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The Poet’s Guide to Not Finding Everything So Terrible

The Poet’s Guide to Not Finding Everything So Terrible in This Terrible World

Find a little magic in your life—even when it’s shit

There’s a lot happening in today’s world that makes it hard to get out of bed — and we’re not talking about binge-watching Netflix or discounted Egyptian cotton. There’s the escalating lunacy of the Trump presidency. The farce of Brexit. The associated rise and increasing normalization of white nationalism. The ever-spiralling horrorshow of sexually predatory men in positions of power. The galloping climate change, the overt influence of mega-corporations, the looming threat of nuclear conflict — and don’t even get us started on the worrying fact that bags of chips seem to have less chips in them than they used to.

The modern experience is just… well, shit.

How, then, can you see the world through more rose-tinted glasses? How, if one were to be trite, can you view the world the way a poet might, and see the hidden beauty in everything?

Obviously, there’s only one type of person who can help: Actual, real-life poets. Here’s what a few of them told us about viewing the world in a more lyrical way — one that allows us to ponder all the wonderful nuances of modern life, while also giving us an excuse to carry those nice Field Notes books around with us.

First, A Word From Our Wordsmiths on Why Poetry Makes You Feel Better

Stevie Tyler, stand-up poet and founding member of Rhymes with Orange: Like novels, poetry has no limits. If you want to write a poem about an aged and cruel tooth fairy, being Harry Styles or watching a horse shit into a bucket, you can. There are no right or wrongs, and it can be conceptual, philosophical, real or made up. For me, poems are stories of personal experience, written so that many people can relate, even when the ideas are oddball. For instance, I have a poem about all the weird things I want to do to someone I fancy and it becomes surreal and gross:

I want to taste your morning breath
I want to taste it on my lips
I want to eat your toenails like they’re artisanal crisps

But everyone can relate to the idea that you’re so attracted to someone that no part of them is disgusting or off limits!

Benedict Newbery, journalist and widely published poet: Poetry can make you see things differently — it can move you. It can make you laugh. It can help you appreciate the world you live in, and the lives of others. Poetry is a portable pleasure: You just need a little notebook and a pen — your private take on your world as you travel through it, to be distilled into whatever form you see fit, and edited and transformed as you wish.

Now, A Guide to Finding the Poetry in Your Own Life

Harry Baker, World Grand Slam Poetry Champion, occasional rap battler and author of The Sunshine Kid: There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the world that we have no control over, but you can at least frame the way you see things to give yourself the best possible chance. Sometimes it’s about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary; sometimes it’s acknowledging that the gritty bits of life make it that much richer in the grand scheme of things.

Tyler: When you see something that sticks in your mind, like a crow pulling an eyeball out of a dead badger, write down the three words that spring to mind first and then write a couple of lines that incorporate those words. It’s not always about being poetic, just playing around with words and sensations. It can be useful to capture three emotions that you felt during the course of the workday, or a song you hear.

For example, I just found a note that I wrote on the tube when I was drunk that made me laugh this morning. I’d had a heated debate with my boyfriend about buying flowers and written this:

You support me as a feminist
You say it’s great that I’m empowered,
but you hate it when I talk about periods
and I wish you bought me flowers.

I thought that was poetic. Contradictions are poetic. I guess the way to think poetically is about creating habits around self-reflection, stepping back from the daily rush to make a note of things that seem mundane at the time, for review later on.

Are You Now So Inspired You Actually Want to Write Some Poetry? Here’s How to Get Started

Tyler: If you look at well-known spoken word poets like Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, John Cooper Clarke or George the Poet, they tend to be romancing, ranting or reminiscing. So pick one of those types and run with it. Rant about chicken shops. Romance about chicken shops. Reminisce about that time at the chicken shop when you had a two-minute love affair with the guy who served you wings.

Once you have an idea you’re happy with, get everything down and see where it leads you — don’t worry about order, structure or rhyme. Then, read it aloud to yourself and highlight what stands out, the lines you really like. Find the core message within your writing. Once I have this, I like to set a timer for 10 minutes, find a fresh bit of paper and write it again.

A great trick to start things off if you’re really stuck is to have someone write a random first line for you, or to take the first line of a newspaper article — there are even random first-line generators on the internet. It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish or weird, it just provides that starting point.

Anthony White, poet: Read poetry, write something (it doesn’t matter if it’s poetry or not), then read more, then write more. Listen to poetry. Listen to everything around you — write down what you hear!

Tyler: Find time to let your mind wander. Find connections and interactions even when you’re on the phone with someone from a customer-service team about your gas bill. No one would describe me as a patient or especially “poetic” person (I imagine someone wearing a lot of white linen and living on a hill), but it can really help if you become genuinely curious about the world.

A big reason why people don’t have a go at poetry is because they’re worried they’ll fail. But there’s no such thing as failing if you’re just writing it as though it’s an experiment in understanding things/people/the world. I’ve written many awful poems: One of them was about 12th century philosophy, and it was pretentious and overworked and no one got it. I learnt that I should write what I know and write to share some sort of experience or story — otherwise, it’s about as interesting as listening to someone describe their dreams. No one cares, dude.

And the Last Word…

Baker: These days it feels like things are faster-paced than ever. For me, poetry is a way of stepping outside of that, of being thoughtful with your words and taking the time to think about things differently. Even though we communicate with language every day, the scope poetry has to make you laugh, make you cry and give you goosebumps can be a powerful thing.

It’s also about empathy and storytelling, seeing things from another person’s point-of-view and trying to understand where they’re coming from, which is something the world desperately needs more of right now. I write from personal experience, but I’ve had people message me from halfway around the world telling me my poems have spoken to them and had an impact on their lives. So your experiences can have universal appeal, too.