How to translate life into poetry


07 May 2021
Monika Radojevic, winner of the Merky Books New Writers' Prize 2020, describes turning questions about social and gender inequality into powerful poems
How to translate life into poetry Images

Writing has always been instinctive for me. It’s my most comfortable and familiar form of expression, whether that comes through journaling, writing letters, or poetry. Writing is also how I process the world around me; so it is not really surprising that I am compelled to write about political and humanitarian issues almost as much as I write about my own experiences. My poetry is often deeply political and urgent, questioning, analysing and condemning. With the world in its current state, I am not sure I could write in any other way.

My debut poetry collection teeth in the back of my neck is split into two sections; the teeth, which examines external issues of inequality and injustice, and the neck, which is a more personal and internal exploration about the impacts of said issues. The most prevalent theme is gender inequality and how this world treats women and girls. I am dumbfounded by the fact that despite the massive leaps in technology, medicine and civilisation, violence against women remains a constant and untamed threat to every single self-identifying women and girl in the world. To me, this is both unbelievable and infuriating; how have we come so far but remained so brutal? Why is gender-based violence and abuse treated as the inevitable side effect of being a woman? Questions like these underpin my poetry and demand explanations, which is what gives the collection that urgency I mentioned. I hope that this passion can rub off a little on those that hold my collection in their hands.

I have embraced the fact that my poetry is emotive and laced with anger, because I think that’s why people connect to it so powerfully. I ask a lot from readers, I ask them to stay and examine humanity as I take them through a journey of grief, alarm and rage because I believe that is what will plant the desire to create change. However, I recognise that approach isn’t for everyone! I am an optimistic and hopeful person; if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t write with nearly as much emotion. Every moment of grief, despair or anger has the silver lining of hope stitched into it, where I challenge the reader to demand more and demand better.

When I think about what draws me to certain writers or genres, I think about what moves me. I read to be moved and to be pulled in the direction dictated by the author. I want to be utterly swallowed up in the world they create and emerge transformed in some way – regardless of if that transformation is small or life-changing, shallow or profound. This is at the forefront of my mind when I write poetry, and every word is my attempt to build the world I need the readers, the audience, to see and feel and know. That is the best way I have found so far to transfer life onto paper.

As an emerging poet myself, I can only offer advice that has personally worked for me and my approach to life. I am consistently inspired by the works of others, so I try to read as widely as I can. Not only poetry, but fiction and non-fiction too, because it is impossible to predict or control where that spark of an idea will come from, so you might as well throw open every single door that you can. Secondly, I am a firm believer in writing for yourself – or some part of yourself. Unless you are addressing someone specific in your writing, write as if you are your own audience. I believe if your work has yourself poured into its pages it will absolutely move others. I guess a less dramatic version of this advice would be; write the thing you have always wanted to read!

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And finally, write because you must, and because you can. Do not paralyse yourself by assuming what you write must somehow be perfect, profound or unique. Write everything and anything that compels you, because that is the only thing that matters.

teeth in the back of my neck is published by Merky Books.


Want to write poems that change the world? Read these top tips from poets, including Keith Jarrett, from the Words that Burn project.