The huge requirement for writing poetry is a black biro. I find it hard to believe that people can write it with blue biros, fountain pens or pencils. The most special pen is a champagne-coloured one filled with Swarowski crystals – a Mothers’ Day gift, which makes it extra special … but I’m happy with any of the black pens from The Works. If anyone takes my pen and uses it for other things, I get very unhappy. The only person who can get away with this is my Muse, ginger cat Byron. I was delighted to find that Viking can personalise pens, and I have several marked Alison’s Poetry Pen.
My perfect notebook is hardback A5, ideally with lined off-white or cream paper, and with 22 lines to a page. That’s particularly useful for poetry, especially with many outlets setting a line limit. Any style, any brand is fine, but the book has to have some special appeal. My three latest books are a soft orangey leather I bought on holiday in Maine, a plain notebook but backed with a beautifully crafted hand-made jacket bearing the quilted picture of a fish, which was a gift from my husband, and a cased book with a Japanese picture enhanced by metallic decoration, a birthday gift from a friend. Each book lasts a long time, at least two years. It’s usually used for nothing but drafts of poems, though I occasionally include notes taken at talks and courses. Prose of any kind is written straight onto the keyboard, but poetry needs the feel of pen across quality paper.
I buy hardback notebooks 16×11 cms. – preferably with plenty of pages, and again the pages should be cream and lined. These are easier to carry, and accompany me whenever I go away. They are used as emergency poem repositories, but also filled with ideas, thoughts, comments, overheards, quotes, ideas for new poems, and notes for talks and courses I’m giving. I also use very small notebooks, 10×7 cms., again hardbacks and – I’m a creature of habit – with lined cream pages. I use these to write up my courses, any exercises I’m going to set, and lists of handouts I’m distributing. There’s always far more material than I’ll use, as I have the speaker’s perennial dread of running out of material before the end of the course. I buy picture postcards from holidays to make the notes for poetry readings or talks of up to an hour. This probably sounds crazy, but the familiar pics help me to relax, which I believe aids delivery of a talk.
I came to love poetry through studying it for elocution exams., and started writing it when I was 18. It’s always been my first love as a writer, though closely followed by writing about writing poetry. At different times in my life I’ve attempted romantic novels, written humorous articles – mostly about minor domestic disasters – and short stories, and I currently write articles on poetry for Writing Magazine. I give talks, readings and workshops around the country, and taught creative writing in adult education for 24 years. I’ve written 11 poetry collections, 7 for commercial publishers and the last 4 self-published, numerous books on the craft of writing, and the poetry correspondence course of the Writers Bureau. My latest collection is A Fraction from Parallel, published June 2016 and available via lulu.com.