A Favourite Poem: ‘The Bells’ by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Bells’ is a magnificent poem that is best read aloud.

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‘The Bells’ is a poem that Poe wrote in the final year of his life, as he battled writer’s block that seemed to have developed with his grief for his wife, who died from tuberculosis. It is highly reflective of the way in which he perceived the changes that happen in one’s life – as one gets older, the ringing of the bells is less about happiness and increasingly about grief and fear. From courtship, to marriage, then grief and despair, and finally one’s own death, each stanza grows darker and longer than the one preceding it. The haunting tone of the final stanzas is powerful and chilling, leaving the reader with a strong sense of impending doom and terror.

For me, this poem also reflects how happy times seem to fly past quickly, while periods of darkness and sorrow seem to linger and to obscure the light of those happier memories and thoughts.

It’s a beautiful thing to quietly read and reflect on the poem, but it is possible to overlook some technical elements of the poetry if one reads it silently. Reading the poem aloud adds another dimension altogether to one’s understanding and experience of the poem.

In each stanza, the bells are made of particular metals that reflect the purpose and symbolism of the bells, but which also have different sounds when they ring in that verse of the poem.
The verbs used by Poe to describe the way in which the bells ring have been purposefully chosen to shape the meaning by controlling the speed and temperament of the reading. Short vowel sounds in “jingling” and “tinkling” are replaced with successively longer vowel sounds that slow the reading down and lower the register of the voice, so that the mood becomes more serious and sombre. By the end, the “moaning and the groaning of the bells” is oppressive and fearful, evoking horror and fear in the reader.

I really enjoy the onomatopoeia – words that sound like their meaning – of the poem as it grows progressively louder and heavier, emphasising and compounding the darkening tone and message of the poem. It is the sounds of the bells that tell us what is going on, as much as the other narrative provided by the poem.

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THE BELLS

I
Hear the sledges with the bells–
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

II
Hear the mellow wedding bells
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

III
Hear the loud alarum bells–
Brazen bells!
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now–now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells–
Of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
In the clamour and the clangour of the bells!

IV
Hear the tolling of the bells–
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy meaning of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people–ah, the people–
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone–
They are neither man nor woman–
They are neither brute nor human–
They are Ghouls:–
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the pæan of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the pæan of the bells–
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells–
Bells, bells, bells–
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

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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.

Leaf 2nd Ed eBook Cover 6x9 350ppi

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.
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Beowulf: A Marvellous Story, Magnificently Told.

Beowulf, a centuries-old epic poem, is a marvellous story, magnificently told.

Beowulf is the oldest poem that we have in an English language. It is a medieval Anglo-Saxon epic poem that tells of the adventures of the hero, a great warrior named Beowulf, who crossed the sea from Sweden and helped the Danes fight the monster Grendel. ‘Beowulf’ is based on an early Germanic tale that relates events which would have happened after the fall of the Roman Empire and before these tribes moved into Britain. It celebrates a culture that glorifies strength, courage, and heroic achievements. These stories were told in verse by poet-singers called scops as a popular form of entertainment.

imagesAfter being passed down as an oral tradition for centuries, Beowulf was written down somewhere between the eighth and tenth centuries in Old English, the language that the Anglo-Saxons spoke in Britain. We don’t know who wrote it, or exactly when or where it was written down, or if the characters in the poem really existed. The single manuscript that still exists was written in two different people’s handwriting. The poem could be one traditional tale, or a combination of a number of folk tales into one great story. There was a Swedish king named Hygelac who died in 521AD, so it is possible that some or all of the characters were based on real people.

Old English is very different to modern English, so the poem has been translated into modern English so that we can still read and understand the poem today.

Perhaps the most distinctive poetic device in Old English poetry is the kenning. A kenning is a short, metaphorical term which describes a thing without using its name. In ‘Beowulf’, the king is referred to as a “ring-giver”, while Beowulf himself is called “Higlac’s follower”. My favourite from ‘Beowulf’ is “whale-road” as a description for the sea– isn’t that magnificent? While we are still very fond of metaphor, I think it’s a shame we don’t make more use of the kenning. Old English poetry was also characterised by strong rhythm and frequent alliteration. This would have helped the scops learn and remember the tale as an oral tradition, and added a musical element to the recitation, as well as making the story pleasant to listen to for the audience.

Beowulf_Manuscript

Modern translations follow the convention of making frequent and consistent use of both kennings and alliteration. This adds a wonderful sensory element to reading the story of Beowulf, which even today is a thrilling read. It delivers elements of adventure, history, heroism, and macabre storytelling.

The poem is way too long to include in this post, but you can find Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, as a safe-to-download PDF at Scribd.
(Note: you do not have to subscribe or accept any trial memberships to get this file.)

There is also a wonderful reading of the poem in contemporary English on Youtube.

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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.

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Lyrics and Poetry: what’s the difference?

Many people don’t realise where the term “lyrics” came from.

In my first post related to National Poetry Month, I issued this challenge: “Listen carefully to songs on the radio. You might be surprised how many of them are poetry set to music. ”

Many people don’t realise that’s where the term “lyrics” came from.

A lyric poem is one that focuses on the feelings and thoughts of the poet, rather than describing something (an ode) or telling a story (a ballad). These poems were often set to music, especially that of a lyre – this is where the term “lyrics” for the words of a song came from. So when people talk about the lyrics of a song, it’s a throwback to the origins of the love song in popular poetry, centuries ago.

That’s the sort of poetic wordy-nerdy-ness that makes me ridiculously happy.

One of the most famous lyric poems in the English language is Wordsworth’s poem that is commonly, and somewhat affectionately, called Daffodils – even though that’s not actually its title. It gets quoted – and misquoted – a lot in films, TV shows and books.

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It’s a beautiful poem that transports the reader’s vision to the field of daffodils, but also transports their thoughts into the reader’s mind to explore how the flowers made him think and feel.

As with all older poems, there are some words in it that don’t really get used much anymore:

  • Jocund means joyful or cheerful.
  • Gay – in the context of this poem – means happy.
    (To clarify further, daffodils are, like most things in the plant kingdom, completely uninterested in one’s sexuality. I like to think that this is probably why they’re happier than many people.)
  • Pensive means thoughtful.

Now that those tricky words are sorted, you should be able to make perfect sense of this beautiful poem.

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

If you’d like to hear a magnificent reading of this poem, I suggest you try the recording by English actress Noma Dumazweni.  The reading by Jeremy Irons is quite nice, too.

 

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Six 21st Century Poets You Should Be Reading.

Six 21st Century Poets and Why You Should Be Reading Them.

I’m the first to admit that I’m fussy about the poetry I read. I want to experience something moving and powerful in a unique style. I want imagery, colour and movement. I want depth, and I want to be able to feel and hear the poet’s soul. It may be considered “old-school” by some, but I still want to find the music of rhythm and rhyme among the various techniques that a poet uses to deliver their ideas.

So, when I tell you that these are the poets you should be reading, please understand that this is not just a nod to people I like or who have pretty book covers. These people don’t just write poetry— they are poets, and they take their craft seriously. These poets can really take a reader beyond themselves, open a reader’s mind, and influence them so that they see things in a completely new way.

These Six 21st Century Poets You Should Be Reading are not listed in any order of preference. If you want to explore their work further, simply click on the cover of each book.

Lyra Shanti

Author of ‘Sediments’.

Lyra Shanti Sediments

Shanti’s poetry is rich and sensory, full of imagery that draws the reader into the emotion and wellsprings of the poet’s mind.
Drawing on mythological themes and elements of Biblical allegory, although it is by no means religious poetry, Shanti explores her place in time, relationships, and the universe through themes of belonging, human vulnerability, equality, and home. She is a master of contrast and balance, weighing sensitivity against images of those things that overwhelm, and confidence in belonging despite her humility, framed within a very real sense of awareness of the immeasurable breadth and depth of the universe.

 

Patrick Williams
Author of ‘Lethal As Love’.

Patrick Williams Lethal As Love
Patrick Williams’ poems are beautiful in the simplicity and honesty of the feelings they convey, even though the feelings they communicate are at times complex and conflicted. There is no pretence or affectation in Williams’ writing, nor is there any strict observance of rhythm, rhyme or other particular poetic techniques. Instead, he uses language and form to evoke a strong sense of love and longing that is almost tangible as he leads the reader on a journey through the highs and lows of the love he so powerfully communicates in these poems.
Some of this poetry is quite erotic, so it’s definitely only for an adult audience, but there’s nothing gratuitous or tawdry about it. One could learn quite a lot about how to love deeply and sensuously from reading ‘Lethal as Love’, but there is also a more sombre lesson to be heeded: nothing lasts forever.  It is clear from ‘Lethal as Love’, though, that the pleasure and passion were definitely worth the pain.

 

Sarah Northwood
Author of ‘The Truths We Tell’.
Sarah Northwood The Truths We Tell
Sarah Northwood gives voice to thoughts and feelings commonly experienced, but often not so thoughtfully expressed, by people in all walks of life.
Northwood explores the ways in which we respond to the situations and feelings that challenge us and those things that fill and complete us. The reality of being haunted by regret and the “what ifs” of life is contrasted with the whimsy of fleeting happiness and the irresistible, transforming power of love.
Through all of this is the reminder that life is what it is: “Feeling the breeze on her cheek she knew, the wind can never be the sun.” (Unique)

 

Joseph Ferguson
Author of ‘Reflections of a Scurvy Bastard’

Joseph Ferguson Reflections of a Scurvy Bastard
Ferguson writes with a very strong sense of realism and a degree of world-weariness in his profound poems that work like snapshots of different events and memories. He has a gift for creating vivid images that transport the reader to another time and place, and making it seem absolutely real.
When Joseph Ferguson’s poetry is recognised as ‘classic’ and he is regaled world-wide as a master poet, it shall come as no surprise to me.

 

Shelby Leigh
Author of ‘It Starts Like This’
Shelby Leigh It Starts Like This

Leigh’s poetry is thoughtful and often intense in its exploration of love, loss, anger,   loneliness and grief, and is highly relatable for anyone who has experienced the breakdown of a relationship or been let down by someone they trusted.
Her poetry and expression are accessible and easily understood, and Leigh’s imagery is often quite stark and raw, but that is where her strengths as a poet lie.

 

 

Joanne Van Leerdam 
Author of ‘Leaf’, ‘Nova’, ‘Stained Glass’ and ‘The Passing Of The Night’. 

 

Yes, that’s me, and those are my own books. Obviously, I write the type of poetry I want to read. Don’t take my word for it, though – I have compiled this description with quotations from different Amazon reviewers. 

“Joanne Van Leerdam is a master poet who combines an old-worldly feel to her poetry with a modern flavor.”
“Joanne Van Leerdam’s poems are about the emotional fragility of human existence, about the brittleness of love and about living with love lost. She expresses both the sense of frailty and the strength of resilience in her reflections, as if a lonely survivor on a faraway island.”
“Many of her poems are conventional in structure, with a regular rhyme scheme, traditional yet so sensitive and vulnerable that they emerge as special, standing out like novae in the vast night sky.
Her poems don’t crash through the door, flourishing their creative uniqueness, but in a quiet voice Van Leerdam almost whispers to us to let her poems come in as she both exposes the emotional pains of life and provides comfort for them.”

I’d love to know if you are encouraged to try any of these poets’ works, and if you do, what you think of them. You’re always welcome to leave a comment on this, or any other, post. 

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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