Category Archives: Reading & Writing Poetry

Poetry Bites #5: Collaborative Poem (part 2)

white blossom by Jane Poulton

Photo by Jane Poulton

One Day in a Life
April 2020

Morning
Walk to the breakwater on wind scribed sand.
A sassy breeze comes in with the waves.
The sun breaks a yolk across the sea.

Afternoon
Tree by tree
the chaffinch marks his domain with song.
Rowan.
Silver birch.
Horse chestnut.
Beech, its branches bending to embrace the other.
The cherry blossom, heady harbinger of Spring.

4pm
Newly learned language clogs our throats.
Daily death rate. Self-isolating. Pandemic.
PPE. Lockdown. Contact tracing.

Grant us the grace to keep tally of our blessings
on letterbox-red tulip petals and a forget-me-not sky.

Evening
Fingers of shadow slant across the grass,
our day’s jagged fold lines smoothed away.

Curated by Kate Evans.
Words/lines generously donated by Kate Boddy, Lesley Glover & Jane Poulton

 

 

The Process
A few weeks ago, in a blog post, I invited people to get involved with writing a collaborative poem. I am so grateful that several have generously donated their words and sentences. I have enjoyed the process and those who took part have also said they found pleasure in it. Whether the poem will pass the test of time, I do not know, but I feel it captures a moment, which is valuable in itself.

When I have done this type of thing in a group, usually at the end of a workshop where people have been working together for a day or more, I am always surprised at how easily the lines slip together. This did not happen this time. A writing friend suggested this is because we were not together enough to be ‘on the same wavelength’. Plus I was more anxious about what the contributors would think about the completed poem.

Consequently, at first I was, to be truthful, a bit flummoxed. Then I saw the two lines ‘fingers of shadow slant’ and ‘fold lines smoothed away’ seemed to have a fit and felt like an ending. Putting them together also gave me the idea of structuring the poem around a day. This helped enormously.

I had meant the poem to be about the Spring and to turn its back on the situation we all find ourselves in. However, the poem had other ideas. Covid-19 would not be ignored. Quite rightly, I guess. On the other hand, I was determined not to let it dominate, especially not in the way it overshadows the news and our daily intake on the radio/TV. So I pushed it to the right. The poem can be read without it. In addition I very much wanted to put nature’s counterbalance.

I struggled to know how much of the ‘newly learned language’ to put in. In doing this, I took inspiration from Julia Darling’s poem ‘Too Heavy’ from her collection Sudden Collapses in Public Places. It explores her feeling of being silenced as a patient by medical language. Darling uses words associated with her cancer treatment and juxtapositions them with ‘sweet tasting words’. The terms she uses, despite being ‘too heavy’, are also rhythmic and strangely poetic.

Inevitably, though I am greedily using the inspiration of others, this poem reflects my own preoccupations. In particular, there is the contrasting of the vivacity of Spring and nature against the overall grimness of human folly. Plus there is the new language we are being forced to swallow. Finally, there is the sense many have expressed, that we are living a kind of dystopian ‘Groundhog Day’, each day pretty similar to the last. The Bill Murray character in the film Groundhog Day, learns with each replay of the day until he becomes ‘good enough’ for his love interest. I do hope we can all (including thems-in-charge) make discoveries during this time which will assist in building a more caring, a more equitable, a more resilient world.

 

Poetry Bites #4: the Golden Shovel

 

I first came across a ‘golden shovel’ poem in Mslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/). The form was created in 2010 by Terrance Hayes, a contemporary US poet, who used it to pay tribute to an underappreciated US poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000).

The process is as follows:

  • take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire;
  • use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for the lines in your poem while maintaining the order. If the line in the original poem is six words long, then your poem will be six lines long. You should be able to read the primary source as an acrostic going down the right hand side of your poem.
  • Give credit to the original poem and poet (goes without saying).

I had a go at this with a couple of lines from Charlotte Mew.

Not for that City
‘It is for some remote and quiet stair.’

Péri en Mer
‘The crowded mast cut black against a sky
of fading rose.’

Between Species
April 2020

We were going some,
those days before we lost the remote.
We stashed it somewhere safe, behind the sofa perhaps. And
took to watching each other in the awful quiet,
only able to raise ourselves to a stunned and silent stare.

Once the places become too crowded,
people stand like masts
along the pavement, cut
off from each other. Wearing black
for the loss. One day you’ll lean against
me, we’ll watch a sky
in the last of fading
light, smell the perfumed rose.

I was surprised to find I had taken lines from poems written in the 19th century and turn of the 20th century and they became about now. Maybe that is inevitable.

Why not have a go yourself? If you like, you can share your experience or creations in the comments on this blog post.

 

Poetry bites #3: collaborative poem

wood anemonies Raincliffe Spring

A carpet of wood anemones, photo taken by Mark Vesey

The Spring which is bursting out all around is a balm for me in these troubled times. As is reaching out and making contact. So in this post, I am attempting to combine the two. I am inviting you, dear reader, to join with me in a collaborative poem in praise of Spring.

If you wish to take part, here’s what you do:

  • If you can take a walk in an open space. If you can’t, open your window or step outside your front door.
  • Open your senses and let them all assist you in observing nature. Notice shapes, colours, sounds, smells, textures, the taste of the air. Even in the most urban of settings, nature will be there, in the smallest weed, in the birdsong. Spend up to ten minutes drinking in nature.
  • Write for ten minutes. Write freely without worrying about spelling, sentence construction or even making much sense. If you can, write by hand and let the words wander as they will across the page.
  • Take a break of a minimum of an hour.
  • Return to what you have written and choose words or sentences which appeal to you.
  • Send me, either by email or in the comments section, up to three individual words or a sentence. Plus your name.
  • Please do this by Sunday 19th of April.

I will then craft this into a collaborative poem which I will post on this blog in the weeks to come.

I hope you will find this takes you to a more pleasurable place. Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, enjoy!

green man Raincliffe

The Green Man in Raincliffe Wood. Photo taken by Mark Vesey

 

Poetry Bites #2: Inspiration

The image is inspired by ‘The Wave’ a woodcut by Japanese artist Hokusai, created 1829/1833, the first of thirty-six views he did of Mount Fuji. I have obviously replaced Mount Fuji with Scarborough castle. It is a mix of collage and acrylic paint.

Once a writer puts their work into the public domain, it is for the reader to discover meaning and emotional connection if it is there for them find. So please read the poem and make what you will of it. On the other hand, I enjoy hearing from writers about their own take on their work, so that is below too.

 

The Day the Sea Froze Over at Scarborough

I walked to the shore as usual
and all was silent,
the scream of the seagull froze
above the un-pounding waves.

The crystal curve caught in mid-plunge,
surely the weight of it will crack
the prism, release what lies beneath:
the crab, the weed, the worm?

People stand and stare
at the roar-less sea, there’s ice enough
to burn a thousand tongues,
cold enough to ache.

The starlings fly and drop
and reform once more, our comma,
our full-stop, our question mark
punctuating the sky.

Even as I walk, the thaw begins.
Water droplets blindingly glitter,
slush edges the beach,
the dregs of souring ice cream Sundaes.

And we who have seen
turn to comfort one another
from the glare of others’
gleaming disbelief.

 

The Day the Sea Froze Over at Scarborough is a classic ‘what if?’ poem. The first time I saw snow on the beach, I was surprised. And I have always been interested by paintings of frost fairs on the River Thames. I began to ponder, what if the sea froze here? I enjoy watching nature and this has also gone into the poem. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, is the final verse. This covers a host of situations where a small group has seen or experienced something which others do not quite believe.

Poetry Bites #1: Be Bold

Currently, I am mainly focused on writing prose, having just secured a three-book deal with Constable/Little Brown for a new crime series set in Scarborough. And yes, I do have to keep repeating this to myself and others to make it real, as I find it difficult to believe that something I have worked towards for over thirty years has finally happened!

However, poetry is still an important part of my life. I am slowly re-reading the poetry collections and anthologies I have on my shelves and have recently supplemented them with two collections by Imtiaz Dharker. I first saw her read at Bridlington poetry festival several years ago and was smitten. I later accosted her on Bridlington station, stuttering in a deranged way how impressed I had been by her reading. I think she was relieved that she was getting the train South while I was going North. Links: http://imtiazdharker.com/poems and listen to her read: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/luck-is-the-hook Unsurprisingly her voice matches her poems or perhaps it is the other way round.

Born in Pakistan, brought up in Glasgow, Dharker lived for a while in Wales and now divides her time between Bombay and London. She is a woman, a poet, who crosses borders. And she is brave, she is bold in what she has to say.

Be bold in poetry and innovate. Another poet who has found an original ‘voice’ is Janet Lees with her performances which combine words, music and images. Here is her latest Still Here. Evocative and arresting, the reader/viewer is obliged to stop and give the poem space, allow the poem its moment. In this frenetic world it is sometimes difficult to do this.

Which is why one of my intentions this year is to give myself permission to pause and read several poems. Then pause again and allow those poems to settle. I am always interested to find how this nourishes my creativity and my prose writing.

Try it. Take a poetry collection or anthology (if you don’t have any at home, go to a library to find one or borrow one). Let the book fall open at a poem. Read it. Pause. Read it again. Choose a word, several words or a line. Write this in your writing journal. At some point during the week, come back to this and add more words or sentences. Explore where this can take you.

 

 

Guest Post: Some Thoughts on Form by Sue Wilson

If I had the luxury of writing a PhD, I would like to research the idea of what drives artists in their particular direction. 

In my musings, often when I am looking at a blank page, I wonder why it is that I must write poetry. Which then leads me off into other realms. Why does one writer write plays and another short stories? What drives an artist to make ceramics, or do a screen print, a collage, a mural, or paint in oils on large canvasses? I have no answer to these questions, but I would love to see a research project that focussed on the psychology of the creative drive. 

Myself I write poetry. It is at the core of my being, I am unable to stop producing poetry, admittedly of variable quality. And yet at no time in my life have I been able to see my writing, my very essence, as a means to generate income. It sustains my soul, but I have never exploited it to sustain my body. And like the visual artist who specialises in a particular form of their craft, I don’t just write poems. I write poems that follow precise form. I have written haiku, sestinas, sonnets, ballads, and the glorious villanelle. 

My faith in my work has ebbed and flowed over the years. Many times I have listened to critics who do not like form. Critics who have no respect for a structured rhyming scheme. And I have felt belittled and unworthy. At these times I have written poetry that does not adhere to specific form, and I have felt unsatisfied. 

Currently I am feeling strong. At the wrong side of 65 I feel it is time to accept who I am and what I write. Form brings me joy. Form brings me satisfaction. Form brings me a sense of great admiration for the writer who has clung to the coat tails of their belief in their own art. And so now, without apology, I have launched myself into a new venture. I am writing a series of Villanelles. I aim to write fifty in a year. I have no plans for publication. This is a challenge and a goal I have set myself, simply because I need to, and because I can. 

So, here is a Villanelle I wrote last month, whilst walking in the cemetery with my dogs. We came upon a small, fragile bird’s skull, and it took me straight back to the days when my children were small, in particular my youngest, now 30, and about to join the naval medical corps

Skull

In the cemetery we found a skull,
Its beak still intact, we thought it must be
a seabird, maybe, or a herring gull.

Lifting it gently by the mandible
you kissed and caressed it tenderly.
In the cemetery we found a skull:

bone-white fragility a tangible
early encounter with mortality.
A seabird, maybe, or a herring gull

had come to grief. Its span ephemeral
in that long, hot summer when you were three,
and in the cemetery found a skull.

You took it with you in your carryall
the year you left for university.
Was it a seabird? Or a herring gull?

Boy and skull; you were inseparable.
With hindsight it was unmistakably
a seabird. Certainly a herring gull.
In the cemetery we found a skull.

Sue Wilson, February 2019

 

Sue Wilson lives in Scarborough having retired there after a long career in the caring professions. She was a Probation Officer and an Addictions Counsellor. When not writing poetry she can be found walking her two Trailhounds, Norah and Doris, by the sea, and thinking about the poetry she’s read, and the poetry she’s writing. When not walking she will be in the swimming pool, another great environment for thinking about metre and rhythm. Her body is sustained by copious amounts of vegan food. In 2017 she maintained a Facebook page “The Ginger Vegan Baker” where she published an original vegan recipe every day for a year. Each recipe was accompanied by step by step photography, and, of course, photos of her dogs.

Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010

by Jane Poulton

a five oʹclock south-east breeze sweeps north shore
cooling the front to twenty one degrees
      uncurling strands of cirrus pass
      and wave crests break in glassy foam
      as the wandering crowds swarm
      waiting

on the sands beyond the pier and winter gardens
a
bird breaks his silence  pew pew pew  he calls to a man
in a voice like liquid air distilled  talk with me
     dumbstruck
     the man replies in broken breaths
     enchanted

twenty notes in twenty seconds is all the bird can spare
before returning to his flock to change his coat
from powder black to shining black
glossed violet-blue and green
     and tonight the man will brag about his matchless talent
     flirting over oysters with a tower ballroom dancing queen

looking back I wonder if
the calling bird saw the goldwings glow at dusk
or the evening star break the west-south-west horizon
or the waning crescent moon waxing in the mirror ball
or if he flinched as the switch was flicked at nine
and the town was set alight or if he heard the cheers
or guessed that many childhood years had passed
waiting for dark nights such as this
when the promenade would pulse with paintpot lights
and we could ride wide-eyed on spangled trams rattling
through the gaudy razzle-dazzle

 

Common Scoter from http://www.rspb.org.uk

This beautiful poem, Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010,  is one of the 67 poems in Watch the Birdie, an anthology published by Beautiful Dragons. Each poem is dedicated to one of the birds on the RSPB’s Red List of the UK’s most endangered species.

Where to get the Book: All profits from Watch the Birdie will go to the RSPB.  Copies can be purchased directly from Beautiful Dragons: https://beautifuldragons.net/price-list

Here the poet of Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010, Jane Poulton, explains the making of her poem:

My work on the poem began with wide-ranging research that revealed serendipitous coincidences that would determine its form and content. 

One of the main wintering grounds of the Common Scoter (Melanitta Nigra) is Shell Flat, a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool’s North Shore.  Shell Flat was once the proposed site for a large wind farm development by Cirrus Energy.  The project was cancelled in 2008, partly due to concerns about its impact on the Common Scoter population. 

I found a short recording of the bird, made at North Shore at 5pm on 3rd September 2010—which also happened to be the date of the annual switch-on of the Blackpool Illuminations at 9pm that evening. Prior to the switch-on, the crowds had been treated to an additional light-show spectacle—a parade of Honda Gold Wing motorcycles, decorated in fairy lights, driving slowly in convoy along the promenade. 

With further research, I was able to establish the weather and sea conditions at the time of the recording, and which stars and planets would have been present in the northern sky.

The poem contains official technical descriptors about the bird, the sea and the weather, which I enjoyed for their slight awkwardness and chose to let stand as ‘found’ words and phrases.  The poem is divided into two parts.  The first is about the bird, the recording of its call, the recorder of it, the prevailing weather and sea conditions, and the pre-switch-on atmosphere of the town.  The second part begins with a personal speculation about the bird, leading to a recollection of annual childhood visits to see The Lights, for which my anticipation and delight never waned.

A footnote for those who don’t know it.  Some people ‘get’ Blackpool and others just don’t.  It’s a traditional seaside holiday resort on the north-west coast of England; colourful, loud, brazenand famous for its annual Illuminations.  Strings of coloured lights and illuminated, animated tableaux run along The Prom (the coast road) for 8km, from Starr Gate in the south to Bispham in the north.  Much speculation and excitement surround the ‘switch-on’ and the matter of who will push the button.  Once lit, the Illuminations shine brightly each night between dusk and late evening from September to November.  Since 19th September 1879, when 8 arc lamps lit up the promenade with “artificial sunshine”, ‘The Lights’ have become a much-loved, major tourist attraction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yceBTuCqBos

Biog of Jane Poulton
As a child, I loved words and drawing.  I eventually chose to study Textiles, but never stopped ‘playing’ with words.  I have earned my living through visual art and design, and only began to write seriously after moving from Manchester to North Yorkshire.  Here, the scope of my writing has expanded and I have become braver with words.  The sea and the landscape, the dark skies and weather patterns—the enormous wonder of it all and our place in the universe—are irresistible influencers.  

http://www.janepoulton.co.uk/

http://sitematerialobject.com/