Low Probability of Racoons

FAQ

The FAQ page

I frequently receive emails from people wanting me to link to their poetry site, or asking me questions of one sort or another. This page provides answers to some of the questions I'm most often asked. If you want to know what sort of sites I'm likely to link to, how to improve your poetry or get it published, or why I didn't respond to your email asking me to do your homework essay, this page may help you.

Either browse through this page, or jump to an item in this keyword index that interests you...

Abstract concepts; Adjectives; Adverbs; Advertisements; Appearance; Arvon Foundation; Attention-span; Awkwardnesses; Backgrounds; Being specific; Collection; Comments, from magazine editors; Competitions; Content; Copyright, respecting; Courses; Craft; Craft, importance of; Critical Service; Cutting out words; Download time; Emotion; English, British; ere; Essay, homework; Expectations of visitors; Frame-trapping; Grammar; Guidelines for submission; Heart, poetry from the; Homework; Images; Judges, competition; Keeping records; Legibility of text; Links; Love; Magazines; Magazines, reading; MIDI files; Music, taste in; Navigation; New browser window; Nineteenth Century; o'er; Opinion, mine; Pamphlet publication; Peace; Plug-ins; Poetry, reading; Power of words; Publishing; Purpose; Racoon, spelling of; Reading aloud; Rhyme; Scams; Show, don't tell; Spelling; Stamped, addressed, envelopes; Taliesin Trust; Tangled constructions; Taste, mine; Taster for print magazine; Technology, use of; Telling people what to think; Thumbnails, use of; Twenty-first Century; Whizzy technology; Words, importance of; Workshops; Writing without rhyme;


Tips for webmasters of poetry sites

I receive many requests from webmasters to link to their poetry sites from my own. I visit all the sites I'm told about, but end up putting links to only about a tenth of those I see. This is because the remaining 90% don't, in my opinion, provide anything that would make it worthwhile for a serious poetry-lover to pay a visit.

As I said, it's in my opinion. You don't have to agree with me, and if you find that the sites I list aren't to your taste, or that I don't link to sites you do find worth visiting, then you probably don't need to read any further.

If, on the other hand, you like the sorts of sites I list, and want to learn more about what I think makes a site worth listing, then the following notes may be of interest.

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Appearance and style

Most of what I have to say here can be summarised in two basic rules.

  1. Decide how you want your pages to look, and only then consider how you're going to achieve that look
  2. Remember that, for a poetry website, the words are paramount. Any embellishments should support them, not supplant them.

Backgrounds

These days, web users expect something in the way of graphical content and backgrounds. A site which uses nothing but text is probably not going to be immediately attractive. Nevertheless, there are very successful poetry sites which make no use of graphics at all. And people are still happy to buy poetry books which have black text on a white background, and no pictures at all.

If you're going to use backgrounds, make sure, they don't affect the legibility of the text. Your visitors want to see your words, so don't make them strain for them. I've seen sites with red text on a brown background. Yuk! I don't know what the poetry was like, because I couldn't read it.

Images - keep 'em small

Another really off-putting characteristic of some sites is the use of huge graphics that take an age to download. Visitors will rapidly become bored waiting, and surf off elsewhere. Keep any graphics small, so your page loads quickly, and people can see your poetry.

If there's a good reason for having a large graphic - maybe your poem is about a picture, for example - then consider having a small thumbnail, which links to another page with the full image. Visitors will be more likely to tolerate the download time if they know in advance what they're in for.

MIDI files Yuk!

Some web poets seem to think that their page isn't complete without a MIDI file playing in the background. Think very carefully before doing this. Not everyone's taste in music is the same, and many readers don't like someone else's choice of tune while they read. Personally, I rarely spend very long at a poetry site with background music, for two reasons. First, I find the music distracting and irritating. Secondly, it makes me wonder what's wrong with the poetry, if it needs bolstering in this way.

If you must include music, make sure it doesn't stop and re-start each time the visitor loads a new page.

Technology

The more advanced techniques you use in creating your site, the more likely you are to give your readers problems. They may not have the latest browser, or the plug-ins to view your content. If not, and they can't see your site, they're more likely to surf off somewhere else than download new technology just for you.

You have to make the judgement, of course. There may be good reasons why you need to use a particular technique. A site that could be viewed by every browser in existence would probably be very plain indeed by today's standards. You have a number of options. You can provide the hi-tech content for those with the wherewithal, and also give a simpler version for those without. You could ensure that the entry to your site is viewable by just about everyone, confining the whizzy stuff to just where it's needed. Or you can decide that readers will just have to have the right technology if they want to visit, and accept the fact that you'll lose a few potential visitors.

Navigation

Some sites are a nightmare to navigate. It takes ages to find what you're looking for, and then when you've found it, you can't get back out again. People have short attention-spans, particularly when they're struggling through a maze of cryptic and misleading links. Make sure your visitors can find what they're after quickly. If your site covers several subjects, remember that most visitors will be interested in just one of them. Don't force them to work their way through irrelevant (to them) material to get to where they want to be.

Purpose

Make sure you know what your web site is there for. Is it to showcase your own poetry? To advertise your books? Do you display poetry of other poets? Maybe you want to do a bit of everything. Nothing wrong with that, but make it clear to your visitors what they can expect to find at your site.

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Content

Don't use copyright material without permission Yuk!

If you reproduce poems in copyright without permission then I won't link to your site. Full stop. If you want to include someone else's poetry, then get their permission. If you don't know them personally, write to their publisher. The chances are, you'll be given permission to put a poem or two of theirs on your site. You're unlikely to get permission to display their entire oeuvre.

Spelling and grammar

Everyone makes spelling mistakes, but it's particularly important to avoid them in poems. If you're a poet, you're supposed to be interested in words, know about them, and love them. If your poem has spelling errors it's going to look bad (unless they're intentional, of course.) Grammar in poems can be loose anyway, but if you have prose introductions, it's a good idea to get the grammar right there. Show people you know how to use the language conventionally, even if you stretch the rules in the poems themselves.

Links

You can make your site more attractive by adding some links to other poetry sites you like. You'll find that if you provide links yourself, other site owners will be more likely to link to yours.

Don't frame-trap the sites you link to, though. In other words, don't load the linked site into a frame within your own. Either load it in the top level browser window, replacing your own site, or load it in a new browser window.

Frame trapping is extremely discourteous, as it prevents the visitor from easily seeing the URL of the site you've linked to.

Magazines

If your site is a taster for a print magazine, make sure you give a taste. Obviously, you don't want to give away the whole contents - otherwise there wouldn't be a lot of point in people subscribing. But do give some examples of work, even if from past editions. It gives visitors an idea of what they might expect for their money. And it makes it more likely that I'll give you a link from my site. If yours is simply an advertisement, why should I give you free publicity?

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Tips for Writing Poetry

It comes from the heart... Yuk!

Whenever someone asks me to visit their website and tells me that their poetry "comes from the heart", my own heart sinks. It simply isn't enough to pour out your emotions onto the page and call it poetry. Certainly, the emotion has to be there, but that's the easy bit. Anyone can feel sad, and quite a lot of people are fortunate enough to be able to feel happy. To write a poem, you have to craft that emotion into something that will communicate something specific to other people.

If you think your poetry comes from the heart, here are some pointers to what you probably need to do to make it into real poetry.

Rhyme

Rhyme is a powerful and difficult tool. It's all too easy to let the rhyme drive the poem rather than co-operate with it. Rhyme is powerful because it pulls words together by the similarity of their sounds. You need to ask yourself why those particular words need to be pulled together. Rhyme is a means, not an end. If you always write in rhyme, try writing without rhyme. You'll find it more difficult, because you'll have to think about what the poem is doing in itself, rather than thinking about how to slot the next rhyme in.

Cut out words

When you've written your first draft, examine each word to see if it's contributing. Pay particular attention to adjectives and adverbs. These can easily sap the strength of a poem. Cut out suspicious words and see if the writing is more powerful without them. You'll be surprised how often it is.

Be specific

The trouble usually starts because you want to write about some big, abstract concept, like 'Love' or 'Peace'. But there's not a lot you can say about peace in the abstract except that it's a Good Thing and it's fragile and easy to break. Everyone knows that, so you're not going to be able to say anything new or interesting. Take a specific example of peace being made or broken - it doesn't matter whether it's a quarrel between two children or a conflict between nations. Better still, forget about your peace poem and go and write about what you can see out of the window.

Show, don't tell

This is a hoary maxim, but still worth noting if you've not come across it. Instead of informing your readers about the emotional state of someone, describe how the person looks. So, for example, instead of saying that Jane is happy, describe the smile on her face, or the jaunty way she walks. Be particularly careful of telling people what to think. They may not agree with you, and in any case, probably won't appreciate it. Draw the picture, and leave your readers to draw the conclusions. If you've drawn the picture clearly and powerfully enough, they'll draw the ones you want.

This is the 21st century

...so don't use language of the 19th. Avoid words like ere and o'er which you'd never use in ordinary speech. Avoid tangled constructions like "...and to the woods they went." Yuk!

Read aloud

When you've written your poem, read it aloud to see how it sounds. Not just in you head, but out loud. It's amazing how many awkwardnesses of language come to light this way.

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How to get published

Read lots of poetry

Some people think that if they read other people's poetry then this will taint their own writing. This is complete nonsense. Poetry is in large part a craft you have to learn how to do. And one of the best ways of doing it is to look at work by others, to see how they do it. All the good poets I know read poetry voraciously.

Read poetry magazines

Find the ones that publish the sort of poetry that you write. Submit your work to those. Don't send just one poem, but don't send your whole oeuvre. About four to six poems at a time is usually about right, but some magazines have their own guidelines. Follow them. Always send a stamped addressed envelope and never send the only copy of your poem. Keep records of what you've send where. Don't send your work to more than one magazine at a time. They don't like it. Yes, it's unreasonable when an editor sits on your work for months, preventing you from sending elsewhere, but that's just the name of the game.

Magazine editors don't usually have time to make comments, but if they do, take note of what they say. But don't necessarily believe what they say. It's only one person's opinion and may not be right for you or your poetry. On the other hand if several people make the same kind of comment, be prepared to think there may be something in it.

Enter competitions

Note who the judges are and read their works. Try to find poems to submit you think they might like. Don't try to imitate them though.

Join a poetry workshop

There's almost certainly one in your area. Get into the habit of sharing your work with other, like-minded people. Listen to what they say about your poetry carefully. Particularly the criticisms. If you don't get criticisms, you're in the wrong workshop. Compliments are nice, but they don't help improve your work.

Go on courses

In the UK the Arvon Foundation and the Taliesin Trust run excellent courses where you can immerse yourself in writing for several days at a time.

Avoid scams Yuk!

This is sometimes a grey area, but as a general rule, avoid outfits that expect you to pay for an anthology in which your work is included.

Go for it

Once you've got your work into a dozen or so decent magazines and competition anthologies, start thinking about getting a pamphlet published. A number of magazines publish pamphlets as well. By this time, you'll know who they are.

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Miscellaneous Points

Please do my homework for me

No. Do your own homework. I can easily spot when a question is really the essay title you've been given.

Don't send me your collection

I'm not a publisher and I'm not a free critical service. The Poetry Society offers a critical service if that's what you want and are prepared to pay for it.

In particular, don't send me attachments containing Word or other format documents. I won't open attachments from people I don't know.

Why can't you spell "Racoon"?

I can. In British English, it is spelled with either one or two c's, with many dictionaries preferring a single c.

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