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Becoming A Poet - one year on

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By Rishi Dastidar 26 April 2012

So it was about this time a year ago, with the early Spring sun flowing into the top floor of the Academy, that I stood up to hesitantly read a prose poem, in front of assorted luminaries, loved ones and the beaming smiles of Jo and Daljit, at our event to celebrate the end of our 'Becoming a Poet' course.

A few muffled prepositions later, I sat down, having in theory become a poet.

Except that the past 12 months have shown me that it's not that simple to 'become' anything. The becoming is very much ongoing.

I have been blessed with what feels like some outrageous luck / fortune / success (the particular noun chosen depends on how I might be feeling at any given moment), from which have came other serendipitous happenings. For example, a minor irritation about a New York Times blog post led to a dashed-off 12 lines about the beat novelist and poet Richard Brautigan.

More whim meant a barely-thought-about entry of said 12 lines into the Cardiff International Poetry Prize. And then a sensation somewhat less intense than a phone call from Camelot might generate, but still similar in timbre. An envelope from Wales saying the poetry competition gods have given you a thumbs up and an open-top bus tour round the city (no really; the pictures are on Flickr).

Of course, the confidence of knowing that, 'My God, Don Paterson and Philip Gross actually liked my poem!' merely gives you enough of a shield that the innumerable rejections move from being day-long collapses of your entire poetic persona, craft and oeuvre to an hour's grumbling, shrugging and moving on. (Though I cherish the email gavotte I currently am in with the editors of a certain publication, who have rejected me four times straight now, even as my covering notes get ever more operatically pleading; and we both know full well that I will keep submitting and they will keep saying no.)

Because this, the drafting and the writing and the harvesting phrases and the making of starts and carrying them around with you and the tapping of fragments into your phone on the top deck of buses - the ploughing on - all of this is the real business of becoming a poet.

That, and realising that you can't ever really stop, and that you have to be continually 'generative', to use a modish internet culture word that really means 'get on with it'. Setting yourself tasks like writing a senryu a day. Why not? Writing poems to appear on cakes? Go on then. Putting on an exhibition of stuff from your Facebook, and having someone suggest that it could make a good poem to be included in an anthology about new forms, in which you'll be alongside Paul Muldoon, Joe Dunthorne and Ruth Padel? Twist my arm why don't you.

There isn't really any secret here, unless you think that reading lots, writing lots and meeting lots of new people are some sort of secretive activities available to people labouring in verse other than yourself.

But back to the start of it all. Have I become a poet? Well, the chrysalis has gone - but what butterfly stops to look at itself in the mirror? The flight across the meadow continues.


As well as being a copywriter of note, and an excellent tweeteur, Rishi is an alumnus of Becoming A Poet, which is now accepting applications for the October intake with Daljit Nagra and Jo Shapcott.


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