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Advice to a poet, and a curious birthday thing

Q: Who are these poets and what do they (almost) have in common?


(Answers below…)

Advice lines

Recently I came across this delightful and very relevant piece on the Poetry Ireland website:

Advice to a Poet – words of wisdom from Maurice Harmon, critic, biographer, editor, literary historian and poet.

Even the title has an authoritative feel! But this is no harangue. When I read it I’m picturing a kind but firm teacher, one who challenges but encourages at the same time. So many good thinking points (‘All forms of laziness are fatal in poetry’ ….’You must, and will, find your own way of saying’ … ‘Poetry is above all a way of telling the truth’…’Does it make a difference?’)  I don’t know about you but I have to read essays like this on a regular basis, to remind myself what the hell I’m supposed to be doing, because it is so, so easy to stray down those lazy byways or lose sight of the reasons I’m trying to write poetry.

Advice comes in many forms of course and sometimes poets don’t even know they’re giving it. One of the things I like about Rattle magazine is the regular poet interview at the back, and I’m just at the section of the Eavan Boland Sourcebook where we get to read interviews with her. There are always gems to be found in these chats, I think; there’s something both voyeuristic and educational about hearing what a poet has to say about their working methods, inspirations and general thoughts about what gives.

On a somewhat drier note, in the spirit of starting my ‘literary education’ from the beginning, I’m also reading Aristotle’s Poetics, translated by Anthony Kenny (Oxford World’s Classics edition 2013), although I’ve learned quite quickly that it’s actually about tragedy and ‘the epic’ rather than lyric poetry, which doesn’t get a look in. Aristotle rather slyly suggests early on that he’s going to come to ‘comedy’ in due course. And then he doesn’t. What a tease.

Calling all poets with late-October birthdays

I’m fast approaching a ‘landmark’ birthday, and I’m reminded that I share it (the date, not the year) with fine poet Sarah Howe (above right). So just for fun I got researching poet birthdays to see who else is in this 29th October club. According to his family at the time, John Keats was born on October 29th, although official records list it as 31st. Killjoys! Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke only just missed out – she was born on 27th October, as was Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. So, if you, or any poets you know of, were born on October 29th (or let’s say 2 days either side, although that’s not quite the ticket) do let me know and we’ll sort out a club logo or secret handshake or something. (When handshakes are allowed again, of course.)

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Robin Houghton 2021