Manifesto: Roger Robinson – “Success is on you”

Roger Robinson.

In celebration of Roger Robinson winning the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize, we are very pleased to share his manifesto published in the autumn 2017 issue of The Poetry Review, based on his Twitter series #thinklikeanartist, which he has since developed into a talk. More info can be found at

Your poems aren’t finished until you present them to an audience. It’s unfinished if it’s stuck in a drawer somewhere.

A rejection of your poem may dampen your spirit but don’t let it hamper your vision. Regroup, research, revise, rework, resend.

It’s the small things that are going to get you the big things. Were you courteous and kind, were you detailed, enthusiastic and on time?

Don’t become a victim and a complainer. Success depends on your willpower, productivity and practice. You shouldn’t even have time to complain.

We’ve all got to pay the bills, but stop taking work that doesn’t align with your values and passion, it blocks the way of the right work coming.

When you don’t know where to go with your poem it feels uncomfortable. Sit in that discomfort long enough and the poem will tell you what’s next.

If your inner critic is paralysing you, then lower your standards. You can’t quality control an absence of work. Make more. Only show the best bits.

Are you going to sit and wallow in that failure or are you going to get to the next thing you have to do to stride strongly out of it?

Instead of thinking about doing your poetry, do your poetry and then start thinking about it. Find small ways to test it out and stand back, see what you think.

Make sure your poems are allergic to all the current trends.

Finish and distribute your poems, so you can take an active part in making your culture. If you don’t then others will make your culture for you.

We’ve got to be free to fail, not just to make. Many poets feel like their next work has to be amazing or else. Failure is process.

We all have a little bit of crazy that stops us from increasing success in our poetry. Find it out and constantly work against it

If you don’t get lost with your poems, you’ll never find a new path for your poems.

The quality of poems you’re consuming will have an effect on the quality of poems you’re producing. What you put in is what you’ll get out.

You are not special; you are no better than any of your audience. You are a worker, a servant doing very important work with their emotions.

What are the specific components of your poetic language? Is it the Bible, hip-hop, parents? These build your poetic voice. Be aware of them; write them down.

The poet’s job is to translate unspeakable things on to the page. Things that seem powerful or unrealised. This is the way poems find new realms in their readers.

I think the basics are to get good (i.e. craft) and get seen (i.e. stages, journals, blogs, magazines, social media); that’s it.

Ordinary poems won’t change the world. You have to negotiate between your private world (emotions) and your conceptual world (ideas and concepts).

So much of poetry is about doing less, but using less more effectively.

Human truth creates illumination in poetry; not just craft but also not just truth. Poetry is a craft with a spiritual component.

You know what’s the fastest route to get better at your poetry? It’s to help someone else get better at their art.

The world belongs to poets who can finish. Don’t have many open-ended projects just floating. Give yourself a time and a date and finish it.

Any time I get stuck in a piece of writing the one thing that always works for me is to simplify!

Inspiration is separate from will. If you don’t have the will to start doing a poem you’ll never be inspired. It starts as you start.

As poets we don’t need permission anymore. Work hard on craft, be authentic, find your subcultures, open money streams and be a boss.

If there is no emotion in the work you’re doing, stop now. You’ll use up all your physical resources and you’ll still end up dissatisfied.

If you can’t have some appreciation or gratitude for your achievements thus far then you will always be unhappy no matter what you achieve.

Poets: complaint is really inactivity and laziness.

Simplify your artistic priorities down to two. If you have more than two priorities then you don’t have any. Keep creatively focused.

Artists, being busy, stressed, and under it is no sign of success. It’s more a sign of poor planning, a lack of priority and bad goal-setting.

Poets, reject the sacred cows of your industry. Put no structures in authority. Get work seen and sold.

Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from what you can do. So you don’t have a computer and printer, use a pencil and paper, make copies and pass them out.

Not every idea we have should be or could be produced. Sort out which ones are big ideas. Present your most transformative ideas to your audience.

Don’t sit around moping about a publisher, booker or magazine that didn’t blahblahblah. Grow up and learn from mistakes. Keep it moving.

Practice talking clearly about your poetry, influences and techniques. If you don’t tell them how would they know. Write some essays on you.

Poets, you should rush towards a poem but you shouldn’t rush towards a book. Books should be thought through, lingered over and planned.

The worst thought for poets is “I know this already”. Be always in a state of “not knowing”, then inspiration and knowledge is everywhere. Be coachable.

Poets, if you really think that there’s some bogeyman in your way bottlenecking your success then you’re already in failure mode. Success is on you.

Poets, stop thinking you’ll need to get to some mythical next level. There is the journey that you’re on and that’s it, and stopping that journey is not an option.

Go out there with the attitude that the writing industry is not your parents or a charity. Your only option is to be the hottest option.

You want a route to getting better at your poetry? Start hanging out with experienced and more successful poets. Get a mentor. Learn.

Through hard times don’t stop your poetry practice. Don’t stop because you’re not making money, that’s a trap. Continuity is power.

Good poems don’t come from following trends or imitating what exists. They do come from communicating emotive ideas clearly and powerfully.

If you cannot commit to the struggle and pain in your poems then you cannot commit to the joy and success of your poems.

Don’t try to make sure your audience think and feel a certain way. Build a coherent world from which the audience takes what it wants.

If your poetry isn’t helping you in the mastery of your life somehow there’s going to be a schism where you’ll wonder what’s the point of it.

As poets your strength lies in the very humanity of the questions that your poem asks of the reader or listener.

Poets: you have to establish the failure point. The point where progress halts and as a result work and ideas don’t spread. What’s your failure-point plan?

Poets: you have to try and break tradition while at the same time referencing tradition. It’s hard to do and it takes some strength of craft.

You have to realise that success will fall into the hands of the poets who are disrupters. What are you about to disrupt in your field?

Four and a half years ago I started using my tweets as a notebook for thoughts about my own artistry. The tone of them was tough because I was trying to be tough on myself. Surprisingly the notes began to amass a regular audience. This sampling of tweets is slightly adapted for poets. If something sticks, use it; if it doesn’t, ignore it. This is me talking to myself about artistic process, it is not the law. I hope it’s as useful for you as it has been for me. For more ‘Artist Tweets’ see my twitter @rrobinson72 or go to

The Poetry Review 1073 shadow
In The Poetry Review ‘Manifeto’ series, we invite poets to write their own ‘poetry manifesto’. This essay was first published in The Poetry Review, 107:3, Autumn 2017, where it appears alongside ‘manifestos’ by Jay Bernard, W.N. Herbert and Rita Ann Higgins.. © The Poetry Review and the author.