When The Words Won’t Come.

Writer’s Block can be brutal, but agonising over it is only going to make things worse.

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There are times in every writer’s life when the words just won’t come. Sometimes that lasts an hour. Sometimes it lasts weeks, or months. It’s certainly frustrating, but I refuse to stress over it. 2018-04-19 17.51.23

I’ve been in a “writing dry patch” over the past couple of months. For a while, there was nothing happening: the only thing I was writing was note after note full of ideas. I don’t know why I couldn’t write anything. I just couldn’t.

That came as something of a shock after last year which, although turbulent, painful and draining on both personal and emotional levels, was also incredibly productive. Three books of poetry, two of mild horror, and two fairy tale novellas in an anthology in a year is impressive for someone who teaches high school and needs to sleep occasionally. In one sense, it’s no wonder I ran out of steam. I’m only human, after all.

It was poetry that recently broke the drought for me. In fact, it usually is. Ironically, it was local tragedy in the form of wildfires around my home town on St Patrick’s Day that got the words flowing again. Since the middle of March, I’ve written some poems that I’m really happy with, and I have some others started.

I have so many stories I want to write, but now just doesn’t seem to be the time for that, so I’m saving the notes and plans and outlines until it happens naturally. I know it will. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

In all honesty, my mind is tired. Today at work, I struggled to remember the word for “chair”– and I was in a classroom, surrounded by at least 25 of them at the time! If I forced myself to write those stories now, they’d be rubbish.

So, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to give my mind and my spirit time to rest, and not worry about all the things I want to write, or feel I should be writing. I’m certainly not going to churn out a bunch of garbage and try to persuade people that it’s “art”. I’m happy to wait, and I think my readers will prefer that, too.

Hopefully in the meantime I’ll be able to write a few more good poems.

Songs and Poetry

Songs and Poetry: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

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In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.

There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.

While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.

While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.

Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.

This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)

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This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.

The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.

As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.

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It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.

When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.

I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.

After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.


‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

 

 

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When Life Gets Out Of Control, I Write Poetry.

What makes an introverted poet breathe fire?

Two weeks ago, I had finished an incredibly busy first term at school and was looking forward to a well-earned break for a couple of weeks.
When people asked me, “Are you doing anything for the holidays?” I gave them my standard answer: “As little as possible.”
You’d think I’d learn not to tempt fate like that, but apparently not.

Family came to stay, visitors called in, things happened. I just needed to rest… but when was that ever going to happen? I wanted to write, but there was no time for that, either. I began to feel as though life was out of control.

And then, I started to get angry. It wasn’t directed at anyone or anything in particular – instead, it was a rumbling discontent within me. As the only introvert in a house full of rampant extroverts, I felt misunderstood and somewhat neglected.

One afternoon, my house fell quiet for a few moments. I sat in the comfy chair in my study with a book, took a deep breath, and before I knew it, I had dozed off.  It didn’t last long.

I woke up to a barrage of sound from the football blaring on the TV in the adjoining room, people talking loudly to be heard over it, and others talking loudly with a phone on “speaker” mode. They could have gone to another room. They could have closed my study doors and left me there in peace. But they didn’t.

That was when this poem erupted from within me.

The imagery of a dragon is not accidental: I wanted to incinerate them them all, or at least toss them around a bit with my tail. Knowing that I couldn’t breathe fire on them all like I wanted to – they are family, after all – I escaped to my bedroom, closed the door, closed the drapes, and promised myself that whoever dared to knock on that door— or, heaven forbid, walk through it— and interrupt me again definitely had it coming. Then, as I generally do, I unloaded my feelings in the most therapeutic way I know: angry poetry.

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It doesn’t tell the complete story. It’s really just a brief glimpse of a scene, but it reveals enough for the reader to understand. And I’m sure every exhausted teacher or parent, every person who is exhausted by constant demands, and every introvert who reads it will totally get it.

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Friday the 13th and Other Curious Things.

If someone were to give me a hard time, I’d want Friday on my side.

As you’re probably already aware, today is Friday the 13th.
For many, superstition is just old-fashioned silliness. Others set very strong store in superstitions, old wives tales, and various other traditions.
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My affection for Friday 13th is different than mere superstition. I wrote Friday’s first story for Friday the 13th back in October last year. When I wrote what I thought was going to be a single piece of flash fiction, I had no idea how that cat was going to take over. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if I actually created him at all.

Between Friday 13th of October and Halloween last year, Friday demanded that thirteen stories be told. He’s a typical insistent cat in that sense… he just kept showing up and swatting my creative juju with his paw until I agreed to do his bidding. He has similarly demanded since then that his stories of Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and Valentine’s Day be told. And then, out of the blue, he whispered to me, “Tomorrow’s Friday the 13th. You should put Curious Things on sale for 99c.”

I’m really very fond of Friday. He’s a magnificent black cat with a lucky habit of being present when curious things take place.
He’s highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and devilishly handsome.
And I have to tell you– if someone were to give me a hard time, I’d want Friday on my side.

Promo Curious Things Cover
Curious Things delivers thirteen stories of people encountering justice for their wrongdoings, all as Friday watches on. Is he responsible? Or is it just lucky coincidence that he is present when these strange events take place?

If you’ve ever wished for karma to move a little faster, indulged in uncharitable thoughts about certain annoying people, or suspected that having a black cat cross your path was not quite as unlucky as people seem to think, this book is for you.

The book is full of dark humour, macabre events and mild-to-medium intensity horror, but it’s not just splatter for splatter’s sake. It’s really all about poetic justice and people getting what’s coming to them, via a very special feline.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. As the author, I’m clearly biased.
So, as a means of reassuring you, here’s what some of the reviewers on Amazon have said:

” Vengeance may be sweet—but, meting out justice vigilante-style just isn’t practical. Then along comes Friday, a black cat whose intelligence and curiosity gets the better of those who deserve their just desserts. Obvious or implied, Friday shows up where the wrath of Biblical justice is called for. And, it’s so gratifying to watch the gruesome details unfold!” – Reviewer

“I really like this book’s blend of dark humour and horror – that really appeals to me. I liked the way the author made each story about something different, and that the things that happened to the bad guys were all different to what happened to the others. The horror bits were good enough to make my skin crawl and give me a shudder, which is what I love in a spooky book. I really like Friday because he’s such a typical cat, but you also realise that he’s something more than that, too.
Don’t start reading this book thinking it’s just a story about a nice kitty. Read it because you want to see his dark side.” – Reviewer

“13 awesome stories with 13 lessons to think about. I adore the cat, Friday. I reckon if I had Friday in my life, I would feel way safer. This cat is like Karma on four legs.” – Reviewer

” A lovely collection of tales, overseen by a cat who defends his person with almighty power.
A little gory, and a lot killy!” – Reviewer

Curious Things is available on Amazon and in all other major digital stores.

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Even if horror isn’t your “thing”, some of my author friends have their books in Book Squirrel’s Friday 13th 99c sale today, too.
Why not pop over and check them out?

The Poet’s Insights: ‘The Artist’

The poet tells the story behind her poem, ‘The Artist’.

‘The Artist’ is one of my favourite poems from ‘Leaf’, my first published book of poetry.

 

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The inspiration for this poem came from my long-time friend Nicky, who is an gifted artist.
Nicky was one of the people who really pushed me to pursue publication of my poetry. She is an infinite source of encouragement and support, but more than that, she is a loyal and constant friend and confidant.

I should preface this story by pointing out that I’ve never been good at drawing or painting. My grandfather was an artist. My sister once painted a brilliant life-size portrait of Charlie Chaplin that covered her bedroom door for years. My mother could draw animals, people, and groovy designs with a ball point pen and make them look fantastic.

And then, there’s me. The only thing I can draw is cash from an ATM, and the occasional stick figure.

One day, Nicky showed me one of her beautiful paintings, which she had just completed. I gazed at it for a while, and sighed,”I wished I could do that.”

The Artists Plain

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You do. You just do it with words.”

That came as a real revelation to me. At that point in my life, I just wrote poetry for myself, and shared the ones I liked with a couple of friends. I didn’t really consider myself a poet as such, nor did I think I’d ever be published.

With those words, she inspired this poem.

The Artist.

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As a poem, I believe it hass integrity. It feels and sounds good when reading it aloud, and the rhythm works well with the ideas of making brush strokes and splashing a bit of paint around. At the end, it’s a reflection of that moment when the artist stands back and is surprised by what she finds on the easel in front of her.

The artist in the poem is definitely me. Like the artworks in the poem, some of my writing is vivid and colourful, while other pieces are dark and tear-smudged. Even a poem that appears to be fictional, like ‘Misery’ – which has been included in a fairy tale anthology! – is deeply rooted in my own reality.

I have very great affection for ‘The Artist’ for the truth it tells about my own experience as a poet, but I also love the fact that it will always be about my friendship with Nicky, too. Without her inspiration and encouragement, I might still just have a bunch of notebooks full of poems that nobody else would ever read.

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I first told ‘The Artist’s story when Nicky spoke at my book launch for ‘Leaf’ in June, 2016. Completely unaware of the story behind the poem or the fact that she had inspired it, Nicky chose ‘The Artist’ as the poem she would like to read to the guests. When she finished her reading and speech, I followed with the account of the poem’s inspiration. It was a beautiful moment in time that highlighted the wonderful thing that we share in our friendship.

 

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I hope you enjoyed ‘The Artist’ and the story behind it. If you appreciated this post, please click “like” below so that others find it more easily. You’re also welcome to leave a comment.
Thank you in advance.

 

Writing What I Know.

One of the simplest pieces of advice given to writers is to “write what you know”.

One of the simplest pieces of advice that is given to writers, especially those just starting out, is to “write what you know”.2018-04-08 18.10.55

It’s good advice.
It doesn’t take long, though, before it gets more complicated: it’s what you do with it after the first draft that makes any piece of writing effective and powerful.

While I don’t have any personal experience of unicorns or magical black cats— yes, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?— my poetry is full of what I know. Every poem is inspired by real-life experience, either mine or that of someone close to me, or my own observations of other people and their actions. Even those poems that appear to be fictional are grounded in personal truth.

For this reason, there really isn’t anything that I won’t write about.
Grief. Fear. Joy. Sadness. Depression. Temptation. Despair. Determination. Anger.
It’s all there.

Writing poetry is the most effective therapy that I have ever experienced. At different times in my life, I’ve sat through grief counselling, infertility counselling, and therapy sessions to help with my depression. Each was worthwhile in its own way but, for me, none of that has come close to the healing power of ink on paper, working through ideas, shaping and crafting meaning with the words I choose, so that I can express my thoughts and feelings effectively.

Late last week, for example, I found myself confronted by the actions of a particular individual whom I had not seen for some time. Churning inside with revulsion and anger, I knew I was not ready to get into the car and drive home in that state, so I went and found a place where I could think and write and start to deal with both the new knowledge and the way it made me feel.

I didn’t write one poem. I started several, and have made progress on three. Only one is finished- at least, I think it is. It doesn’t identify anyone, nor is the finished poem specific to only my situation, but it leaves the reader in no doubt whatsoever about how I feel. It’s a poem that is entirely relatable for anyone who finds themselves horrified by the unsavoury actions and/or evil intentions of another.

My hope in publishing it is that, if someone in a similar situation to mine should read it, they will know they’re not alone in their feelings. There is, after all, solidarity in numbers.

Evil

I haven’t decided whether or not ‘Evil’ will make it into a future collection for a book.
I do know that I felt a great deal better when I had written it than before I started. And really, that was the whole point.

If you’d like to read more of my poems, there are a number of them published on WordyNerdBird Writes.

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

If you appreciated this post, or the poem included, please like the post by clicking the button below, or leave a comment. All constructive feedback is welcome. 

Why You Should Support Your Local Independent Book Store.

Supporting local businesses is vital. It should be a straightforward choice.

Yesterday was somewhat traumatic. Having confronted a face from the past that I’d really rather not ever see again, I was left with time on my hands and too much on my mind. So I defaulted to my usual sanctuary – books. I didn’t have my device with me, so I headed to my favourite book store to find something to read. My need for ink on paper and a pretty, nicely textured cover in my hands was just too strong.

It’s a luxury, you know, having a local bookshop. The town in which I live doesn’t have one, but the larger town in which I work has two, as well as a fantastic place that sells second hand and antique books.  2018-04-06 12.01.50

For me, the choice is simple. I will always support locally owned, independent businesses rather than larger chains or big department stores.

As an Indie author, I know how hard it is to compete against the bigger fish that swim in the same pond. Among other advantages, traditionally published authors have someone else’s marketing budget on their side, along with a team of people to help them get their books in front of readers.

It’s actually not a lot different for independently owned shops, whether they sell books or anything else. Consider for a moment what they have to compete with: not just the huge online companies that control the world of desktop shopping, but also those local shops owned by large commercial chains which, while they may have a local presence, are generally not owned by anyone who lives down the street from you or whose kids go to the same school as yours. The owner of that local store has to pay the rent and insurance, stock the shop, pay employees, and make a living in an increasingly difficult and competitive marketplace.

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That’s why I buy my physical books at an independent store rather than from a book retail chain, or a big department store. The price for the same book is no different, but I know that I’m helping to put food on the table of a local family, or helping them to pay the neighbourhood mechanic for fixing the family car. My $30 probably won’t make much of a difference at all to an international company, but it makes a huge difference to an individual business owner.

2018-04-07 09.49.15I admit that the local store doesn’t have everything I want. I like to read some fairly specialised history, and I completely understand why they don’t usually stock that: I’m more nerdy about my history than most of the population. I can handle shopping further afield for that if I have to – but if I ask them to order a particular history book for me, they will.

They do, however, have a large range of children’s books, teen and young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies, and new releases.

They also have a great selection of books written by local authors, whom they happily and actively support and promote.

Did the local book chain store agree when I asked them to stock my books on their shelves? No, they did not.

My local independent store not only agreed, but went way beyond that: they not only stock and display all of my books, they actually organised and hosted my first book launch.

They  also host regular events at which local authors are welcome to meet and greet readers, sign books, and give readings from their work. That kind of support is pure gold to an author.

If we don’t support our local businesses, we will lose them. We will be left with fewer options, poorer service, and towns and communities that no longer prosper and thrive the way they once did.

It’s not really such a difficult choice, is it?

Writing About Family and Friends.

Authors: keep your writing from causing problems with your family and friends.

Writing about family can be fraught with danger. The last thing you want to do as a writer is offend or alienate your family, especially if things are already fragile in some way.

 

That poses a challenge: what happens when there’s something you desperately want to write about? For starters, writers should know to always, always change names and details.  If possible, don’t mention names at all. Even when writing about positive feelings or experiences, people who aren’t used to putting themselves out into the public eye might hesitate to have something written about them and published. A great idea for a story or poem should never be pursued at the cost of an important relationship.

 

When I do write something about friends or family, I make sure they’ve seen it first, and I tell them I’m going to publish it. That way, they can’t say they didn’t know.

 

For example, I recently wrote a poem after two completely separate events: one was the wedding of my nephew, the other was a conversation with a friend who had recently lost her own nephew in tragic circumstances.  The poem, titled My Child, does not mention anyone by name, nor does it mention those particular situations. It is an expression of my feelings – and my friend’s feelings – for those whom we have loved, held, and helped to raise.  This is what I sent to “my children” and to my friend, well over a week before I posted it. That same text is what I posted on my writing blog where I published the poem today. Poem My Child

 

The other alternative, of course, if you feel you must write about something or someone, is to disguise the situation and details enough so they don’t know it’s about them. I’ve written plenty of poems about broken friendships, people in my life who have been determined to cause me trouble, and others who really deserve some special treatment from Karma, but it’s always been presented as me facing an invisible, unnamed challenger or enemy… or a certain black cat named Friday who metes out justice to people who really deserve it. It is not possible for anyone to identify who I was writing about at the time, and that’s a very good thing.

As a writer, it’s important to protect oneself. The last thing you want is something coming back to haunt you.

 

And if you’re a friend or family member of a writer,  remember that age old piece of advice: Never annoy a writer, or they might put you in a book and kill you. It’s true. 

 

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One Poet’s Approach to Writing Poetry

Today, I’d like to share with you my own approach to writing poetry.

If you’re not really a poetry reader, it may reassure you to know that it’s not always super-formal language and words that are hard to understand.  Sometimes it is- especially if you’re approaching poetry written a hundred  or more  years ago. In my mind, though, making it so elegant and clever that people are resistant to it or almost afraid of it really defeats the purpose. I want the reader to connect with what I’m saying, not feel like I’m some self-important hyper-intellectual with an overactive sense of rhyme.

 

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It’s also helpful to understand that there are different types of poetry. Some types, like sonnets, are formal in structure and rhyme pattern, and a poet really has to stick to those rules.  Haiku is said to be one of the most popular types of poetry in the world at the moment, and while it seems quite simple, it still has formal rules that have to be followed. Other types, like free verse, is much more liberated and often easier to understand because those same rules don’t apply.

Some people these days insist that poems shouldn’t rhyme at all – to that, I say– possibly rather loudly and perhaps quite rudely – “Poppycock!”. There is nothing wrong with using rhyme, or any other tool in the poet’s toolbox, as long as meaning is not sacrificed for the sake of making that device work. I write poetry that rhymes, but I also write poetry that doesn’t.

I don’t aim for things to sound pretty and sing-song, or to rhyme neatly, but I do try to use language that sounds beautiful when its read. The important thing is to choose words, and language styles and poetic techniques that suit my subject and deliver the meaning the way I want it to be understood.

I aim for my ideas and feelings to be communicated in a way that makes someone stop and think, and maybe see something or someone in a new way.

Sometimes my writing helps me – and other people – make sense of what’s going on in my head or in my life. It’s the best therapy, because I get to explore and deal with my thoughts and feelings as I work with the ideas, and I always have an outlet to say what’s on my heart and mind.

And sometimes I write poems because it’s the only way I can find to say what other people are afraid to say. I’m happy to provide a voice for others, and I’m always keen to have my readers see situations or experiences from different perspectives.

Let me give you an example. One of my favourite poems among those I’ve written is the one titled ‘Nocturne’. Try reading it aloud, not worrying about the rhythm but just letting the language carry you along.

promo nova nocturne poem

When reading it, you’ll see that it rhymes,  and the lines are of similar length when read aloud. This enabled me to achieve a musical type of rhythm in the words, which suits the idea of a nocturne, given that that’s the name of a piece of music written to be played or listened to at night – which is also when the poem is also set at night, for which the idea of a nocturne is also really appropriate. Despite all of that, it’s still quite plain in its meaning.

I’d love to know what you think of it, so feel free to leave a comment below.

You’re also welcome to jump over to WordyNerdBird Writes and read some of my other poems and stories.

April is National — or, more correctly, International Poetry Month.

Poetry Month is a great opportunity to enjoy great poetry.

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National Poetry Month started as a national celebration in the US back in 1996 as an initiative of the Academy of American Poets but has become something that is celebrated more and more internationally, with not just publishers but bookstores, schools, libraries, and poets themselves joining in the celebrations. As you know, I’m a poet, so I’m absolutely in favour of all of that.

As the month progresses, I’ll be sharing some of my poems with a bit of context about why they were written and how I went about crafting my initial idea into a poem that delivered the message I wanted to put out there.  I’ll also be sharing some of my favourite poems that I’ve loved for a long time, and introducing you to some new poets that you may not yet have heard of.

If you’re not into poetry, don’t worry – my blog posts won’t be exclusively poetry related. I hope to share some more insights about writing and social media for authors, too.

To encourage you to get involved in small ways, I have compiled a list of ten ways in which you can celebrate Poetry Month this April. Choose one, or choose all– it’s up to you.

  1. Read a poem that is new to you.
  2. Memorise a poem, or part of one.
  3. Support a poet by following their blogs or websites. Follow my blogs – here and at WordyNerdBird Writes where you can read my new writing, including recent poems and one or two from each of my books.
  4. Support a poet on social media by following and sharing their posts. I’ll be posting some more suggestions in the coming week about where you might like to start, but for now, my social media links are at the bottom of the post!
  5. Support a poet by buying a book of poetry. I’ll be posting some suggestions in a day or two, but you can check out last year’s suggestions here! They’re all really good.
  6. Participate in the Dear Poet project, even if just by enjoying the fantastic videos on the website.
  7. Subscribe to Poem-A-Day, where you will receive a brand new poem  and some insights from the poet each day.
  8. Put the National Poetry Month poster image on your social media, website, notice board, shop window or anywhere else you think it might make a good impression.
  9. Write your own poem for someone special.
  10. Listen carefully to songs on the radio. You might be surprised how many of them are poetry set to music.

 

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