ISBN 1 84481 101 8 (e-book), 1 84481
102 6 (CD)
Cool Publications, 2004
100 pp, PDF Format
Retail price £4.99 (e-book), £11.99 (CD)
Modern poetry is a literary minefield. Its seeming disregard for all the obvious rules of more traditional
poetry forms has often made it an easy target for critics who found it hard to understand and a difficult arena for budding
poets who struggled to adequately find the form needed to bring their thoughts to life.
As a journalist I’m wary
of How-to books because they tend to marginalise the true effort required to create anything that’s remotely adequate,
let alone good. Their prescriptive approach tends to favour a “now we do this and next we’ll do that-“ formula
that rarely works.
All of which makes Geoff Tims’
How to Write Modern Poetry the exception that proves the rule. A working poet who never stops seeking ways to improve
his craft, Tims’ book has forsaken the formulaic approach on How-to do anything for a compressed masterclass on the
writing of modern poetry.
Opening with ‘What is Modern
Poetry’ Tims analyses not just the genre but the form itself. He makes the point that good poetry is good poetry irrespective
of style and draws real parallels between the different art forms, asking the reader to first look inside themselves before
they think of putting pen to paper.
As you’d expect in a How-to
book there is the inevitable step-by-step approach that, in this case, feels entirely natural, chatty and unforced. The exercises
at the end of each chapter have a specific aim: to bring out the poet inside the reader. To sensitise us to the world around
us, to make us aware of the potent power of words and to teach us the secrets of the craft of modern poetry that successful
poets find out about the hard way.
Taking the unusual, and very brave,
tactic of developing a poem alongside the reader Geoff Tims explores what exactly makes a poem great and then goes on to give
examples, create crisis points the budding poet must resolve, and offer advice.
Watching the poem develop is akin
to taking an apprenticeship beside a master craftsman. The digital format of the book makes it perfect for skipping around
through all its bookmarks and, for once, I was able to read three chapters on the train and do the exercises without having
to suffer the supercilious glances of fellow travellers prepared to make judgement about anyone trying to be a poet.
Geoff Tims’ book is thoroughly
exhaustive of its subject as only a How-to book can be and passionately personal in its arguments as you’d expect from
a poet who’s very much at the centre of his art. It is also tremendously helpful, full of insight, occasionally witty
and always gentle in its guidance. If all How-to books were like this the genre itself would see a revival beyond anyone’s
expectations and…there would be fewer badly-attempted poems about.