Top positive review
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Practical and inspiring
on 25 January 2004
Writing poems - it's a great title. Deceptively plain, it carries many possible meanings, most of which Sansom slings out before he starts.
From the back cover on, he makes it clear that he won't be telling us what kind of poems to write or how to write them. Instead he's offering something much more valuable - why to write poems and how to write them better.
Quite a chunk of the book examines the techniques of some well-chosen poets, making it almost as much about reading poems as writing them. This makes a lot of sense, given Sansom's strong belief that close reading must come before writing. Using the work of poets from John Keats to Carol Ann Duffy, he shows us in detail why they write poems so well.
He then takes us very readably through the formal forms, with endearingly opinionated opinions on them all, along with some good solid definitions of the spondees, dactyls and pentameters that can be so unnerving. He offers sound advice on choosing titles and explains just why we need to be careful of dangerous poetry words like shard.
There's a few writing exercises and games as well, though Sansom disconcertingly seems to think that we're going to be leading students through these, rather than using them ourselves. Evidently this is a book about teaching other people to write poems too.
Sansom repeats more than once that the poet should show rather than tell, persuade rather than insist. But since he's writing prose here, I guess it's okay that he playfully goes on to do quite a bit of insisting anyway.
For a start, he's pretty insistent on the value of the small magazines and marginal publishing that have done so much for today's poets, poetry and poetry readers. Well, true enough, and the question of where your poems might go once you've written them is certainly treated here in a more thought-provoking way than in the usual tedious cut and paste jobs straight from last year's Writers and Artists Yearbook.
Sansom is just as insistent on the importance of writing authentically - surely the most basic requirement for a poet and yet often so elusive. I found him particularly helpful on this point, though a bit surprised by his choice of poem to illustrate it.
The tone of Sansom's list of whose poems to read, and why, goes a little beyond the persuasive too. Fine by me - it's a very personal list and that makes it all the easier to trust.
There's no real shortage of people writing about writing. Unlike a lot of them, Peter Sansom is an accomplished poet with a track record of helping many others get there too. Hardly surprising then that his contribution is so practical and inspiring.