Writing garden poetry

Posted: Thursday 23 August 2012
by Tony Scarfi

Winning the Gardeners’ World Magazine poetry competition last year was a big thrill and it led to a number of exciting spin-offs.

Tony Scarfi and Alan Titchmarsh at BBC Gardeners' World Live

Winning the Gardeners’ World Magazine poetry competition last year was a big thrill and it led to a number of exciting spin-offs. I was fortunate to see my poem, Charlie’s Beans, in print and I recorded it for Radio Four’s Poetry Please. Alan Titchmarsh and I performed readings of it to packed audiences at BBC Gardeners’ World Live; BBC Radio Wales interviewed me and invited me to read it on air.

It’s a strange experience reading your own work live. You obviously know it really well, but with a reasonably long poem it is unlikely that you know it off by heart. I certainly didn’t. Various lines had been subject to a lot of editing to get them just the way I wanted. As I approached those sections of the poem I always became a little nervous.

Last year’s competition was my first and I was surprised to win (I heard the news while on holiday in Spain). The reaction of people to the poem has given me a great deal of confidence to continue writing. I was really flattered that people found the poem moving. I’m never sure quite how to react when people say they loved the poem but it made them cry!

I realise now that my experiences, and my take on those experiences, can be the stuff of poetry and that people are interested in what I create out of those moments.

Charlie’s Beans is based on a real experience. I had the poem in an unfinished form for three years and the competition gave me a push to get it finished! I find that I can create three-quarters of a poem without too much difficulty, but actually completing it takes much longer – the big decisions about word choices and word order become crucial as you approach the point where you must let your creation go.

I try to have a sense of an ending when I start to write a poem. I am looking to create impact at the end. That impact can be created through ideas, imagery or rhythm – or possibly a combination of these.

If you’re uncertain whether to enter the forthcoming competition I would urge you to give it a try. What have you got to lose? Get outside with a notebook and start collecting phrases and ideas. A local park is a great place to start. Rather in the style of a film director, try mixing long shots and close-ups. Get back home and type up your notes. You’ve made the first few steps on the way to your masterpiece!

If it’s your first poem … well, you’ve gained an absorbing, new hobby. Good luck!

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