Writer or Poet?

I note that my website currently declares me as a writer of sonnets, and that whilst this was an early admission that perhaps I could not yet justify calling myself “a poet”, there was some deft logic behind it. This blog series is about sonnets. Many of the poems I write are guided by this form, roughly 80% overall, but less, only half, in the past six months. Therefore, I am not really an exclusive writer of sonnets but of many forms including sonnets.

A workshop tutor, who also teaches creative writing, recently said that writing in form is an excellent means of learning the craft, and in retrospect I feel this to be true. Not only have my sonnets improved as I have practised and experimented with variations on the form, and by so doing learning new techniques, but this experience has bled through to the poems I write in other forms: villanelles, pantoums, rondels, sestinas, free verse and recently decimas. Many of these have achieved recognition through competition placings or being published. I can only assume I’m on the right track.

Moreover, sometimes the form helps you write. It may guide you along paths you might otherwise not have taken. The obligation to find slant or full rhymes can also have this effect. So, a writer of sonnets is an unnecessary qualification. Form is just one aspect of the craft.

But should I call myself a writer? I have just completed Stephen King’s celebrated autobiography and writing treatise called On Writing [1], now in its twentieth-anniversary edition, and it has struck me how similar many of the approaches in writing novels are to writing poetry.  Admittedly, these are his personal techniques, but time and time again others have commented on these similarities. Indeed, many writers profess to writing poetry as well as fiction and may modulate between them during their careers. Margaret Atwood is a notable example. I once used to attempt short stories, and they are now all safely in the waste bin, but I still can see the parallels with the creation of poetry.

The process of drafting, editing and socialising; the elements of situation, description, and narrative; diction and dialogue – all these pertain to both poetry and novels although in different proportions. Perhaps description dominates a little more in poetry, but the end result is still that magical draft where it all coheres and takes on a life of its own.

Stephen King also emphasises the need to learn from the works of past writers, then find your own voice. This is true of poetry too, where reading poems across the whole tradition and especially contemporary works is very important to inform your own style.

With a recent trend of writing across several forms and styles and my works appearing in literary journals like Orbis, Acumen and others, whilst I could still use the epithet “writer of sonnets” or “sonneteer”, I should opt now for the clearer appellation of poet? I shall give it some further consideration. The take-way points this month:

  • Similar process between that for fiction writing and poetry
  • Poets should learn by writing in established forms first
  • Learn from the works of past writers, then find your own voice.

[1] “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”, Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., ISBN 978-1-444-72325-0.

Writer or Poet - Titled

One thought on “Writer or Poet?

  1. I read this through from beginning to end. Such a good article, if I can
    call it that. Have you thought of taking it to a writers’ magazine for
    publication. It is interesting, thoughtful and informative and I think
    others would like to read it, not just those who find your website.

    Good luck with that.


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