New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories

Giving a voice to Auckland's migrant women

Week 2 – Poetry

Tutors: Saturday: Siobhan Harvey and Miriam Barr; Sunday: Miriam Barr and Renee Liang.

 Introductions – we all have differing degrees of experience and comfort with poetry.

Discussion: What is poetry?

Can rhyme – or not  (Poetry does not have to rhyme!!)

Has rhythm, sound, a musical quality  (eg can sound better in mother tongue – has a nice feeling to it)

Less words – compact. Has images. Contains metaphor.

Needs emotional centre to appeal – has intensity of feeling

Shape is important – can be laid out in different ways

Structured – eg lines/verse/form

Is symbolic, often means more than one thing or can be taken to mean different things to different people

Has rules – but rules can be broken as poetry loves to experiment and treat language in new ways.

How to start?

Write things that get you in the guts.  Use your language/culture background to experiment and play with words and sounds.

Poetry can be read different ways on different readings.

Often reflects on the reader’s experience – offers gaps


Senses:  take a block of time (say 15 minutes) to walk or sit and really take in everything around you – make sure you focus on all five of your senses.  What do you see? feel? hear? touch? taste? smell?   What does it make you remember or think? Make some notes, but don’t shape it into poetry yet.

Then, come back to the room and look at your notes. Taking some of your impressions as a starting point, shape it into the first draft of a poem.

Think about:

-structure – line length, verses, rhythm and rhyme.  “Rules”  (such as those for a sonnet or other structured verse) often exist because another poet has found this useful for the musicality or meaning of a poem.  Following these rules can lead to interesting discoveries or a poem you wouldn’t otherwise write, but breaking those rules can equally lead to the discovery of a form or idea that is also interesting.

– Meaning – try to pick a line or image that can have more than one meaning (eg a metaphor). Concrete images (eg, a bowl of soup) can be more powerful than stating hidden meaning directly (eg. Filling the soul with nourishment).  A cliché or overused image (eg, a red rose) will have less impact than a new or surprising image that comes directly from your own experience.

– Sound – how does the poem sound when read out loud?  Often if you are stuck this might show you where to go next.  Think about alliteration (starting with the same sound) or assonance (echoing of the same vowel.)

– Shape, and spaces – think about the line of the eye as it reads, and what spaces or line breaks will do.  Does your poem have a special shape which aids its meaning?

Discussion:  Writerly ethics

Often when you are writing a story, especially a family story, there is a worry that it will impact on others. This may stop you writing the story that you really want to tell (the internal editor).

There are a few ways around this:

–       “disguise” your work as fiction – but people may recognise that you have done this.

–       Change details – eg make a male character a female one, or change the situation – but this may also change the story or the character’s actions may not make sense, or it may affect what you really want to tell.

–       Write under a pseudonym.

The best way is to be honest – to the story you want to tell as a writer – don’t compromise, write the story that feels true and that you want to tell.  This may in fact be a little different to what actually happened and thus become fiction.  Or you may feel that it’s important that the truth from your point of view be told.

Also be honest if your writing will impact on someone else – talk to them first, you’d be surprised how often they may give permission or be open to the idea of being represented in your writing.


We only had a little while to spend discussing this topic but may spend more time next week.  Publishing is an area of great change at the moment so you need to consider what way suits you best.

  1. Traditional publishing – ie you submit a manuscript to an established publisher.  This is getting harder to do successfully as publishing has very tight margins and they are less inclined to take a punt on a new writer – but it is still possible if your writing is good and they see a potential market.  Do your research before submitting ie know which publishers might be interested in your work, what readership you are aiming for (niche is sometimes good).  Do not be discouraged by rejection – all writers have experienced this at some point, contact the publisher and ask politely for feedback.  Feedback from an experienced publisher is worth a lot in terms of learning.  Be prepared to take this feedback on board. Before submitting consider a manuscript evaluation (see NZSA website, they offer this service for a fee as do many professional editors and writers) and of course make sure it has been proofread a number of times.
  2. E books – traditional publishers may offer this, and there are also a number of companies which offer services to get your book ready for self-publishing as an ebook.  This can often be cheap (as is listing on Amazon) but remember if you self publish you will also have to put in the time yourself to market this and this is a skill which also needs to be learnt.  Some e book services also offer print on demand.
  3. Self publishing – again there are some good examples of success doing this, but many more stories where people have lost money or been scammed.  Again the key is to make sure you have a solid product, identified your audience, and know how to market to that audience.  Beware the scams in which ‘publishers’ or ‘competition organisers’ offer you a publishing deal, only to charge you lots of money and no guarantee that the book will be sold or marketed by them. 
  4. Chapbooks – a form of self publishing which is often small scale and hand produced – often just to share with friends.  Make sure you get an ISBN number as libraries and independent bookstores are often interested in obtaining copies.  They can be a way to do a small collection and start to establish a reputation – this can go down well when approaching a publisher.

That’s all for this week! See you next week for Prose.


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This entry was posted on February 15, 2014 by .
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