The coincidences in the poems sent in to me during the December window ARE uncanny.

Here are some of them:

♥  Two sets of envelopes, one immediately after the other, have both egrets and herons in the same poem.

♥  Four poems in one day’s reading use the word ‘gift’ (as in we gifted her our dog) where once we might have used ‘give’ or ‘gave’. Last window, it was ‘hefted’ instead of ‘heaved’. Now it is ‘gifted’ instead of ‘gave’.

♥  Horses are off the menu latterly. But now a lot of foxes. Ted Hughes started it and Robert Minhinnick continued, so this is nothing new. Nice to see foxes are back, in fact.

♥  Two lots of supermoons arrived in poems on the same day. I thought there would be more, like there were for the last comet, but it may be early days.


♠   People writing ‘til. It is either until or till. Both of the latter are proper words so you get a choice.

♠  Habitual past tense – ‘I’d run down to the shop / and buy the daily bread. / I’d talk to Mrs Bloggs / but I’d forget the things we’d said.’ I contend that a single action in the past is always more interesting than the things you used to do. (‘I ran down to the shop / and bought the daily bread. / I talked to Mrs Bloggs / but I forgot the thing I said.’)

You get the same construction when filling in back story – ‘I’d talked to Mrs Bloggs and I’d bought the daily bread / but then I saw the postman / and remembered what I’d said.’ Back story tends to be boring, though sometimes necessary in a narrative. In poetry it brings in a lot of letter D, which is involved in ‘I’d’ and ‘we’d’ and ‘you’d’. Too much letter D is a killer, aurally. Trust me.

♠  Too many stanzas starting a new sentence with And (cap A). You can overplay your And.

♠  The leaning verb.

Leaning verbs
It is possible that I'm losing the plot completely. I could be imagining the fact that they’re ganging up on me.

No, I’m not imagining it. There are a lot of leaning verbs in free-verse forms, and especially towards the end of the poem.

What on earth are ‘leaning verbs’? It’s my name for them. it’s a way of describing a series of verb clauses, where two or more verbs have the same subject. There’s probably a proper grammatical term for it. They are sort of in apposition. Like this (I am rhyming my example for fun, but this is really a free-verse thing):

I ran to the shop,
bought the daily bread,
talked to Mrs Bloggs,
forgot the things she said.

A leaning-verb lover would never put ‘and’ before the last verb in the sequence. The verbs are stacked one by one against the subject (in this case ‘I’). The leaning-verb user likes to stack verbs. It gifts (I mean, gives) a good strong stress to the first syllable of the verb, and in a repetitive pattern, this creates a sense of structure and pattern. Often each verb gets a line of its own.

Some poets will do this without commas at end of the verb clause. They will use a line break to substitute for a comma. This is fair enough, unless you plan to use enjambed lines later, in which case the common reader gets anxious.

There’s nothing intrinsically evil about the leaning-verb construction, and it’s certainly not wrong, grammatically speaking. But if it becomes a regular habit, poets should take note. Because habits quickly become convention, and staidly conventional writing is what killed the so-called ‘Georgians.

Look out for leaning verbs in the last two lines of free-verse poems. You’ll be surprised how often you find them, in poets of all ranks. You’ll find them so often it’ll start to sound as ‘right’ to you as ending on a rhyme once did (witness Simon Armitage’s Cataract Operation).

But you want to sound different from the rest, don’t you?

Some poems just work. The poems that work work in their own way. They’re not much like any of the other poems that work, generally speaking, so it’s impossible to generalise about what makes them delightful. If it were, I would share the secret with you here.

All I can say is, sometimes poems just do it, whatever ‘it’ is. They make you wake up, sit up and read them again. And again. A poet can sometimes write five pleasantly dull poems and then one that’s a sit-up. If the poet could write the sit-up poem every time, she would. We all would.

During this reading window, I read about a mile of poems, and every 44 yards or so there was a sit-up. It was wonderful. There were also poems that could be sit-up poems, I thought, with a little tinkering, though tinkering can be over-rated.

All the poems have now been returned to their owners, though they only went in the post yesterday. Just so you know. For me, it’s back to publications and reviews, both of which are shouting from the sidelines: me, me, me. And my ‘to do’ list, which is up to 21 items. 

Also it’s time to eat.