Part of my poetry practice last year and this year was reading more poetry and reading more about poetry. Peter Sansom is a noted English poet and teacher of poetry. His Writing Poems was published in the mid nineties, making this book 20 years old and you may well question the relevance of a text two decades out of date.
Thankfully, much of what Sansom has to say is relevant to an emerging poet today. It’s relevance and applicability no doubt contributed to Bloodaxe Books decision to create it in ebook from in 2011.
Writing Poems is approachable, conversational in tone; a read enjoyable outside the information and opinion it attempts to pass on. How relevant it is to the poet seeking to refine their craft will depend on individual experience. I found the first three chapters full of timely reminders for myself, the later chapters on forms less relevant - the information here is widely available, though Sansom’s observations are entertaining and informative.
Looking back over the table of contents Writing Poems seems to break into two parts. The first half deals with why we write poetry and how we should approach the writing of poetry, the later part focuses on mechanics.
What I take away from the work is a focus on discernment, increasing my own experience through reading and writing - building a sense of knowing what might be good about my own work. Building the capability to recognise whether a poem is being knocked back from publication because it doesn’t fit, or because the poem is lacking.
The information on the technical aspects of both form poetry and free verse are helpful, though I still find Stephen Fry’s Ode Less Travelled the best text I have read for getting iambic pentameter drumming in your ear.
Could a beginner pick this up and enjoy it? Yes I think so, the tone is approachable and the technical details supported by a variety of modern examples. I also think there’s a good deal of value for those, like myself who have had some small success and struggle with refining their work and producing something of more lasting value.
I borrowed my copy from the SA Library but you can purchase both the paperback and ebook through Booktopia.