Monday, 29 May 2017

'Mind Your Own Business - A seminar on the practical side of being a poet' at Poetry Ireland - Poetry Day - Thursday 27th April 2017

I wrote an initial brief blog on this event but had always intended to write a more detailed article which I include here.

The event included (1) The Alexander Technique by Tomas Hardiman, (2) Jane Clarke sharing her experience and knowledge as a poet and about the business side of writing, (3) Poetry Ireland's Marketing Manager, Muireann Sheahan who imparted some of her knowledge on advertising and publicity, (4) Paul Perry, poet and novelist gave guidance on grant applications and (5) Don Patterson poet and poetry editor at Picador gave an interesting conversational style masterclass on poetry publishing.

(1) The Alexander Technique was introduced by Tomas Hardiman, film-maker and trained teacher in the Alexander Technique. Although I had taken part in Alexander Technique workshops previously I learned and thoroughly enjoyed his talk. He mentioned some well known people who had met with and been helped by the creator of the technique, F.M. Alexander.

One such was Aldous Huxley, 'Huxley had studied many systems of personal development during his life, including the Alexander Technique. He met F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Technique, in London in the mid-1930’s. He was already an established author, best known for his 1930 novel, Brave New World. But his poor physical state threatened to end his writing career.' [From Here & Now by Robert Rickover].

Another was George Bernard Shaw ‘Alexander established not only the beginnings of a far reaching science of the apparently involuntary movements we call reflexes, but a technique of correction and self-control which forms a substantial addition to our very slender resources in personal education.’ - George Bernard Shaw, playwright [extract from: which also includes quotes from many other well known people from all walks of life].

I was particularly interested in his mention of Malcolm Bough who as a runner and teacher of Alexander Technique specialises in using the technique to improve how runners run! As I am currently training for a marathon I could do with every bit of help I can get. An Alexander Technique teacher who specialises in eye sight is Peter Grunwald, creator of the Grunwald Eyebody method.

(2) Jane Clarke, poet, shared some wonderful nuggets. Jane talked about her own experience as a poet. She encouraged us to look beyond our usual audience and to support other poets. A poetry group in the US found Jane's poetry through Christine Murray's Poethead blog which led to Jane being invited over to read. Also a naturalist in Scotland tweeted one of her poems which led to a feature in a Cornish nature magazine.

For the publication of a collection, Jane indicated, one needs to prepare publicity six months to a year in advance. ‘Publishers operate on limited budgets. Don't expect too much – mostly what they can give you is a beautiful book and the imprimatur of their name.’ Contact the marketing person if the publisher has one and ask ‘what can I do? Ask yourself how can I help my publisher? Think of alternative places to publish and don't forget local radio and local papers. Ask yourself ‘whose poet are you’? Who are your different audiences? Approach established and respected journals, keep moving - if you get published by one don't submit to the same one again or at least until a reasonable period of time has elapsed. Establish relationships with your local book shops. Think about where your links are in your own region.

Social media is hugely important and having a website does matter. Take every opportunity - accept invites to read at small readings and submit to local competitions. Marketing starts way before your first collection and you need to think in terms of creating an audience for your next collection. Never assume that the next book will get the same reception as the first.

There are many different roles involved in writing - workshops, competitions, reading, submissions, publicity and administration. Maintain records of your writing and submissions and hold onto reviews and articles.

Jane ended her contribution with this advice: In doing any activity connected with your writing ask yourself - 'Does this nurture my writing'?

(3) Muireann Sheahan, Poetry Ireland's Marketing Manager reiterated what Jane said about publishing and asked ‘What can you do for your publisher’? Think about your brand in terms of reputation, your public image, how you present your work, the cover of your book. She talked about the image created by Haruki Murakami and his ‘moment of inspiration’, available on his website which is well worth a view. When sending images of yourself to a publisher use landscape and high resolution as these are best when reproducing to online sites. She suggested Poetryguy as an example of a site that she felt was well laid out. An online presence can be set up using free applications for example:,, SimpleSite, Wordpress and Google Blogger. Other online options to use include Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud…. In discussing one’s online presence Muireann talked about the idea of sharing something about your life as a poet, encouraging writers to post something every day, use photos, retweet, share, support and be positive. She suggested that advertising via Facebook was worthwhile.

At some point a writer will be asked or will want to read in public. To prepare for this Muireann suggests that one gets comfortable using a microphone. She mentioned iRigMic as a brand that was reasonable and good quality for connecting to a portable device with easy to use software. Eventbrite is an excellent tool for helping with publicity when preparing or organising a reading event. When sending out a press release keep it realistic. Include relevant information in the first paragraph and include contact details. Think of the bigger picture – is there a particular message you want to communicate? For example, how the book came to be – was it a Murakami moment?

Other sites mentioned by Muireann include, Emma Press,, Dedalus, Salmon, Poetry Ireland.

Information on ISBN and ISSN numbers.

(4) Paul Perry shared his knowledge on applying for grants and bursaries. He recommended to use the County and City Councils as a stepping stone before applying to the Arts Council. Information is available on the website showing ‘who we funded’ since 2008. Information on bursaries and grants are available on individual County and City Council websites in addition to the Arts Council website.

Information is also available on WordsIreland.

(5) The event came to a close with the Scottish poet and poetry editor at Picador, Don Patterson.
The focus of Don’s talk was on publishing or getting published. He advised that a writer needs another person to edit their work. In preparing a submission he quoted Philip Larkin as saying ‘have a good poem at the start and end and throw the others up in the air’ and arrange accordingly. To read more on this topic -

If sharing the information here please acknowledge sources.  Blog by Bernadette Gallagher