Time for a Poetry ‘sabbatical’?

I’m thinking of taking a sabbatical from poetry. Giving it up for a while. A bit of ‘detox’.

Why? Multiple reasons really. The easy one is to say that “I want to focus on my prose”. Very little collateral damage in that one I suspect. And it also has the benefit of being true! I should be working on the final revisions of my up-coming novel “On Parliament Hill”, and I am working on a first draft of a novel set in France (38k words in) – though I’m still not convinced I’m entirely persuaded by that one yet. Whether or not I see it through to conclusion, something will follow…

I’m also transcribing the contents of my old notebooks with the aim of turning them into some kind of non-fiction / diary / log / reflective naval-gazing tome. It’s already over 200 pages long, so I think will be seen through to the bitter end (if only for my satisfaction!). This, of course, is also a project that takes time.

Interestingly, this exercise has also highlighted other things. The two stand-outs are 1) the number of solid ideas which have never seen the light of day, and 2) that “An Infinity of Mirrors” is probably the best and most complete novel I have ever written – and that I owe it to myself to come up with something new and equally comprehensive.

I could probably be forgiven for leaving it there – the excuses for taking a ‘poetry break’, that is. But there are two other reasons. The first is that I’m not sure I dedicate enough time to it. And the second is that I’m not convinced I’m good enough at it – or at least not as good as I want to be. I’m currently finalising another volume of poetry – “The Homelessness of a Child” – after which (unless the Muses are particularly generous) I may put down my quill once it has been launched. This is an important volume for me because so much of it is autobiographical and contain things from my past I feel the need to exorcise.

So that’s the current plan:

  • finish and publish “The Homelessness of a Child” (then decide…)
  • finish and publish / have published “On Parliament Hill”
  • finish and publish the ‘notebooks’ thing (I have a working title, but am not yet ready to share it!)
  • start / conclude the next piece of fiction, whatever it might be

As ever, sounds so simple laid out like that, doesn’t it?!

2 thoughts on “Time for a Poetry ‘sabbatical’?

  1. My old poetry tutor says he never knows if he’ll write again, or if what he’s just done is any good, at the launch of each new book – and he has 5 collections published by the leading publisher in Ireland who printed Heaney, Mahon etc. He also has a busy academic life as a Director of a Creative Writing Centre at a large university – and still dependant kids. And yet he’d get back to my emails within a few hours, even on a Sunday afternoon – we were in awe of his work-rate (if not always his comments…!) Which is to say, I think we all feel ‘finished with it’ at times and I think just need to see this as part of the process – a re-set, a pause to gather in. And to be really honest, there’s so much good work (and yes, some not so good) out there, that not feeding the poetry fire is probably good all round – if it was an ‘economic model’, poetry would be a disaster from the off – what other production sees so much over-supply for so little perceived demand? Even other poets don’t often buy much poetry, and in fairness, are not always in the best paid jobs, so beg, borrow, steal, swap, or review the books they do read (a cheap way of building a library, if you don’t mind reviewing others’ work!) Let it go, it’ll come back if it wants to, and maybe think of it as freeing up tiny cracks of space for others coming along behind, in front or even coming in sideways! A sad reality is, with so much ‘out there’ or trying its’ hand at being, our own poetry won’t be missed. I think those who gain a level of sustained achievement (at whatever level) must be the most persistent, devoted ‘believers’ of any ‘religion; or perhaps strange ‘cult,’ that is known to anyone, anywhere. More prosaically, a ‘sabbatical’, as you call it, may rekindle what we really engage with it for – which is mainly ‘love’, however cynical and jaded experience makes us at times. All best for all your writing in future, whenever and wherever it takes you!


    1. Thanks Ken. I’d love to be able to disagree with you about our own poetry not being missed – but I can’t… I suppose we’re the only people who truly would miss what we produce (‘good’ or ‘bad’) and the experience of getting there; and maybe that’s the litmus test. I suppose we do write for love, and – in my case at least – also for the moments I find those elusive nuggets, a few lines of poetry or a few sentences of prose, when I genuinely feel able to stand back with some pride and say “Wow! I wrote that.”


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