There’s nothing wrong with writing verse for yourself, your mother, and your significant other. But you’ll never know if you’re writing poetry until your work is in the world and people who don’t have to love it tell you what they think. James Fenton’s got it right in “A Lesson from Michelangelo”, the first essay in his Oxford Lectures on Poetry (collected in The Strength of Poetry):
[After actually writing poems] there remains the problem of first daring to show the work to your friends, next of bearing to listen to what they say about it, but finally, finally and most importantly, there is the whole matter of interpreting what your friends say, deciding whether to accept or reject their judgement, and figuring out where you are going to go from there.
If you’re at school, take advantage of your friends (I taught Creative Writing for 7 years. I’m not a fan). If you live in a city, find a poet’s group. There are workshops online. But your friends and your fellow workshoppers, unless you’re very lucky, will share the common—but mistaken—belief that real poetry is so personal that criticism might hurt your sensitive poet’s feelings. You need strangers. Buy a current Poet’s Market and use it. And get out in front of people.f
I try to follow my own advice:
- My shamefully empty gig calendar, for both poetry and music.
- I podcast my poems at Listen Up!
- Stammer!, a bimonthly performance series in Raleigh NC.