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Writing Tips

Poet Cyril Dabydeen on finding your craft "close to the bone"

The Ottawa poet Cyril Dabydeen was a reader for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize. In this writing tip he discusses the importance of finding your voice, and how creating a poem is not unlike making a table or chair.


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It’s your own utterance that’s most important, one’s own voice. This could take a lifetime of practice: constant writing and re-writing, and reading. Noting what the best contemporary poets are doing and how they have achieved their special effects: their natural rhythms, inflexions, cadence, sometimes viewed as a 'secondary orality,' is significant. 

Most of all it’s felt experience that matters, what’s close to the bone—feelings, emotions... combined with a sense of craft. Creating a poem is not unlike making a table or chair, with the poet as maker. Celebrated poet Derek Walcott said it best: writing poetry is 'perfection’s sweat...like raindrops on a statue’s brow.' And, put the right words in their right order, Coleridge enunciated a long time ago.

Aim for fresh, new images: what’s concrete, not generalized or abstract. Metaphor is the alpha and omega of poetry, even as poetry must also be allowed its peculiar ways. Too much density can be a problem, however, for poetry must be accessible, not too wordy; but I may be a minimalist. Art is never a one-way street!”

A former Poet Laureate of Ottawa, Cyril Dabydeen has published in the Critical Quarterly, The Warwick Review, World Literature Today, Prairie Schooner, The Fiddlehead, Prism International, The Queen's Quarterly, Canadian Literature, and in the Heinemann, Oxford, and Penguin books of Caribbean verse.  My Multi-Ethnic Friends/Stories is his latest volume. He edited Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today (TSAR). He has taught writing at the University of Ottawa.

Photo by Graham Burton, courtesy of Cyril Dabydeen

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