We all need the company of people who love what we love, and it’s particularly important in poetry. I can’t understand poets who snub other poets, as some do, or those who see writing as a competition. Nor do I think having poetry friends who are totally sycophantic is any use either. If you want fans, ask your family.
For me, having someone to talk to about poetry is essential. I don’t need a mentor. I had a wonderful mentor in Matt Simpson, and for at least the last 15 years of our friendship we were each other’s first reader, and he would alter things as a result of my comments as well as the other way round. Since his death in 2009, I have needed a wider range of poet friends. Here’s how I found some.
1) Support your local poetry nights. There’s a lot going on if you are prepared to travel a little. Read at the open floor events. Be friendly and talk to people. If someone reads something you like, go and tell them you enjoyed their work.
2) Start your own local poetry event. I have negotiated a free room at a local pub and try to let everyone I know who is remotely interested, that it is happening. Mine is called BLAZE and it happens at Hartford Hall once a month. Invite others to come and be the guest. You can ask people whose work you like.
3) Facebook is a great way to get to know other people with similar interests. I have connected with many poets who have been in the same anthologies as me, by searching for their names, or them finding me. I have gone on to meet many of them in real life and found we get on brilliantly. Facebook is also a great way to get back in touch with poets you might have known a long time ago but lost touch with.
4) Go to writers courses. There are wonderful residential ones at places like The Arvon Foundation (which has 4 different properties). The Poetry Business does wonderful day length ones. You will be able to find something at your level, from starting to write to master classes.
5) Go to festivals. These days almost every little place seems to have a festival, whether it’s just poetry or a music festival which includes some spoken word events. You will find they are full of enthusiasts who are only too happy to chat to you about their passion for poetry/music/ the spoken word etc.
6) Join websites like Write Out Loud, which have listings of poets, and the facility of contacting each other. Write Out Loud also offers a residential weekend once a year.
7) Do some reviewing, even if it is only on your own blog. If possible, be kind enough to send the publisher or poet a copy of your review electronically. You will become known as someone who reads and appreciates poetry, which is always a good way to connect with other poets.
8) Try to get to book launches and buy a copy of the book if you like the sound of it. Book launches aim to give you a flavour of the work, and are usually fun events to attend. Many print magazines these days launch their issues. These are great to go to if you are in the magazine, but if you want to get accepted, a great way in is to go to the launch, buy a copy so you can see what sort of things are getting in, and chat to people who are there.
9) Often you can get to know other poets on your publisher’s list. Salt, for example, offered us a free workshop in promoting our books and one of my former publishers organised a week at Totleigh Barton for all his authors, which was a brilliant way to get to know different poets.
10) Join the Poetry Society. It is a bit expensive, perhaps, but worth it. The Stanza groups provide some outreach, and the newsletter is very helpful. There may be local organisations which focus on poetry too. Seek them out and get involved.
Your friends who don’t write poetry are vitally important: they keep you rooted and having fun. When I have caught myself being too poetry-orientated then it is these friends who have kept me going. Don’t neglect them.
Likewise, don’t impose on your new poet friends. We all help each other. You shouldn’t just be looking for a mentor, or someone to bore rigid with your work and your successes and failures. You should want to share theirs too. But it’s so wonderful to have a group of like-minded friends. I speak from experience. And they know who they are. It is only the truly talented, I have found, who are generous and encouraging. The ones who snub you are envious and not worth bothering with. A love of poetry, when it is genuine, transcends competition, different writing styles and different stages of success in the game. True poets know there is no career success. There is only writing the best you can and having the approval of those readers you trust to tell you the absolute truth.