How to Write a (Poetry) Blog

A provocative blog title perhaps but hard to resist sometimes – see point 2.18 later – but this is less generally instructional and more a prompt to self-reflection. Amazingly, it is a year this week since I started this blog. Never the same river twice, of course, but I thought it right to post a few reflections on how it’s gone so far. My intentions, changes, thoughts on and lessons learned – plus nine bits of Blog Wisdom picked up along the way.

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  1. My original intentions

1.1  I always enjoy critical writing but chafe sometimes against waiting to be asked to review or the choice of review books I have been given, or word limits. My own place where I could be editor and reviewer seemed very attractive

1.2  I wanted to become familiar with the idea, techniques and impact of blogging as this seemed a form of cultural contribution that was of growing importance and I didn’t want to feel wholly left behind

1.3  I could pick out three vaguely-defined areas of blogging possibilities for myself: poetry, teaching, translation

1.4  I had been reviewing poetry books and writing about poetry writing for years in a variety of paper magazines prior to starting the blog. Part of my intention was to be able to post up some of these older pieces (where I still thought them relevant and worthwhile) so that they would be searchable on the web, hopefully preserving their lifetime

1.5  I can’t remember how I came across the WordPress system – probably by chance, or perhaps via another’s blog – but it seemed so user friendly that I thought even I might manage it (I’d had a few false starts trying to create a web page)

1.6  I understood intuitively and then found it out there as Blog Wisdom that regular posting is important and I set myself the task of a weekly post.

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1.7  I was anxious before I got started about whether I would find things to write about on a weekly basis – I sort of hoped it would acquire a momentum of its own

1.8  I never intended the blog to be very personally revealing (though this is advised in the Blog Wisdom) – this was to be a place where I might discuss the art of poetry (and teaching literature and issues of translation) with myself and in the hope of drawing a response from others

1.9  On the other hand, I’d also been writing sections of autobiographical material in recent years and I vaguely  thought I might be able to post this up in experimental posts – something I was not likely to be asked to do by the usual journals and magazines

1.10  I thought the blog would contribute to my self-promotion – after all a writer is supposed to actually sell booksimages

  1. How the year unfolded

2.1  Having begun very tentatively with WordPress, it quickly became clear that I could easily create a full website using its simple tools – not merely a blogging site

2.2  I’d not been much of a blog follower before starting my own – since then I have enjoyed following others and not merely as a means of spying on the competition (though of course it’s not a competition)

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2.3  I figured out how to tag posts to make the site more searchable by Google etc (the Blog Wisdom seems to be that no more than a dozen tags should be used – beyond that they become less effective – still a bit foggy on this)

2.4  I also figured how to Tweet a link to the blog posting and link to FaceBook and other blog sharing sites (also still a work in progress)

2.5  I had problems preserving stanza breaks as the WordPress system seemed to collapse everything down to standard line break widths once posted. Thank you, Josephine Corcoran for helping out with this one.

2.6  I have really enjoyed choosing a variety of images to decorate the blogs – and captioning some of them (once I’d worked out how to make a caption)

2.7  The Blog Wisdom has it that the more active you are on others’ blogs (liking and commenting etc) the more likely you are to get traffic back. I’m sure this is true and I’m sure I don’t do it enough. This could be a full time job in itself but I’m sure it would reap benefits if I did it

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2.8  I thought I would post some of my own poems on the blog but in fact have not done much of this at all – these days the definition of ‘publication’ often includes even a personal blog and that may not be the best place for work to appear first. On a few occasions I’ve posted up already published work

2.9  The Blog Wisdom has it that embarking on a series of related posts is a good idea assuming that you might gather up an audience on the way, create expectations etc. I’ve had a go at this a couple of times. Jury’s out on this one

2.10  Fairly early on in the year I had the idea of recording briefly my own reading (mostly poetry related texts) and set up the What Have I Mostly Been Reading page. I’m updating this roughly every month and it has proved a page that people visit quite often. There is a temptation to make my brief comments less brief

2.11  I realised that what I was doing with the blog was journalism. Pretty obvious to most but it struck me forcibly as a different sort of writing with its own rules and I rather enjoyed the frequent deadlines

2.12  I also tried reviewing live poetry events that I attended and these seem to have proved quite popular – certainly there is not much of this sort of reviewing around and it’s good to record these ephemeral occasions in some way

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2.13  The Blog Wisdom has it that blogs develop any kind of following slowly and that is true enough. But when even a few comments and likes start coming in there is a surprisingly immediate sense of a community. WordPress provides statistical analysis of visitors and views on a blog site and these also give some sense that what you are writing is not being wholly ignored (but see dangers later . . . )

2.14  The Blog Wisdom also has it that to associate posts with specific events, times of year, cultural events, prizes, other publications etc is a good thing. I’ve tried to do this with live event reviews, prize lists, magazine publications, book publications

2.15  As the year has gone on I have sadly found less room for blogging about the teaching of literature – largely because (as it turned out) I had plenty of pressing ideas in the other two areas of poetry and translation. I regret this

2.16  As the year has gone on, I’ve been more drawn than I expected towards reviewing new collections of poetry. I’m not sure about the wisdom of this, though it has proved quite popular

2.17  I posted one week on How Do You Judge a Poem which proved very popular and it struck me (as it has struck many publishers) that offering (or seeming to offer) instruction was a way of courting more hits

2.18  I see dangers (as 2.17 suggests) in the temptation to court more hits by naming blogs provocatively, like a journalistic headline or an advertiser. Blog Wisdom suggests this is exactly what one should be doing but I don’t feel comfortable with this

2.19  I see dangers also in the temptation to be wilfully controversial as Blog Wisdom also suggests one should be. But I don’t want to write a tabloid blog

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2.20  I see dangers in getting obsessed by checking the blog stats several times a day. It’s like checking emails or phones in the same way. As someone once said, this is like opening the front door every few minutes to check whether the postman is coming. Get on with life

2.21  I see dangers of my life being taken over by blog writing and planning what to write. Rilke warned against critical writing of any kind sapping one’s strength and time for real creativity. Was he ever tempted to write a blog?

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7 thoughts on “How to Write a (Poetry) Blog

  1. Dear Martyn,

    Your latest piece on blogging and the blog itself have made fascinating reading. I number amongst your ‘hits’ but not on a regular basis. However, the posts I’ve read have been excellent and I have often recommended them to other people and re-posted through Ver Poets channels.

    here’s to year 2

    best wishes, Anna

    Like

  2. Great post Martyn. I am nearly a year into Proletarian Poetry and much of what you say resonates with my own experience; the journalism, the personal and how it is an evolving thing that changes. But it is also great for having a place to write and publish regularly. I can however, be a bugger for checking my stats!

    Like

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