The first piece of my writing to be published was a poem. I was 8 years old and it was called ‘My Cat’. It was chosen for an anthology of poems by children and published by the local arts centre. The next year they ran the project again and my epic ‘Actor Mouse’ was selected. This early experience of literary success encouraged me, but the story bug soon ate the poetry one.

Other that studying Wordsworth and Owen in school for English Lit, I haven’t had a lot of exposure to poetry (except Pam Ayres, when she was on TV). I didn’t really think poetry was something to be enjoyed, but rather something that you looked on as an academic exercise, performing analysis on layers of meaning. Poetry was difficult.

When I started my Creative Writing course with York Uni last year, I wasn’t really looking forward to the poetry section of the module but I could see value in studying it; I hoped it help me to give my prose a bit of a lift, a more poetic feel. I found that, actually, I quite enjoy reading poetry. We went back to it for the next module, Critical Analysis; it’s outside my comfort zone, but I’m learning a lot as a writer from reading and writing poetry.

It’s still not my natural medium, though. When ideas come to me, they come in a rush with a huge volume of words behind them. Taking that and paring it down, carefully choosing exactly the right word not just for meaning but for music, is a skill that I don’t think comes naturally to me. Still, it does mean that sometimes now, when an idea comes that feels more like a poem than a story I don’t dismiss it.

That’s what happened last month with an Hour of Writes prompt. In or Out didn’t spark any interesting story ideas in my head but there was a poem. A pantoum; a fixed form poem that repeats lines from one verse in the next:

I have to ask one thing, I’ll keep it brief
My darling are you in or are you out?
At this point either answer is relief
Can’t live with this pervading sense of doubt

My darling, are you in or are you out?
To keep me waiting is the cruelest thing
Can’t live with this pervading sense of doubt
Is it a lie to keep wearing this ring?

To keep me waiting is the cruelest thing
The Sword of Damocles over my head
Is it a lie to keep wearing this ring?
Was truth held in the vows that we both said?

The Sword of Damocles over my head
A glimmer in your eyes makes hearts hope sprout
Was truth held in the vows that we both said?
My darling, are you in or are you out?

It got an overall mark of 65%, but the feedback was that it needed more work. I’d certainly agree. I was surprised to find out, last week, that it had been chosen as one of the featured entries for that week. I’m pleased, but feel a little undeserving (much as my 8 year old self did when My Cat was chosen).

The next module on my course is ‘Developing the skills of writing poetry’ so I hope that the next poetic offering I have for you will be a bit more polished. It’s good to go out of your writing comfort zone, try new things and add new skills to your writers toolbox.