Poetry Advice From A Folk Musician

Poetry Advice From A Folk Musician

I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you that Broken Body Fragile Heart will be released on October 1st and you can pre-order it soon on Amazon. You know, if you’re interested in that kind of thing. I’ve been formatting it for the last however long, trying to get it right first time this time. It’s been a long time coming, I know, but we’re getting there. So. That’s a thing.

Actually, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence (despite garnering a teensy bit of recognition for my poetry) and almost backed out of publishing it, thinking I’d maybe put it aside until the Christmas holiday or something instead of trying to release it before going to uni. “What if it’s no good?” I kept thinking. “What if it’s not as good as the others and people don’t like it?” Or, more terrifyingly, “What if I’ve put too much of myself into this and I later regret it?”

Because this collection is astonishingly personal, and it’s always a risk putting anything autobiographical out into the world, especially as there are poems in there that were written about specific people and I’m always worried they’re gonna stumble across them and realise it’s about them. I’m not really sure what would result from that, but I feel like it would be a bad thing. I dunno, I’ve just got this vague idea that they should never know.

Anyway, we all know what would have happened if I left it until Christmas: I’d have lost all faith in everything I wrote in there, decided never to release it, and possibly have convinced myself that I’m a failure somewhere along the way.

But I went to a folk jam yesterday with my brother, for the second time. Last time I went it was a pretty quiet affair, since a number of regulars weren’t around, but this time it was in full swing before we even arrived. My wrists haven’t been strong enough lately to take my fiddle, so I came with whistles as before (this time with an F whistle as well as a D whistle to have more flexibility about keys — even if I didn’t actually use it all evening), and threw myself into it.

Could hardly hear myself half the time, except when one of the others yelled out “Whistle solo!” and everyone went quiet so that they could hear me (a terrifying but exhilarating experience that happened about three times during the evening), but I loved the atmosphere. Everyone there’s so friendly. You just turn up with an instrument and bam, you’re part of the group.

Turned out one of the guys in the pub had sold my brother a mandolin earlier that day, so they started talking. After I was introduced we briefly discussed what I’m going to be studying at uni, and he asked if that was for undergrad or as a Masters or something. Check it out: not only did I not get mistaken for a fourteen-year-old, but someone legit thought I was old enough to potentially have a degree already.

And that‘s what happens when I wear makeup for once.

But anyway, the guy who kind of leads these sessions (Whiskey Mick; yes, really, that’s what they call him) came over to talk to me and my brother. I was the only whistle player at the session — guitars, mandolins, banjos and other variations thereupon dominated, with a harmonica and a cello making an appearance as well as a lone fiddler in the corner — so I guess that’s worthy of note. Ben, my brother, introduced me, and I was treated to the exact advice I needed for this poetry collection.

“You can’t screw it up.” Not, I hasten to add, the terrifying, “You’re not allowed to do this wrong,” but the eternally comforting, “There is no way this can go badly.”

Meaning, of course, that it’s a friendly folk environment where no one cares about wrong notes as long as you’re playing with enthusiasm and getting involved, which is the exact thing I love about folk music compared to more Classical environments, but it made me think. Why am I holding back with this poetry collection? Why aren’t I just throwing it out there like an improvised whistle solo in a slightly difficult key where I don’t know the song but am nevertheless willing to give it a go?

The kind of confidence I had in that pub last night (unaided by anything except lemonade) is something I rarely feel in my writing. I’m a perfectionist, who always finds reasons not to get around to querying agents. I should have sent out half a dozen queries for The Quiet Ones by now and I haven’t even finished my synopsis.

So I was thinking about this collection and basically realising that I can’t screw it up. Looking at the numbers for the sales of the other two collections is dispiriting, but also comforting. If it flops, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m a famous author who writes a bad book that gets them slated by every critic ever. No one’s gonna know. I barely even get reviews, let alone bad ones, so why am I so afraid of them?

And if it does well … I mean, probably no one would know about that either, but at least in future as I slowly build up a readership, I might have something else out there for them to read.

I’ve got nothing to lose. I can’t screw it up.

Amazon’s a crowded pub. There are a lot of guitarists out there, and their chords are all but drowning out my whistle playing. Occasionally, I’ll hop up into the top octave, and then you’ll just about hear me over the top, improvising around a few chords and trying to remember how to play a top D because it is a shockingly risky note to tackle on any whistle, and maybe I’ll manage it. If it squeaks, no one cares. Some of them won’t even hear.

Someone’s yelled out, “Whistle solo!” and instead of looking terrified and shaking my head like I used to during my short-lived membership of the school’s Improv Group, I’m going for it. Because that’s how you learn, that’s how you get better, and if I don’t do it I’ll never believe that I can.

butterfly mockup 4Broken Body Fragile Heart will be available for pre-order on Amazon within the next couple of days, at which point I will be sure to provide you with links. It’ll also be available on Nook and Kobo soon. :)

3 thoughts on “Poetry Advice From A Folk Musician

  1. *quizically eyeing your use of the American dating system there*

    Also, folk music metaphor is best metaphor. I’d say it sounded about right, though not entirely out of personal experience.

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