Poetry for journalists

As a journalist, it’s all too easy to get distracted by research. In my case, this ‘research’ often starts with checking my blog stats and ends with a nice cup of tea, perhaps with a little stop at Amazon along the way.

This can often mean that the actual writing of words takes some time to achieve. Five minutes into a poetry workshop though and we have already launched ourselves into free writing. Free writing is a way to get you started, to simply get the words flowing, whatever they may be, and it’s a useful tool for people who find themselves staring at a blank page, not knowing where to start. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to impress anyone, it doesn’t matter if the words even form proper sentences, you just have to write.

It’s brilliant. In three minutes I have already written these first paragraphs! I feel a bit guilty, as I’m sure I should be writing something a bit more creative, rather than a critique of the class and its techniques, but the horrors of reading aloud to the group don’t apply to this exercise, so I think I can get away with it.

Besides, the tutor has reassured us that the workshop is about the process, not the product – get it written then get it right she says.

I like that.

Get it written then get it right.

How many times do we put off writing at all because we haven’t managed to form the perfect sentence in our head? But writing is a process, like any creative activity. You work at it, you start with a lump of words and you move them around, sculpt them, rub bits out, start again. The important thing is getting the raw material in your hands to be able to work with it.

I went to the poetry workshop because I was intrigued by the similarities between poetry and journalism. The telling of a poem is similar in many ways to the telling of a news story. You don’t need to put your personal feelings explicitly into a poem to make it powerful for example. Simply speak the truth clearly, describe the situation and your reader will read between the lines and imagine for themselves what that story implies.

You say what you see, not what you feel, and trust your reader to be moved by the situation.

Poetry, like good journalism, is the absolute refinement of a feeling or experience. Every word is crucial, the meaning distilled down to the bear essentials. The same is true when writing news or features – you look at every word and you ask yourself ‘does this really need to be here? What meaning would be lost if I took that out?’

In the group, we read an example of a poem that began as a short story. The writer has condensed and refined the story until he is left with just six lines. The essence and the truth of the experience are captured in those lines and the reader is left to do the work, imagining the writer’s feelings rather than having them spelt out to them.

The moral of the story? Less is definitely more. And on that note…



  1. 28 February, 2012 / 4:28 pm

    Fantastic, just what I needed to read before The Steady Table tonight. Thanks Jo, will try and put this into action later…

  2. 28 February, 2012 / 5:26 pm

    Oh I miss blogging *sob*, especially my ‘poetry?’ label, but thanks for reminding me I’ve still got my pen and paper;)

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