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Tanya Shirley Infects with her Passion for Poetry

Tanya Shirley author of She Who Sleeps With Bones

For a brief moment, the Bookophilia store, Liguanea, Kingston, was transformed from a space where words were sold to one where they were crafted. Dubbed "Passion for Poetry" the evening featured poet Tanya Shirley talking to aspiring poets about her ideas on poetry and the life of a poet.

Rather than deliver a talk, Shirley transformed the event into a mini-workshop with a few poems added in for good measure and as worthwhile examples to illustrate her ideas of good poetry. Shirley doled out several gems to the small group who gathered almost like acolytes. Resistance to her charms was futile as she cajoled, prodded and even threatened to kiss, those who were reluctant to participate. If they had not arrived with a passion for poetry, by the end of the evening they were certainly infected.

Tanya Shirley reads from She Who Sleeps With BonesShe explained that the poet's job was to transform the ordinary. "I want a poet to take the most ordinary experience and make it extraordinary," she advised.  "Every single word you use in a poem carries connotations," she said.

She noted that the important thing was being able to reveal the core of an idea, not merely show a deep of moment of one’s life. "A lot of people confuse diary entry with good poetry," she said with a laugh. And even if they had ever been guilty of the offence, the group laughed with her.

Shirley advised that poets should strive to avoid cliches and trite and abstract words like love and death are to be avoided. Writing about love, she said, is not for the inexperienced pen. "I don't think you should write a love poem until you've published at least one book," she said.

"If you think of your poem as a world you have to give the persons everything to live in your world," she said, explaining that it was important for the poem to connect on the literal level before rising to metaphorical connections. Shirley also highlighted that reading for the poet was as important as writing.

"To be a good poet you have to be reading good poetry," she said. She explained that while it was important for each poet to develop an authentic voice, doing so required reading many other voices. She also advised that while reading the classics was good, it was critical to read contemporary work as well. Shirley explained that the contemporary poetry would also provide an idea about current trends that can lead to publication.

The sampling of poetry she read, included her own pieces ‘Waiting for Rain’ and ‘The Distance Between Us’ as well as Li Young-Lee's 'Eating Together', and Naomi Shihab Nye's 'Kindness'.

Tanya Shirley has authored one anthology of poems, She Who Sleeps With Bones and lectures at the University of the West Indies, Mona.