How to be a Poet

‘Being a poet’ isn’t about knowing how many lines there are in a pantoum, or getting published in Poetry Review. It’s a way of seeing, and you can learn it.—Jo Bell, How to be a Poet

I’m really enjoying this book. I think mostly because it focuses on the practicalities of being a poet, of seeing life through that lense, rather than the mechanics of poetry (which are important, of course, but covered by countless other books):

What we wanted to do here is to give you a kind of handbook for the poetry life; not how to write poems, but how to be a poet in twenty-first century culture.

But also, it’s engaging, and the chapters are short (written by multiple authors), so it’s an easy and enjoyable read. Highly recommended so far!


Update (15/5/18): As I’ve gotten further into the book, I’ve noticed a number of distracting/annoying typos and errors (subject-verb disagreement, extra words, unnecessary commas, etc.)—particularly in the chapter ‘How to start a poem’, but others too. I think it could have done with another editing pass. I’m also finding some of the writers more engaging than others. Having said that, it’s clear the writers know what they’re talking about, and I’m gaining a lot through reading the book. I’d definitely still recommend it.

What makes you a poet?

In some people’s minds, I’m probably not qualified to say this, but I’ve been reading, writing, and creating (in one form or another) long enough to have formed an opinion, so here it is:

If you love poetry, you write it, you care about the craft, and you’re working on it, you’re a poet.

You may write terrible poetry—and I say that knowing I probably sometimes (often?) do—but you’re a poet. As long as you’re actively working on it.

Like you, I’m sometimes intimidated by the greats and the academics, but I won’t let that stop me. I’ve felt the power of poetry, and I believe, like many others do, that it belongs to everyone, not just the elite.

Having said that, you’ll notice I’ve got ‘rookie’ in my tagline. I do respect the years and decades that other poets have put into their craft, so I guess I’m acknowledging that I still have my training wheels on—and may for a while yet. 🙂


For some more perspectives on this subject, read this, especially the comments section: