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Poetry 101 with hotdog magazine

Posted by Grace Wang on Wednesday, October 26 2016

We ask hotdog magazine to answer some FAQs for anyone who wants to try their hand at writing poetry

Hotdog magazine is a feminist poetry title packed with exciting, funny and extremely relatable voices. Not only are the subjects of these poems very immediate — sexual harassment, Titanic, dying iPhones — the language and format of the works take a fresh and inclusive approach to the artform.

In fact it’s all so accessible that it may well inspire you to try writing a few lines of your own, so we asked editors Megan Conery and Molly Taylor to answer some poetry noob FAQs, and guide us through ways to get started (or restarted) in poetry.

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1. I don’t know the first thing about poetry. How can I get started?
MC: Find a few poets to follow on Twitter / Instagram – but be warned, one leads to many – this has definitely led to my growing love and respect of poetry. Not only do you get introduced to some amazing work, but you also get an insight into the process and person behind the words, which is fabulous. It also doesn’t feel as threatening as going straight for the big names and is a great way to get clued into spoken word nights, workshops and other lovely literary events. Hotdog is great, too – LOLZ.

MT: Go and buy a copy of Staying Alive, an anthology edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe. It has hundreds of poems in it, organised by theme (romantic love, family, war and peace, etc) and they’re all contemporary so it’s easier to get along with linguistically (no Olde English or Shakespeare, etc). This is the book that made me fall in love with poetry when I was a teenager. It’s brimming with playful language and sincere emotion.

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2. 
What should I write about?
MT: Whatever feels urgent to you. The more you write, the more the subjects to which you’re naturally drawn will transmute and surprise you. For me, relationships (both romantic and non-romantic) have always been what I want to unpick in my writing. For you, it might be nature or politics or technology. Of course, all of these things overlap – and it’s good to push yourself to write about things that you don’t find necessarily as enthralling (just for practice).
 
MC: Personally, I don’t write poetry – I just read it and publish a poetry magazine. But if I was to write… I would write about my cat – she has her own mat. 

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3. Poetry seems to be most effective when it’s brutally honest. I’m afraid of being judged.
MT: You may be judged by some people, but that’s okay. Feel good about the fact that you are contributing to a sense of openness and generosity of feeling in the world. When I was in university I had a poetry blog where I’d upload quite desperate love poems about the guy I was seeing (note: he really wasn’t that into me) and I know he used to read it. And that everyone who read that blog knew who the poems were about. That is completely mortifying. I squirm thinking about my eagerness. But in the same breath, I’m cool with the humiliation.

We should feel proud when we express vulnerability. In the end, who cares? If other people’s judgment still worries you, then you can work out ways of coding the subject – for instance you’re writing about someone in particular, change the gender, if you’re writing in the first person, try the third person. But I think being bold is always best.
 
MC: Oh yea, totally. Always be bold, that’s my Twitter bio ‘being bold since 1984’. It’s easy to say, “Who cares what people think” when most of us do care quite deeply what other people think. Which is why being honest with your writing is so important even on the superficial level of pleasing your readers. People want to read honest work, and like, who’s gonna judge you for expressing yourself? If they do, they’re dicks and you shouldn’t hang out with them. 


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4. There are some emotions I want to express, but I don’t want to hurt those around me.
MT: Yeah, this is tricky. Rachel Long touches on this in issue two. Maybe the best thing to do is just not circulate those poems anywhere where the injured party might see them until you have sat with the idea for a bit and contemplated what it would mean for them to read. Also, you don’t actually have to circulate the poems that might be hurtful to others — you can show them to those you trust, keep them hidden and unread — whatever feels best for you.

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5. Rachel Long also says in this issue, “Once it’s a poem it transcends itself, even the ugliest things can be redeemed”. Can poetry be healing?
MT: I don’t want to speak for Rachel — she probably has her own view on this. But for me, it’s not that the poem neutralises or heals the trauma about which you want to write — it’s just that the sounds of the poem, the way that the words and images fit together — that in itself can be beautiful. So the poem is beautiful. The fact that you are communicating something personal and very human is beautiful — and all the possibilities that open up from that action are, too. The original trauma is still traumatic.
 
MC: the great thing about writing is that you don’t have to share what you write with anyone. Bridget Minamore (below) touches on this in issue two — that sometimes it’s just about giving yourself permission to write and say whatever you want to say. In those situations it doesn’t have to be for anyone except for you.  

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6. I have a bunch of things written down — where can I share them with others and receive some feedback?
MT: After years of writing and all of our work with hotdog, I still haven’t figured this out. The closest I’ve come to success is organising a group of friends to go to the pub every now and then and bring things to read, whether it’s their own writing or someone else’s. It’s incredibly lovely to share the resulting discussions with people that you’re close to. Alternatively, maybe we should start a hotdog poetry group?

MC: Hahah, yea, we should definitely do that – we’ll keep you posted. 🙂

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