Michael Swan: A Word From The Poetry Tutor

Show, not tell.
It's crucial.

Homer,
if I may start with you:
you have some good graphic passages,
but all too often
you drop into narrative mode.
Result:
your poetry is swamped
by a flood of surface detail.

Virgil,
the same goes for you.
Don't just tell us
that we weep for the world
and walk in the shadow of death.
Show the tears
running down our faces.

Lucretius,
I hate to say this
but De rerum natura
is a complete non-starter.
Try prose.

Moving on to you,
John:
it's all very well
to say on a huge hill
cragged and steep
truth stands
etc etc,
but, dammit,
show us the hill;
we need to see the crags.

As for you, Bill,
I hardly know where to start.

You tell us that this or that is 'the question',
but thirty-odd lines
of pop philosophy
are no substitute
for showing us the answer.

And again
It's no use just saying
there is a tide in the affairs of men.
You have to show us the tide
breaking on the rocks.
Let us see the whitecaps,
and the seabirds
whirled round like spinning tops
(if I may suggest an image)
borne away from a child's playroom
by the ineluctable fury of the elements.

I don't mean to be negative.
You have a lot of good ideas
and I really think I could help you
make something of them.

Why don't you sign up for one of my seminars?