Could you be a poet?

The magic of poetry

Deep down, I always wanted to be a poet. I love the musicality of the words, the rhythms, the rhymes, the sound of the language on the ear and the rolling of the words on the tongue. That's when the words really come alive for me.

Ever since I was introduced to his poetry, I've had a great respect for Dylan Thomas. In the year of his centenary I challenged the Townhill community in his hometown of Swansea to write their own version of Under Milk Wood. I wanted to see if the group could be inspired to unleash their own creativity.

If we share a few techniques and key tips, are you up for accepting the challenge to create lines that people will cherish and remember? Can we all be poets?

Presented by Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and broadcaster.
Poet and broadcaster Benjamin Zephaniah discusses the prose and poetry of Dylan Thomas, and sees how a person's background influences their work.

Finding your voice

My favourite Dylan Thomas poem is 'Do not go gentle into that good night'. I love its rhythms, repetitions and strong message. In this workshop I used it to inspire the Swansea group to find their own inner voices and start writing.

This mixed group from Dylan Thomas's home town of Swansea had never before written creatively, but I loved how they rose to the challenge and came up with their own versions of this great poem. Try it for yourself. Think of something you really care about and start shaping the lines.

Focus on what you see

Dylan Thomas was always inventive with words, and created a strong sense of place when describing his surroundings. He's almost painting pictures in your mind's eye.

He used different and imaginative ways to describe the sea to bring the image alive: "the tusked, ramshackled sea" (Poem on his Birthday) or "the goose plucked sea" (A Winter's Tale).

He evoked pictures of the sun in similar ways, by combining unexpected words: "the mustardseed sun" (Poem on his Birthday) or "the torrent salmon sun" (Author's Prologue).

Poet Rhian Edwards worked with me in Townhill, and led some productive workshops, encouraging the group to write about somewhere they knew well, and to focus on what they saw rather than what they felt.

Travel a path and know it well

Start by setting out your journey from your front door to school or work, and begin with a description of the day.

Imagine the journey like a flickbook of images. Create a sense of movement by repeating sentences beginning with 'past the…' Don't linger on a particular image, keep up the momentum and pace of the journey's passage.

Illustrate the interesting images you pass as visually and specifically as you can. Use concise language but think of imaginative adjectives to describe them.

Adding colour and emotion

Writing effectively about feelings is something poet Rhian Edwards worked through with the group in Swansea. Whether it's anger, hurt or frustration, getting words on to paper can help focus thoughts on what's happening in life.

Similarly, writing about happiness or joy can be rewarding and serve as a reminder of the good times. Rhian has some good tips for writing about emotion. When you write, your raw material is your life and you want it as raw as it can be. Use your experience to get started.

Rhian Edwards on how colour, taste and texture can be invoked to describe emotions in poetry.

Writing your own 'selfie'

Dylan Thomas’s precise, pictorial and dynamic choice of language meant he could conjure up graphic images of people, places and moments.

In Fern Hill, he brings his childhood visits to Carmarthenshire brilliantly to life with lines such as "Time let me play and be/Golden in the mercy of his means" and "As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away".

We all have those sorts of memories inside us. The Townhill group worked hard to unearth snatches of the past and turn them into creative pieces of writing we could all relate to, and which made good theatre.

Joining up your own childhood dots

Start by thinking of an event you remember vividly from your childhood, something from your school days, a Christmas Day, a birthday party or a family reunion.

Try to nail what it is about the recollection that makes it so memorable.

Be concise but spend time finding evocative adjectives to describe the people, the location, the event.

Alternatively, you could make it a list poem, starting each verse with 'I remember', so that the stanza reads like a flickbook of visual reminiscences.

Steer clear of clichés.

Poet and broadcaster, Benjamin Zephaniah.

Learn more about this topic:

Poets in Person
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Simon Armitage - Writing Poems
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Poetry: Between the Lines
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