How to be the Perfect Romantic Poet by Liz Lochhead

How To Be The Perfect Romantic Poet was published in Gutter 13 (Autumn 2015). Liz Lochhead is an award-winning poet and playwright. She was appointed as the National Poet for Scotland in 2011. Her most recent poetry collection, Fugitive Colours, was published in June 2016. 


Coiver of Gutter 13

Be born male.
Begin your career as a poet early.
Take advantage of your nursemaid’s momentary distraction
by — not yet a twelvemonth —
crawling to the fire and snatching out a live coal, flamed
and glowing, learning
to brand Promethean sensation to your flesh and brain.
(This will also initiate you nicely into the twin satisfactions
of rousing the whole household with your shrieking
and getting a maid into trouble.)

Be orphaned ere you grow to double figures.
Ever after, idolise your father, disappoint your mother.
Have a sister (every Romantic poet worth his salt most certainly
has a sister.) She’ll be the one to hearken when he sings
Come my sister, come I pray
With speed put on your woodland dress
And bring no book, for this one day
We’ll give to idleness.)

Even if you are not Lord Byron
be mad and bad and dangerous to know.

Be faithful to your Muse and marry the wrong woman.
Your Muse will most fulsomely reward you.

When in London, lodge at the Salutation and Cat,
that hotbed of sedition. Thrill to that.

Leave your long black hair unpowdered,
wear your blue topcoat with a white swansdown waistcoat,
your mudded stockings most spectacularly bespattered — but
most vehemently refuse to change them just to please your wife.

Dream, but
ere you’re older (if you want to get much older)
attempt to wean yourself of your predilection for laudanum, opium, brandy,
do drop the Kendall Black Drop for the more sedative stimulants
of egg-nogg and Oronoko tobacco.
escape the real world of gruel, sulphur-ointment, haberdashery,
pig-iron, cotton manufactories and silk mills;
worship all winged creatures — Angels, Harpies,
the starling, sea-mew, ostrich, owl, canary, vulture,
the nightingale, sparrow, thrush, bustard, tom-tit, dove, duck, linnet, lark
and, ah,
the albatross…

Dread, above all, becalming, stasis.
Love the wild wave,
the humble birdlimed thornbush, let nature be your teacher
but be ‘a library cormorant’, dive deep.
When it thunders
run bareheaded, harebrained, out into the rain.
Miss all deadlines — write all night,
tempt and court the Nightmare and the Succubus
in pursuit of the green radiance,
in pursuit of the fugitive colours of the day.

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