Opinion, Writer's Life

Dear Poet, Welcome to the 21st Century…

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A few months ago, I was pondering the idea of posting my poetry online. For me, poetry has always been a solitary activity. I would scribble rhymes and metaphors onto paper, close my notebook and I would never read it again, never mind letting other people read and comment on it. Then, I decided that if I ever wanted to publish a poetry book (which has always been a dream of mine), then people would ACTUALLY have to read my poetry, right? Now, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. When you post something online, it is there forever, you lose control of where it can be shared or saved. This scared me a little, when I thought about my vulnerable musings being there for the whole world to read.

I lost my way as a writer for a long time. I have spent the last seven years of my twenties living my life, experiencing the good and the bad, I would write from time to time but never took it seriously enough. I do believe I am finally in a place not only to write again, but I actually have something to write about. Poetry has been the way I have expressed myself from the age of five. I’m not exaggerating here. From the moment I started school, even if I couldn’t articulate and write my thoughts down yet, it was there. I would make up stories in my mind and I had a lot of imaginary friends. Once I knew what rhyming was, I quickly started making little poems up and I loved it. I actually remember my first poem I wrote down on paper, I was seven years old.

In March this year, I created a poetry account on Instagram @EmmaJanePoetry, I wrote a poem on paper, typed it up, placed it on a colourful background and clicked upload. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as I waited. What have I done? What if people don’t like my poetry? What if people are mean and say hurtful things? What if I’m never taken seriously as a poet or a writer because I have posted these words on an Instagram page? My stream of worries disappeared when I saw what happened next. Slowly but surely, people not only started following me and reading my poetry, they commented on my writing ability, told me that my words spoke to them, made them feel something. I had personal messages from people commending my poetry and asking when I was releasing a collection. I’m no Rupi Kaur, I have 387 followers. But I don’t want to be an Instagram influencer, I don’t want fame and fortune. I just want to write poetry and have someone to share it with. I want people to read my work and Instagram is a good place to start.

I’ve just watched a poetry documentary on YouTube about the ongoing debate between academics and young people who disagree on whether the Instagram effect on poetry is a positive or a negative one. It’s what inspired this blog post. I believe that there is space for everyone in the writing world. Commenting on whether poetry is “good” or “bad” is completely subjective. Poetry is personal for the reader. Yes, there are people on Instagram posting two or three line quote-type musings and calling it poetry. Let them. Poetry has never fit into one box. I have read some classical poetry that academics rave about and I thought it was useless drivel. But hey, that’s my opinion.

I think the real problem here is not about the definition of what a poem is, it’s about technique. As a Creative Writing graduate myself, I had to study poetry, learn about technique, different styles, how to create imagery in a poem. I took the time to learn about my craft. I think some writers are angry that young people, with no writing skills, are stringing a few generic phrases together, posting them online and calling themselves “a poet.” I get it, I really do. But like I said, there is space in the writing world for everyone. Spending time ranting about it just makes you an insufferable snob in my opinion. Compare this idea to art. You have your Mona Lisa portrait, that is considered to be one of the greatest portraits in the world alongside a modern piece of art, a few crisp packets hanging on a piece of string. One person may love classical art, so they deem the crisp packet art as rubbish, unworthy and unoriginal. However, some modern artists may respectfully admire the Mona Lisa but prefer unique and unconventional representations of art such as the crisp packets. Poetry is no different. We all like different things.

What I have noticed since I became a part of the Instagram poetry community is there are some extremely talented poetic voices out there, that would have never had their work read without social media. They may not have the confidence to go marching up to a publishing house and say, “publish my poetry please.” By sharing their work, they are receiving a positive response from their readers and this increases their confidence in their writing ability, what’s so wrong with that? Artists and writers want the same thing, to get their work “seen.” We live in a world with social media at the centre, we can choose to embrace it or ignore it, the choice is ours.

Poetry is changing. I know that by posting my poetry online, I am accepting that this is the 21st century and culture is adapting to be part of the digital world. We now have many platforms to share our words with millions of people. Why not utilise and use it to share our art, whatever that may be? We live in a society that likes to put labels on things. It makes us uncomfortable if we don’t categorise or explain something. If someone ever branded me as an InstagramPoet or an InstaPoet, I would politely correct them. Not because I would be ashamed of that label. I would tell them that yes I publish my poetry on Instagram, a social media platform. I also post it on Facebook, my blog and Twitter. But I think of that little girl, with her notebook and pen, writing poems about her imaginary friends and I smile. I always have been and always will be, no matter where I share my poems, simply… a poet.

Writer's Life

A Published Poet Part Two

Last year I entered a Mental Health Poetry competition with Make Our Rights Reality (MORR), my poem Did You Know made it in the top 25 and the prize was for my poem to be published in an anthology. The digital anthology has been released, the physical anthology will be out after the lockdown in the UK is lifted.

Did You Know is a poem I wrote about my darkest time a few years ago, when I was suffering with depression. It is a letter I wrote to let those around me know how deep in depression I was. Poetry for me has always helped me process my emotions. Many of these poems stay in a notebook or on my computer, as I once found them too personal to publish. But I saw this competition as an opportunity to make my voice heard amongst those who have suffered with mental health issues.

I am really pleased with this poem. I can look back on the words I wrote and be grateful that I no longer feel that way. But knowing that this anthology will be read by other young people who may be suffering with their mental health and my poem may make them feel less alone, makes me proud.

Did you know?
by Emma-Jane Barlow

Did you know that in my darkest moments,
I imagined a world without my heart beating and I smiled?
Every day, I wished for a way out, searching for salvation,
a path that would lead me towards the light.

Did you know that before I shared the positive picture that you liked,
I was drowning in desolation on the bathroom floor?
On the edge, pierced with panic in my chest, the walls crumbling around me.
Trapped, desperately watching my dense tears descend to the ground.
Alone, clock ticking, waiting for the storm to pass.

Did you know the immeasurable time I spent fighting with my own mind?
A damaged wasteland, a toxic atmosphere, somewhere you would never want to be.
The countless moments I spent revisiting old conversations.
Analysing every-spoken-word, every-emotion-felt.
Exhausted by the endless cycle of never-feeling-good-enough.

Did you know the infinite seconds, minutes, hours that I struggled to find silence?
Wanting just a fleeting moment of peace amidst the chaos of my unruly thoughts.
Every day, I dragged my legs through the mud until the sun set in the sky.
Sleeping, my only sanctuary, my only safe space away from the bleak.
In my dreams, I was free from the demons that held me hostage.

Did you know that despite the glimmer you saw in my eyes, inside my soul was breaking?
The mask I wore was due to the fear of being misunderstood by a disapproving world.
When it slipped, the eyes would stare, the voices would whisper, the fear returned.
No one recognised the hopelessness in my heart, the desire I felt to eliminate the darkness
that was growing inside me, once and for all.

Did you know that although I am walking on solid ground today,
I am waiting for it to dissolve, without warning, beneath my feet once more?
I see the light, I feel the light, I am the light. I can finally breathe without pain.
Yet I know that one day, when I’m not watching, my demons will return.

View the full anthology here: http://makeourrightsreality.org.uk/young-people-use-poetry-to-speak-out-about-mental-health/

Writer's Life

Darkness & Light Poetry Collection

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For the last few years I have been writing poems about my life.

I always planned to create a poetry collection but it wasn’t until recently I decided to group them together and start editing. Darkness and Light is a collection of
emotionally-driven poems about the struggles and joys I have experienced in my life so far.

I would describe the collection as a raw and honest collection of poetry exploring the emotional complexities of modern life through the lens of a young woman’s experience. The collection is a balance of both an idealistic and realistic view of the world, compared with the ideology of darkness and light. There are themes of love, sex, struggle, heartache, pain, mental illness, relationships and happiness.

At the moment, I am working on the second draft of poems. I currently have 30 poems but plan to add more before I am ready to publish it. I don’t feel like the collection is complete yet, I still feel like I have more to say. A lot of writers hate editing. But I am one of the few writers that loves this part of the process. I am thoroughly enjoying rewriting and organising this collection.

I have thought about whether or not I would like to submit it for publication or self-publish it on Amazon. I think I am leaning more towards the latter. I want my book of poetry to be published, not to make me any money, but to share my poetry and my experiences with the world. I’ll save the dream I have of seeing my book in Waterstones for the novel I will one day write (I just have to complete one first). I will keep the blog updated with the writing and editing process and will hopefully be announcing the publication soon.

Writer's Life

Dream Big Or Don’t Dream At All.

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I think this is the most confident I have ever felt about my writing. I currently have 8,000 words of my first novel drafted, it doesn’t sound a lot compared to the 80,000 word mark I am hoping to achieve but for me it is a big accomplishment. I tend to bore easily with my story ideas but I strongly believe in this one. I might be currently writing The Pendant but that doesn’t stop me developing other pieces of writing. I am in the process of redrafting a poetry collection, I submitted it last year for my Poetry class and my tutor told me with a few more edits it could be published, so I am taking her advice and I am trying to polish it and will hopefully submit it to a competition when it is completed. There are fifteen poems in the collection and I have considered adding a few more, the collection is titled Beneath My Feet and the themes throughout the collection are place, landscape and time.

I also have the ambition to write a short story collection, I have a few ideas and would like the theme to be love, finding love and losing love. I have a few short stories that I have already written that could be apart of this collection and I have plenty of story ideas scribbled in my journal for new short stories. I am determined to make this an academic year of writing. When I finish my third year of university I would like at least 50,000 words of my novel manuscript completed and a collection of poetry and short stories. I am also studying screen writing this year and even though I enjoy it I don’t inspire to carry on with this medium after university.

I have always been overly ambitious, I just wish my efforts matched this ambition. I am indecisive, easily distracted and easily bored which definitely makes being a writer a harder journey to endure. I like to set myself aims that are possibly out of my reach, then I won’t be disappointed if I don’t reach them because they were big dreams in the first place. I’ve always believed that you should dream big or don’t dream at all. I am really excited to go back to university and carry on with my studies, I know that my last year is going to be my hardest year but I am going to try my best and hopefully I will have several creative pieces ready to be published when I graduate.

I would love to have my poetry or my short stories published. I know it’s going to be a few more years until my first novel will be ready to be submitted somewhere, so even though I am writing it I am working on other projects so I can get them published too. I have big dreams. I want to walk into Waterstones and see my book on the shelf.  I want people to get lost in a story that I created, I want people to fall in love with the characters that only existed in my imagination and I want people to eagerly anticipate reading my novels when I write them. I want to have a successful career, possibly publishing or editing I’m not entirely sure yet. I have big dreams and I am determined that they are all going to happen.  Every writer is an optimist. Canadian poet Margret Atwood quotes that ‘Any writer is an optimist. Why? Number one: they think they’ll finish their book. Number two: they think somebody will publish it. Number three: they think somebody will read it. That’s a lot of optimism. It’s optimistic in and for itself because it believes in human communication.’


Writer's Life

A Change In Direction Or Just A Distraction?

poetry journal

I know I haven’t posted in a while so here we go. First of all, I’ve made some progress with my book! I’ve finished the first draft of my prologue and started the first six pages of my first chapter but I’ve realised recently, that I don’t really have the ambition, the fire in my belly so to speak to want to write it.

Maybe it’s because I know how much work writing a book is and I don’t want to burden myself with that? Especially now I have a job and have that to occupy my time. I’ve decided to start a short story collection – hoping this will be the springboard of inspiration I need.

I already have one story that will be going in the collection called ‘Hush little baby’ and last night before I went to sleep the title of the short story collection popped into my head. I know the theme of which I am focusing on and it’s exciting because I have lots of different and original ideas.

I’ve decided to name the short story collection ‘Unloved.’ That’s all the information I have for now but I can’t wait to get started. I guess it’s okay to put the book on hold and focus on some smaller projects. I will keep you all posted with more details at a later date but for now I better stop writing this blog and go to work. Ciao 🙂