- Learn to listen. Honestly, this rule isn't just the first step towards becoming a poet. It is in fact one of those basic, fundamental rules of life, like teaching yourself to like people (however self-centred and mean they might be) and making an effort to give people hugs - even when they smell like they've peed their knickers and forgotten to change them for five straight days. And it's not just about what people say: it's how they say it, and why they say it, that's important. Equally important is learning to listen to the silences between the talky bits. It's language, see, and without language you ain't got no poetry ... because poetry's more than just a bunch of words.
- (This rule is the most important rule of all. Read it many times before going on to the next rule, 'kay?) Learn to enjoy reading poems. Because, when it comes down to it, if you don't enjoy reading poems, then why the fuck would you want to write one?
- Learn to enjoy writing poems. This is the bit where you get to join in with other people and have a go at writing stuff, sharing stuff, tearing the shit out of each other's stuff, taking the time to learn - together - what works as poetry, and how to get your words to work as a poem. It's also the time to learn (on your own, without the influence of friends, mentors and peers) what sort of poetry doesn't work for you. Learning that you don't need to enjoy every poem ever written, and you don't have to like the same poems as your friends and heroes, is a really, really important lesson to learn.
- Learn to walk away from poetry. There will come a day when you wake up and sit down to write something in your notepaddy journal thingy and ... no words appear. The thought of writing a verse or two fills you with - annoyance, displeasure; hatred. And you may look out of the window and see that it's raining heavily outside, with added gales, and the idea of going for a long walk seems a lot more fun than squeezing out your daily wordcount. Do it! Put your coat on, and your boots, and walk out of the door. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE take your notepad with you. Leave it. Bin it! Enjoy the release from the drudgery of writing ... and do not feel any shame, for this is not failure. It is success: you've taken the first step on a journey that ends in doing fun stuff that you enjoy doing. Poetry can wait; it will wait. You are the master of your muse, you are the owner of your voice. And you can dictate when it is time to write a poem, and when it is time to do something else.
- Success. Acclaim. The warm respect of your mentors and peers. Prizes. Chapbooks with your name on the front cover. The clapping audience. The rapt attention of ranked students. Yeah, right. Learn to be honest to yourself. If you crave any of the above, then write a novel; become a journalist. Heck, join a garage band or your local Glee club or (whisper it) the Scientologists. Because until you come to accept poetry as its own reward, you ain't never gonna be a poet. Innit!
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