I love writing poetry but I do it in My Style. I’ve never been particularly knowledgeable about the theory of poetry. I can’t tell my terza rima from my quatrain, so recently I decided to do something about it. I bought a copy of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. I have to confess to being a Stephen Fry fan and this book is written as if he’s sitting there talking to me, so I happily launched myself into the first few chapters, and ploughed through his many and varied exercises that he kept insisting I complete. The annoying thing was that nothing inspiring fell onto the page. It was no good. I couldn’t write poetry to a formula and I put Stephen and his vast literary knowledge onto my bookshelf so that I could return to writing in My Style.
So what is My Style? It’s whatever sounds right. I count the metre but I don’t stick rigidly to it. A rhyme or half-rhyme makes it a more satisfying piece of work for me but I’m not obsessive about it. The interesting thing is that if I play around and change a line to improve the metre or rhyme, the altered version is always, without fail, a great improvement on the original. And as soon as I drop a precious phrase that’s holding me up I have a much stronger piece of writing. Sometimes the original idea for the poem disappears completely and I’m making statements that I didn’t expect to make.
This poem started out as a description of an old rotting door and ended up as:
Do you wonder what’s behind front doors
While wishing for a life that isn't yours?
Do you look at neighbours with regret?
You think you want to live their life and yet...
I bet those neighbours often look at you.
I bet they envy everything you do.
They’d love to have the life they think is yours.
So many things can hide behind front doors.
The idea for Front Doors must have been in my head somewhere but I certainly hadn’t planned to write about that. I don’t know how or why this happens but for me it’s one of the most satisfying things about being a writer.