Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Should a poet write poems for an audience?

The first audience you should write for is yourself. If you wrote stuff 2 or 3 years ago which leaves you shrugging your shoulders when you read it again now, well there's a valuable lesson in itself when you set out to write a new poem today.

The second audience you should write for is your internal critics - the ones that you've met in workshops and stuff in the past (only the ones who gave you good advice, mind, not the ones who were out to destroy you and your pet muse) and, somehow, whenever you sit down to revise something it's their voices you can hear in your skull, muttering and jeering at your thoughtless mistakes and asbo-worthy word choices. If you can write something that shuts them up then you know you're onto a good thing.

The third audience you should write for - and only do this once the other two have been properly fed and watered - is the audience of folks you're keen to impress. This is the one that varies widely depending on your needs and circumstances. They might be a group of garrulous editors; they might be a gang of fawning friends; they might even be a huddle of one who(m) you're very keen to get to know a lot better! Whatever. Meeting this audience's needs will sooth the ego and give you time for some preening and posing.

The last audience you should write for is the unborn and/or already-dead audience. They only live in your dreams, but if you write primarily in the belief that conversations with Keats really matter, or that sending a message to future generations is the best thing you can do for the nation and the planet, then you're stuffing hay in the wrong end of the carthorse - if you ask me, of course.

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