went to the Library...

I read the poems of Percy Shelley and thought how grand it would be to die young, leaving only a pile of romantic verse behind. I read Dylan Thomas and wondered why his work was so amazing and yet so difficult to understand. I read Tennyson and Wordsworth and Milton, but none of these really gripped me.

Then I read Roger McGough and I knew that this was the one I'd been looking for - poems I could understand, poems that were witty and clever without trying to be intellectual or scholarly. Poems I liked.

Beguiling

By Roger McGough

She is so beguiling

That when she beckons

I can run a mile

In twenty seconds.

And I Wrote...

And so I started writing poems.

And they were awful.

Really, really awful.

Of course, I didn't know they were awful so I sent them off to poetry magazines thinking (of course) that the editors of such literary tomes would immediately recognise my huge talent and publish my work forthwith.

In those pre-Internet days, rejections were of the hard kind - paper, pre-printed with phrases like 'Sorry we can't enter into individual correspondence'. Occasionally I'd get a short, hand-written note along the lines of 'not for us' or 'not really our style'. One memorable response hit me quite hard at the time: 'This poem does not rise above its own squalor'. Ouch.

Snoopy by Charles Schulz
Snoopy by Charles Schulz

And Then...

However, things did improve and in the glorious year 1994 my first published poem appeared in Staple Magazine. Naturally, I thought that this was it and that fame and fortune were only around the next corner. But it was six years before the next offer of publication (in Envoi in 2000). And even better, they didn't just want one poem, they wanted three poems. This was definitely it!

I'd love to be able to say that my literary career took off, went from strength to strength, but it didn't. I found it more and more difficult to come up with anything interesting and the rejection letters kept mounting up. Eventually I gave up writing poetry altogether, apart from the occasional comic monologue to amuse my workmates.

So here are my four published poems with some explanations as to their origins.

Would've

(first published in Staple 30, 1994)


Wanted to go to war to fight and prove his worth

Needed to know that he could do it to, salt of the earth

Was always ready to jump feet first and keen as mustard

(Once drank a tin of marigold paint, thinking it was custard).


Was reading, always reading and never a one for slush

Wanted some adventure (something to die for, at a push)

Walked miles to work across unbattled fields and woods

Would've joined the army, would've gladly if he could.


Big Pit, Blaenavon, Wales
Big Pit, Blaenavon, Wales | Source

Had flat feet or else he would've marched away

Got blown up in the war, got left in foreign clay,

Thankfully got no further than a coal-seam at the pit

Dreamt only of adventure, yellow paint and Classed Unfit.

Origins...

Would've is about my granddad. He died when I was only nine so I didn't know him very well. The poem is based on what my mother used to tell me about him - how he couldn't join the army because of his flat feet, how he had an impetuous nature and once, when my parents were painting his kitchen, picked up and drank a tumbler full of paint, in the mistaken assumption that it was custard. He spent most of his working life working in a coalmine and his spare time reading adventure stories.

Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl
Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl

Roxanne Kid

(first published in Envoi 127, 2000)

Checkout girl, apron and open

Mouth, remembers those long fifteen years

And the hours of the tedious days

When startled by howling puberty

She grew in the gaze of the boys

Who grinned and adored and admired.


In the shop of her life, she is late.


Checkout girl, apron and open

Mouth, remembers that gasping caress

At the throat of her first cigarette

When a line from "The Highwayman" stuck

Like a bone which tasted of death

While the boys still adored and admired.


In the shop of her life, she is late.


Checkout girl, apron and open

Mouth, remembers the practised wry-smiles

Beneath homework-forgotten-plea lies

And the thrill of that tender first kiss

And the sting of sex and the night

When still they adored and admired.


In the shop of her life, she is late.


Checkout girl, apron and open

Mouth, remembers the father she missed

And the stench on the breath of his kiss

And the mother who gave her looks

Knowing who'd be envied the least

But still they adored and admired.


Checkout girl, apron and open mouth

In the shop of her life, is late.

Origins...

The poem's form is vaguely based on a villanelle structure, such as 'Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night' by Dylan Thomas, or WH Auden's 'If I Could Tell You'. I wasn't trying to be clever or anything, but I wanted to try something more structured than I had before. The fact that the poem doesn't fit into the standard nineteen-line villanelle is evidence of this fact, though I was also wary of giving myself too many restrictions.

The title is an anagram which I'm not going to explain, but I will say that on a visit home one weekend, I was at the local supermarket when I thought I recognised a girl I'd vaguely known at school. She was working on the checkout and looked so unhappy that it got me thinking that maybe her life hadn't turned out as she'd hoped. Anyway...

"With years-old Sistine imagery..."
"With years-old Sistine imagery..."

Relic

(first published in Envoi 127, 2000)

Michelangelo's T-shirt

Fits were it touches,

Hangs on her like the cheap

Probably-dissolve-first-wash garment it is,

With years-old Sistine imagery,

A statement of the art she has seen.


Rarely has she been less impressed,

As with those touristy temptations

(Religious artefacts, every one),

And except for enthusiasm,

Gushing from her like torrents of Venetian rain,

She might be only another T-shirt buyer,

Bored by art,

Consumed to consumer heaven.

Origins...

This poem was inspired by a T-shirt a former partner of mine brought home from Italy. It sported a well-known image from the Sistine Chapel and looked, initially, like a good quality garment. But after a couple of washes the thing began to fall apart and I started thinking about how tourists buy stuff to remind them of holidays and how such things often don't last long.

Among His Effects

(first published in Envoi 127, 2000)

Later, among his private things

You found them tucked away, almost hidden

No-one knew, not even his wife

Who cried for him.


And by his ways, his clicking tongue

Who'd have guessed such passion might have risen

And how he would have reddened

If you'd known.

Origins...

A friend of mine told me how, after her father's funeral, she and her mother found a collection of poems he'd written, hidden away in a drawer. He'd been such a stern, strict man all his life, she couldn't believe the passion and gentleness of his writing. It made me wonder about the things we hide away.

So...

So there you have it - my small claim to poetic fame. I'm not a poet and I do know it (see what I did there?) but I love words, so maybe that's enough.

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    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Julie, glad you liked it.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Julie, glad you liked it.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      This is a lovely article. I especially love the repeated line "In the shop of her life, she is late." from your poem "Roxanne Kid." Well done. Voted up.

    • exposed2create profile image

      Theresa Jeanette Perez 2 years ago from Coconut Creek, FL

      I understand I'm the same way but opposites. Poetry comes natural to me but writing a story takes so darn long! ;)

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for the vote of confidence - much appreciated. I didn't stop writing poems altogether - just stopped writing serious stuff. I often write comic poems for people I work with, for birthdays, leaving parties etc. I like to make folk laugh. The other reason I stopped is that writing serious poetry always seemed to take me such a long time, while with stories, it's not much of a problem at all.

    • exposed2create profile image

      Theresa Jeanette Perez 2 years ago from Coconut Creek, FL

      Ooh Poetry, that's like my baby right there. Once upon a time when I was in middle school I got upset and started writing. Then since I always loved music and singing and dancing I figured why not write a song which in essence can be considered poetry and so I did. Every time I felt something (anything) I picked up a pen and wrote a poem and now it comes so naturally that I have been able to write enough to self publish two ebooks.

      By the end of 2015 I will have 4 poetry ebooks published for anyone to buy and hopefully will be on a path to finishing my novel.

      Us writers may not be good at every type of writing but we definitely have talent to try them all whether we are successful or not that's a different story.

      Your poems are great, you should have kept on going even if it was just to frame them and keep them as keepsake at your house.

      Great hub, as usual.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Julz, glad you enjoyed my work.

    • OneMorePage profile image

      Julie H 2 years ago from Richwood, Ohio

      I like your words

      Honest

      Humorous

      I like your words

      Perhaps that is enough, too

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Rakim - you're right, poetry is more than rhyming - I think sometimes we forget that. Thanks for reading.

      Jodah - the rejections are part of being a writer. When I was trying to get my poems published I had piles of them in a folder, but now of course, they're mostly just generic emails. Still, it's all part of the process. Keep writing.

      Alicia - thanks for reading, I really appreciate your support.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love your poems, Colin. I can see why they were accepted for publication. Thanks for sharing them and for creating a very interesting hub.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful hub Colin, congratulations on having four poems published, that's more than many aspiring poets ever do. I'm determined to be a famous poet one day..hopefully before I die. At least I can say I tried (and have the rejection slips..emails.. To prove it). Voted up.

    • Rakim Cheeks profile image

      Rakim Cheeks 2 years ago

      This was a really great hub. I think we all need to have a input on words. Remember, poetry is more than rhyming. It's about truth and meaning. Great job!

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Bill, your comments and your support are much appreciated, as always.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      If you love words it seems to me that you have all the bases covered....we begin with desire....then talent...then hard work...and who knows, maybe some day, someone will actually read our work. :) All I know is I like your poems. That's enough for me.