Pilot 2018: A Guide for Writers (2017)

Karen Bateman, ed.: Pilot 2018: A Guide for Writers (2017)

Starting (and Stopping) a Poem

I find it almost impossible to start writing a poem. Some of my friends tell me that they sit down and begin doodling on a piece of paper until a few words start to hang together, and then, before they know it, they have a poem!

It doesn’t work like that for me at all. I have to hear a phrase sounding over and over again in my head. When it really begins to nag at me, I try to write it down.

I once went to a poetry workshop by the South Island poet Brian Turner, where he told us always to try and pursue the poem for a few lines past where we thought it should end, just in case. This advice has served me well.

On the other hand, it’s equally hard to stop writing a poem. Paul Valéry once said, “a poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” There’s a lot in that. It’s tempting to think that your piece is good to go after you’ve read through it and tweaked it a few times, but I find that it’s best to do so again and again, at intervals of days and weeks and even months, before you can feel reasonably certain it’s giving all it’s got to give.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. If your first draft sounds like illiterate dreck – as mine almost always do – so what? You have to start somewhere, but that somewhere can be a long country mile from the finished product, some hours (or days, or years) down the track. But isn’t that the fun of the thing?


Karen Bateman et al., ed. Pilot 2018: A Diary for Writers. Melbourne & South Gippsland: Pilot Press, 2018. 12 [available at:].

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