free the pen, a blog for writers

September 16, 2014

What is Poetry?

Filed under: Uncategorized — freethepen @ 8:57 pm

The discussions about what poetry is can go on forever. I’d like to introduce you to my friend Scott Hastie, a fabulous poet from the UK. Please read what he has to say about poetry and check out his book and links below. I know you will love him!

scotthastie What is Poetry, by poet Scott Hastie SHangel-voices-slide

Many people from different cultures often talk to me around notions of: what is poetry? And, indeed, are keen to discuss the significance or otherwise traditionally rhyming schemes and syllabic metrical structures. For me, it is very stark and simple – ‘a poem’ is ‘a poem’ if it calls itself one – similarly ‘a poet’ is ‘a poet’ if he/she deems to call themselves one. No more complicated than that!

This doesn’t mean, of course, that any self declared poet is necessarily a good one… Similar to the early part of the Twentieth Century and all the discussion about what was then ‘art’ and not ‘art’ – painters and sculptors (musicians even…) have been much more successful than poets in throwing off the shackles of the past, than we poets.Both in terms of the general public’s and even (sad to say…) most of the ‘literary world’ and academia’s on-going perception on this issue.

That is not to say that poetry that rhymes or strictly follows a consistent metrical rule throughout is not of value – obviously not! Just as clearly as say Jackson Pollock’s or Rothko’s work does not trump Michelangelo’s, without a doubt some of the most inspiring and effective poetry ever written falls firmly into this more traditional category.

So there you go! I am a poet, unabashed, pure and simple. If pressed on the subject, I will concede, yes, indeed, I write mainly what is often described as ‘free’ or ‘blank’ verse. Writing that’s not (being a child of the glorious seventies!) without some ‘concrete’ influences. However lyrical flow and emphasis are always essential to my work and I am not adverse to using rhyme or slipping into conventional structures, whenever they feel right. Sometimes I even find myself writing haikus, mid poem, without even being conscious I’m doing it! No surprise there really as some of the deepest, most ancient of structures are precisely that, felt, rather than objectively constructed stretching back to an oral story telling tradition, when such effects were first discovered for enhancing dramatic effects and aiding memory, given that nothing was then written down but simply retold, from generation to generation.

All that having been said, I always have one regular tactic up my sleeve to settle any argument, if necessary… regarding my credentials as a ‘poet’. I ask the person concerned to read any poem they wish and then subsequently present them with a full prose essay conveying the very same message. Trust me, that is guaranteed to quieten even the sternest of critics or ‘know it alls,’ who then had no option but to concede there is clearly much ‘poetry’ there after all!

And, of course, overriding all this – of one thing I have always been sure – poetry is the purest of all art forms. Now, within that, we know all too well how the term ‘blank verse’ can be used in a pejorative way, whereas ‘free verse’ self-evidently cannot. So a poet writing free verse is what I proudly lay claim to be, and writing free verse that will joyfully adopt whatever technique, structure pattern or lyrical tone as I see fit to help shape mood and nuance, as the meaning demands.

Brief Biog & personal statement:

Scott Hastie is a successful British born poet and writer who has been commercially published in the UK for over twenty years. He currently has seven titles in print, including a novel and three collections of poetry. In recent years the spiritual tone in his maturing poetic voice is increasing acclaim and attention from a worldwide audience, especially in the U.S. India & the Middle East.

Official twitter account: @scotthastiepoet

Public Facebook page:


Thank you Scott for a wonderful piece on poetry.

Keep the pen moving!

Jan, CEO and Founder of About the Author Network




September 11, 2014

What is the Structure of Your Book?

Filed under: Uncategorized — freethepen @ 4:08 pm

In my work with new writers, they usually do not consider or take seriously the structure of their book. After all, writers spend time on the actual writing, right? But the structure of a book is important. It is the map that lays out what you are saying and the form in which you are going to say it.

Almost all books have the basic structure of the copyright page, title of contents, chapters headings, and about the author. But there are other pages to consider. So here are some idea:

1. An internal first page with only the title on it – this is the page authors like to inscribe for readers.

2. An Other Books by the Author Page so you can also promote your other works.

2. A Dedication page.

3. An Acknowledgment page.

4. An Epilogue page.

5. A page of ideas for book clubs.

In addition to the overall structure, the content has its own structure. Depending on what type of book you are writing, it is important to define the best way to make your content stand out. Do you want chapters for each character’s voice? (see Barabar Kingsolver’s book, The Poinsonwood Bible) Do you want to have half the book about the problem and the other half the solution? (see Leigh Fortson’s memoir, Embrace, Release, Heal). Do you want to start with history or backdrop?

When I browse bookstores I open books and study the Table of Contents. Basically, I want to see how an author structures her book. I highly recommend that before publishing your book, you check out the genre of your choice, and review how other authors have laid out their books. Get creative. Do you want to add pictures and where will those pictures be? (see any memoir with pictures) Do you have footnotes and do you want them at the foot of the page or in the back of the book? What about resources you used to gather information, don’t you want to add them in case the reader wants to do her own research? Are you going to add any maps or family trees (see Luis Urrea’s book, The Hummingbird’s Daughter)?

There are basically two different structures to consider for your book:

1. the big picture of how the different pages fit together, and

2. the internal story and how that is going to be laid out.

Keep the pen moving!

Jan, CEO and Founder of About the Author Network, a membership organization promoting writers, authors, and their publications.

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