Once I had a terrible, nightmarish experience that I'd like to share with you.
I was at the house of my then girlfriend enjoying some light conversation and a drink. She left the room and returned with a giant stack of A4 paper. On each one was a poem. "These are some of my poems," she said. Then, in a scene much like the one with the Vogon Captain in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy she began to read them.
I made my excuse after three or four and did the typical male thing of avoiding her in order to destroy the relationship and, more importantly, to never have to hear her poems again. The following year I was in Borders with a pal and the local poetry club began a recital. More horror. Then, on a local radio programme I heard someone reading a poem about their mother.
"We often went on holiday
We used to go to Devon.
We drove their with my mother
But now she is in heaven."
... went one of the many quatrains. I still shiver now.
After these experiences I had to do some serious thinking. I love poetry but amateur poets came across to me in a way that amateur airline pilots might to their surprised passengers.
The first step was to re-think the poetry I was writing. Someone (I forget who) had made the point that you should think really hard before writing a poem about yourself. If you were that interesting (he surmised) other people would be writing poems about you. So, I stopped writing about myself.
The second step was to not show anyone my work until I had got beyond the stage of copying the styles of others. So I did that.
The third stage was to read a lot more contemporary poems. A surprising amount of amateur poets write as if they (or their language) come from the 18th century.
The fourth stage was to not show my poems to anyone until I felt I had learnt the craft. I couldn't afford to go on a course (still can't) so I got books from studied form, technique, rhyme, rhythm and the multiplicity of things that infuse good poems. This has been going on for over fifteen years and very enjoyable it's been too. Not just for me but for all those people who haven't had to read the terrible, shit, poems I made along the way.
The only problem with a course of action like this is that you get used to not showing work and crafting away quietly. I've been working hard to find my own voice and overcome the lazyness that affects and inflicts so much amateur poetry.
But then my friend lost his baby. She was nineteen weeks old and had been fighting hard to live after being born premature. When he wrote about his loss I responded, instinctively, by writing a short poem. It was well recieved and I felt that was that (it's a few posts below this one).
Then I wrote a poem, for fun (but with some thought) which got a more public airing. Again the response was good. Perhaps it's time to let a few more out into the open.