Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Notes from "Writing Poetry" with Robert Hilles

Writing poetry might appear to be more about inspiration than planning but today you will learn how writing poetry requires much planning.

This workshop will focus on the three cornerstones of all writing: the beginning, middle and end. Participants will learn practical tips on the process of writing poetry from the original idea to the published poem. You will learn how to start the process, what to do once you have finished a draft and, finally, how to go about marketing yourself and your poems by setting goals, setting up writing exercises, revision techniques and publication strategies.


Set goals: Weekly, Monthly, Yearly; Career Goals (ie. Awards, Number of Books etc.); Publication Goals: Send out X poems; publish X poems in magazines; publish X poems; publish X books by certain date.

Pre-writing: Research by reading what is already out there; understand why you like the writing you like.

The first draft: Write whatever comes. Don’t censor yourself. Leave the draft for at least 30 days.


Revising/The Second Draft: Revise it once and leave for another 30 days; look at things like redundant words, bad repetitions, formal language, cut any unnecessary words (remember nothing is sacred); read it aloud see how it sounds; read it to others see how they respond.


Revise your poem again and send out to magazines/organizations:
  • When considering magazines: use poetry markets for Canadians.
  • Markets include: Canadian Literary Magazines (Grain, Event, Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, Fiddlehead Review, Portal).
  • American and British Magazines.
  • Online Magazines (Ezines).
  • Poetry Websites: like Poetry Webring.
  • Your own blog (don’t under estimate this).
  • Poetry readings, contests and awards (the Writer’s Trust has the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers!).
Accept the fact you will get rejections so continue to send out until your poem is published!

Compiling a book: Once you have at least 10 poems published you can start thinking of compiling a book. Keep all your poems in a single file and name the that file the name of your book.

You need between 60-100 pages of poems to work from. Cut that down to about 70 to 80 pages of your best poems.
  • Determine sections; revise the manuscript at least 3 times over a month or more.
  • Go to Poetry Markets for Canadians and Select 10 publishers. Always start at the top.
  • Select five and start with them. Those that need a Query letter prepare that and send it along with you 10 best poems.
  • The Query letter should have 3 Key paragraphs: a) An introduction: who you are and where you have been published (keep it brief); b) manuscript description (again brief); and c) a paragraph saying you would be happy to send the whole manuscript if they are interested (if you are sending the whole manuscript write the same covering letter but send the manuscript rather than just your 10 best poems).
Networking: Many poets under-estimate the importance of networking. Most important is to Join Poetry organizations: League of Canadian Poets, Writers' Union of Canada, Canadian Authors Association, Canadian Poetry Association.

Other Networking activities include: going to readings, workshops, contacting poets you admire (via email), blogging.


won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for Cantos From A Small Room. He has published thirteen books of poetry and five books of prose. His other books include: Finding The Lights On, Near Morning, Nothing Vanishes, Kissing The Smoke, Breathing Distance, Somewhere Between Obstacles and Pleasure, Higher Ground, and Calling the Wild.

Wrapped Within Again, New and Selected Poems won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for best book of poetry. His second novel, A Gradual Ruin, was published by Doubleday Canada in 2004 and now is in paperback. His books have also been shortlisted for The Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Prize, The W.O. Mitchell/City of Calgary Prize, The Stephan Stephansson Award, and The Howard O’Hagan Award. His latest book of poetry, Slow Ascent, was published in the fall of 2006.

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