Why can’t I write poetry any more ?

I wish I knew. Writing poetry has been a central part of my life since…well…my early teens. There have been ups and downs in the past – intervals when nothing much has come up- but for the past eighteen months I’ve been writing like a runaway freight train. Except that I’ve just crashed into the buffers..

I love the process of writing more than I can say. I pick up a line, an idea, and I spend a few days rolling it round my mouth. Larkin said that “ if it doesn’t sing, then it isn’t poetry,” so I wait until it sounds right in my mind. Then I write it down.

Then I write it down again, and again. I play around with it until a second line floats into my mind, and I start reconciling the two. Before I know it I’m playing with rhyme and rhythm and ambiguity, balancing one idea with another, testing all the time for cliche or mawkishness. As soon as I start to flag, I put it away.

The following day I start again, revising, altering, adding. I’m playing with the best Lego set ever invented. Look at me, Ma ! I’m building !

And yet there is no certainty until I’ve finished. The danger point is half way through when I suddenly think “ This is rubbish I can’t finish this !” It’s real fear I’m feeling here- and real relief when I find a way through the maze.

I know when it’s finished. If it isn’t finished I stick it in the file called “ Oddments” and swear to return to it one day. I never do.

For a couple of days I bask in my own brilliance, taking the poem out now and then to reassure myself is saying what I want it to say. And then I take a break. A week or ten days or so- and then I start looking for the next poem.

I’ve been looking for three months now and there’s nothing there. I’ve tried forcing myself to write – about anything. I tried to write poem about cleaning shoes ! Can you imagine !
I came up with four lines which shamed me by their pretentiousness.

I’ve tried writing prompts. Gimme a break ! I do not want to write poetry about “ A tropical Island” or “ A time I was scared.”

I’ve tried listening to music, looking at pictures, reading other poets ( I’ve used them before.) I’m looking for something shiny to pick up and there’s nothing there but sand.

Don’t talk to me about my Inner Critic either. You need an inner critic, and I’ve got one. I keep him chained to my chair and he’s only allowed to suggest improvements. He doesn’t have a power of veto.

I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t know what to do next. I’ve shut off the poetry switch and I’ve read- everything from “ Mapp and Lucia” to John le Carre. I still enjoy my reading, thank God, but it hasn’t helped me get back to my real joy – which is writing.

I’ve had plenty of rejections, including a big one which rocked me back on my heels for a couple of days – but that isn’t it. I believe in the stuff I write. I’m not going to pick up my bat and ball and run off home in a sulk. And it was the kindest rejection letter I’ve ever had.

I WANT to write. I just can’t.

Come on then, fellowship of the internet, help me out here. Do I keep sifting through the sand in the hope of finding a gold nugget ? Do I award myself a sabbatical from poetry ?

Help me.



I’m stuck. Haven’t written anything worth spit since before Christmas. I’ve got ideas, but when I write something down, I’m appalled  at its banality. In the middle six months of last year I wrote 46 respectable poems. I’ve looked back at them time and time again, looking for faults, and even the worst is good to fair. They’re all worth keeping.

But at the moment- nothing. I usually come up with a first line that has promise. I spend a couple of days rolling it round my tongue, trying it out- and then I put it down on paper. That’s where the fun begins. Writing a poem is like solving a crossword- only you have to invent the clues and the answers at the same time. You have to shuffle words around, lines around.  If you’re really lucky you come across rhymes you didn’t expect, a clever image that pops up out of nowhere. You’re in the zone. It’s almost as though the poem is writing you.

I’ve got an idea- I’m not telling you what it is- that might pop the balloon- but it won’t come out of hiding. It’s lurking there, in the shadows, and I can’t quite make out the shape.

Still, I’m not the only one with this problem. Alexander Pope ( a poet I respect rather than like) said ” I have been lying in wait for my imagination all week”- and he produced some quite respectable stuff in the end.

I’m going out to walk the dog, then I’m meeting my Swedish friend for lunch, and we shall talk about why England is such an odd place, and why  the Swedes are better at dealing with snow, and how to take better photographs.