Poetry Toolkit: Alison Chisholm
Updated: Jan 5
How on earth do you write good poetry? There are a lot of instructive and practical manuals out there to get you motivated and going; but where do you start? An author I particularly like is the poet Alison Chisholm.
Those of you based in the UK may already know her. She has a column in 'Writing Magazine' (titled 'Poetry Workshop') in which she monthly chose reader's poems in order to offer clever analysis, mixing constructive criticisms with sharp insights. In fact, I value her outlook so much that before publishing my own collection -'A Vow'- I decided to send her a few extracts. To my pleasure, she not only accepted to have a look at my work, but she also examined TWO of my poems in the same article, whereas she usually focuses on only one! Yes, I am blowing here my own trumpet (and shamelessly at that!) but that's because 'Love Lines', the article in question, was kind, relevant, useful, and insightful enough to be constructive and make me feel proud. Soooo... There is no reason why YOU should not be able to benefit from her tips too!
Thing is, Alison Chisholm has been doing more than peppering her advices in the bestselling writing magazine in the UK. She also wrote at least two books I find worthwhile when it comes to poetry: 'The Craft of Writing Poetry', and 'A Practical Guide to Poetry Forms'.
It may sound obvious, but poetry is writing, and writing is a craft that requires basic technical knowledges. Imagination is not enough. Vocabulary, rhythm, metre, choosing rhymes or not, editing... All these factors must be assembled together very neatly for a powerful imagery to emerge, and a poem to be formed. 'The Craft of Writing Poetry' constitutes a solid scaffolder to be used when building it all up, 'from the spark of an idea to its final revision.'
Ha! Now I can hear some of you moaning and whinging 'blah blah blah, it's just all about rules'. Well... Duh! Yes, it's about rules (after all, art without rules is just toddler's doodles...) but NOT 'all'. She is not preaching like a boring pen pusher with the mindset of a bureaucrat pussyfooting about techniques. On the contrary, she just reminds the reader of the obvious attitude common sense should dictate: to break rules effectively (should you wish to do so) you must, first, know them thoroughly. Lining words at random just because it looks pretty on the page won't do. Ti dum dee dum^^...
My other manual of choice from the same author is 'A Practical Guide to Poetry Forms'. It's short. It's friendly. It, above all, does exactly what it says on the tin - out of the several hundreds of poetical forms existing out there, Alison Chisholm examines in here the fifty most commons and their variants. She describes them briefly. She hints at what type of contents may suit them best. She is illustrating them each with clear examples. She also offers basic exercises in order to get a grip with them all in a very practical way.
I love it! Here's a compass to help poets in the making sailing confidently right into well-chosen forms. Here's, too, a great map for novice readers to navigate through it all and get a better view of the art.
In a word, Alison Chisholm's books are at the image of her monthly column in 'Writing Magazine' - straightforward, acute, and beneficial. Indeed, unlike too many other textbook guides lecturing and dull to the point of making you feel like slaving through in a galley, 'The Craft of Writing Poetry' and 'A Practical Guide to Poetry Forms' both read like being on a pleasant cruise.
What else to add? Get them... and enjoy the journey!
'Love Lines' (Writing Magazine, February 2019) examined 'A Blossoming' and 'A Name', both poems from 'A Vow - A Collection of Love Poems'. The issue is now sold out, but if you would like your poem to be considered for Writing Magazine/ Poetry Workshop, send it by email to: email@example.com.