Category Archives: Reading & Writing Poetry

Poetry Bites #8: Ekphrastic Poetry

I love going to museums and art galleries. What I find there often inspires me to write. I have recently discovered there is a formal term for this: Ekphrastic. The idea is not necessarily to give an accurate description of the art work, but to delve deeply into your own interpretation of its underlying story or significance.

The intention is to add to the artwork by having a kind of conversation with it. Am I always saying poetry starts with a conversation…?

We have been lucky enough to have our art gallery open (https://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/scarborough-art-gallery/) and there is an excellent new exhibition on show. It is the New Light exhibition: https://newlight-art.org.uk/prize-exhibition/. This has moved me to some ekphrastic writing. I am not going to claim them to be poems, more ‘little stones’, as they are not particularly crafted, but intend to give a sense of a moment, of an encounter.

My method for Ekphrastic writing?
Spend some time with art work. Stand in front of it. Look for the details. Study it closely and then from afar. Write for about five minutes in your writing journal. Write loosely, words or phrases which occur to you. Do not judge or edit at this time. Leave this writing alone for at least a week, maybe more. Go back to it. Pick out the words which still appear germane and have a play. This may end up with a little stone, or the beginnings of a poem.

Sorrowing Cloth
A winding cloth,
a shroud,
in a burning world.
It offers little shelter,
or luxury,
adrift, in a lily strewn swamp.

Is it us or the cloth which is sorrowing?

Inspiration: https://newlight-art.org.uk/selected-artworks-2020-21/sorrowing-cloth/

I challenged myself to work from a piece which I was not drawn to: https://newlight-art.org.uk/selected-artworks-2020-21/booby-no-2/

A daughter, not a son, held by her teeth to her mother’s teat,
Our Madonna unholy shuns our gaze.
‘Look away,’ she says.
‘Do not preach.
Do not bring your gifts of platitudes.
Do not think I care.’

Your turn?
Have a go using the link to the New Light exhibition and share in the comments box if you like.

Poetry Bites #7: Locating the Full-Stop

A friend’s teenage daughter asked a question to help with a presentation she had to do at school and it got me thinking. The question was around whether poems are ever finished. It echoed others I had received from students during my teaching years. Is this poem/piece of writing completed? Can it ever be said to be finished?

There is the famous quote from French poet, Paul Valéry (1871-1945): A poem is never finished only abandoned. Which suggests it is indeed difficult to know the end point of a poem.

I think a poem, perhaps more than any other type of writing, begins with a conversation with oneself. Some of our deepest conversations with ourselves are life-long and, therefore, so is the working through it in writing. Themes and characters reappear in writers’ works over and over. Colm Tóibín is the first to admit he has spent many a novel trying to deal with the early death of his father and the relationship with his mother.

However, I do believe a poem captures a moment in that process, which means it can have a full-stop at its end. I think it is can even be healthy to find that full-stop so we avoid returning and returning again to the same spin of the record. When I was training to be a psychotherapeutic counsellor we would get exasperated with ourselves for ‘playing the same record’ when we repeated old scripts or behaviours. It came as something of a relief when someone suggested, yes it’s the same record, but it’s a different track. Finishing a poem could help us move the needle to an alternative groove.

Concluding our work on a poem could also depend on whether we want to share our conversation with another. This brings in all sorts of considerations about comprehensibility, acceptability and whether we are open to our writing being understood in different ways from how we intended. Writers have very varying attitudes to the latter. Some want to retain a lot of control over how their work is read and what is taken from it. Personally, I love to hear others interpreting my poems in their own way – even if it is not at all as I anticipated – because it shows they are engaging with it and finding their own personal meanings in it. (I should say there would be a limit to this, I would not want my poems used in a way to promote something I found abhorrent. I hope never to hear Trump reciting something I have written at one of his rallies!)

I have noticed that some writers and students of writing seem to want everything they write to be directed towards an audience. Visual artists are allowed their studies and sketches, musicians can practise their scales, dancers have their warm-up routines, but writers? Once words are on the paper they should be destined for a finished piece. For me, this is not the best approach. As creatives we also require the space to experiment and develop. I have ‘delivered’ A Wake of Crows, my first novel of three to the publisher Constable. I am now turning to the second, Drowning Not Waving. It will be essentially a re-working of a novel I have already ‘finished’ but I am changing both narrative characters. It means that the story as seen through ‘Sarah’s’ eyes won’t be read by anyone (a good third of the novel as it was originally written). But it is not obsolete, it is not wasted. I have learnt so much about Sarah (who is still in the novel) by writing through her, this will enrich the new version.

Evaluating our own work
Deciding whether a poem is finished will entail some evaluation of our work. My friend, writer and artist, Jane Poulton asked me once: how do we evaluate our own work?

My first response was, with great difficulty. Though it certainly becomes easier with practice, with writing, with reading (as a writer, ie critically) and with the support of friends who are writers. We do need to be aware of our own internal psychological processes. Generally are we perfectionists? In other walks of life, do we think we are rubbish at everything? What shape is our internal critic in? All these things will effect how we evaluate our writing. And whether we can finish. Perfectionists tend to find it hard to say it’s done, for example.

Plus, who are we evaluating it for? Is there a real audience/editor? Are we clear about what they want from us? Or are we evaluating it with an ‘imagined’ audience – this can be within or outside of awareness. For instance, when we evaluate our work are we unconsciously trying to prove something to a parent or a teacher (who are no longer even around)?

Bringing psychological processes within awareness aids assessing whether they are helpful or not and how they might be attuned to be more beneficial.

JP, herself had some more useful thoughts which she is happy for me to share. She suggested some questions:

  • Would I want to read this if I hadn’t written it?
  • Is this so personal other people might not identify with it?
  • Am I making enough bridges/connections for readers to identify with it?
  • What – specifically – would be relevant to anyone else?
  • What will others take from this?
  • What is really essential to this story/poem?
  • What could I take out and it not really matter?
  • Is it in a relevant style bearing in mind the subject matter?

She also cautions avoiding repetitions – saying the same thing in other ways – and overt sentimentality. She counsels a lightness of touch, less is usually more – suggestions often carry more impact than long descriptions of something.

On re-reading her contribution, JP did want me to point out that she doesn’t always manage to, and sometimes chooses not to, follow her own checklist.

Finding your own way to a conclusion
Since I consider a poem to be an essence of a moment, or of me in a moment, then I rarely go back to one to re-write once I deem it finished. Other writers are completely the opposite, forever revising and reworking. There are some poems which I would not share anymore because I do not judge they have stood the test of time. However, I would not alter them. I sometimes like to return to older poems to chart my journey – emotionally or as a poet. But if I want to return to the theme or image, since I am in a different place (in terms of understanding, psychologically, age-wise, geographically), I will make a new poem.

How do you know if something you have written is finished?

 

Guest Post: Victoria Field

This week I have the pleasure of welcoming poet Victoria Field to my blog to talk about her new collection, A Speech of Birds (available: Francis Boutle Publishers). I first met Victoria through Lapidus – the home for those interested in words and wellbeing. She is a trained poetry therapist and described by ‘Poetry Review’ as one of the UK’s pioneers in writing and healing, having co-edited three books on therapeutic writing (https://thepoetrypractice.co.uk/home/about/).

She has also had three previous collections of poetry published, the most recent receiving the Holyer and Gof Award for Poetry and Drama. However, I have to admit to having a particular partiality for her memoir of pilgrimage, marriage and loss Baggage: A Book of Leavings (published in 2016): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Victoria-Field/e/B0034P81Z4.

A Speech of Birds brings together poems which evoke place and the turning of the seasons. They gently unpeel on the page. They draw the reader in, bringing forth emotions of loss and joy and everything in between, but most of all inducing a moment of stillness and reflection.

I chose one poem from the collection, ‘For Destruction, Water, Boscastle, 2004’, to be reproduced here and asked Victoria to give the reader some ideas about the roots of the piece and the writing of it.

Not Boscastle, but the Lake District. Photo by Mark Vesey.

 

For Destruction, Water

Boscastle, 2004

The day our love was over, seventy cars
were swept into the harbour, a helicopter
lifted six stricken children from a drowning roof.

When she moved into our bed, there was only an inch
of air below the ceiling as the woman, gasping,
crossed her lounge and swam up the stairs.

It was unexpected, even though a tourist,
I don’t know from Adam, photographed
a black wall of cloud shadowing Crackington sands.

No one cares about the cars
but I can’t forget the puzzled eyes of our dog
in the rear window’s crazy slide-by.

At first, it was a bit of a laugh,
getting drenched in a downpour showing
no signs of ending – sometimes we want things

to be other than they are – sea-spray to come vertically,
a river where once was a road  – to see ourselves afresh
through another’s eyes. A skidding bus,

raindrops big as sweets make us feel more alive.
I kept going to church, mumbling the words
like that farmer stuck at the top of a tree,

reciting prayers he didn’t know he knew.
I packed box after box
and you wept at the sight of the van

while all the shoes from Clovelly Clothing
and a Coke machine for good measure,
washed up useless on beaches in Westward Ho!

Summer visitors took shelter in the Wellington Hotel
where a local recalled the other river, sixth-sensed
its hurtle and dash down the village street,

shouted Everyone out!  It was a miracle nobody died
when mud filled every crevice of the deserted bar.
Now it’s all been rebuilt – some say improved.

No, no one actually died.

 

Victoria Field

A Speech of Birds, my latest collection, includes, as well as recent work, some poems first drafted more than fifteen years ago.

Poems sometimes arrive like ‘morbid secretions’ (Housman), or more happily, burst out like ‘brief musical cries of the spirit’ (used of Jane Kenyon). Others emerge slowly and need to be wrestled with for years before they feel ready for sending out for publication. For Destruction, Water is one of the latter kinds.

 

 

 

Boscastle in North Cornwall is a place I’ve visited many dozens of times. Like a favourite poem, it is always fresh and capable of revealing new depths. I first went there in the mid 90s with a man I later married. I was new to that part of the world and could hardly believe such beauty existed. It was a time of  personal upheaval when I was about to exchange a globe-trotting job for rootedness in a small town in Cornwall. There are only small towns in Cornwall.

Since then, I have walked the cliff path in both directions, in all seasons. I’ve been up and down the Valency Valley, alone and with friends, on days trips and combined with overnights in the haunted Wellington Hotel or the refurbished youth hostel. For six months I lived nearby on Bodmin Moor.

Bostcastle is where a dear friend from Devon and I met regularly for years, to walk, talk and catch up over lunch.

It’s a place where I feel porous. Boscastle has entered me. I’ve left traces of my past selves there. I’ve done so literally when swimming in the rivers or sweating on the cliff tops and transpersonally, in an out-of-time way. I’m connected to Boscastle through my own memories and also the novels and poems of Thomas Hardy (Beeney Cliff, A Pair of Blue Eyes), poems by Charles Causley and contemporary Cornish poets.

So when my marriage finally collapsed in the same week as the village was destroyed by floods, I conflated the two events. Perhaps it’s a case of the pathetic fallacy writ large, or else a way of seeing personal grief in the context of wider public events. Probably both.

Poems are always ongoing conversations with other poets. I love Robert Frost and his poem Fire and Ice is a touchstone for me. It’s one of those short rhyming, perfectly-formed diamonds of a poem, easily carried in the head and the heart.

My title, For Destruction, Water is a homage to Fire and Ice, and came first, before I wrote the rest of it.  In the mid-noughties, I attended a Poetry School class with Penelope Shuttle in Falmouth and I remember working on the poem then.

I’ve found a draft on my computer dated March 2007 and around 30 subsequent revised versions. It’s been longer, shorter, funnier, sadder, whinier and more and less personal.

I sent it out from time to time and eventually it  was published in Raceme in 2015. Then I included it in my memoir, Baggage, published in 2016. The umbilical cord was cut, the poem was out in the world and I stopped revising it.

Putting together A Speech of Birds meant revisiting all my poems to decide what to include. I wondered whether For Destruction, Water was too old, too worked.  But to quote Faulkner, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past’. Revisiting places, events, poems and experiences can always lead to new insights.

Boscastle isn’t the same after the floods of sixteen years ago, but then it was never the same. Nor am I.

Footnote:  some readers have contacted me concerned about the reference to ‘our dog’ in the poem. I made that bit up – our dog stayed happily in the former marital home and died at a great age. According to the internet, in spite of an estimated two billion litres of water flowing through the village, miraculously no companion animals were reported missing.

 

Poetry Bites #6: my journey into poetry

I read poetry. I write poetry. Poetry nourishes me. This was not always so. Like many people of my age, I was forced into studying poetry for my ‘A’ Level and then happily skipped away from the form as quickly as I could. I did not come back to it for over twenty years.

In my late thirties, I applied to do an MA in creative writing at Sussex University. I went for an interview with Professor Peter Abbs. During this, he asked me what poets I read. I had to admit to not having read any since my late teens. On my way out, I noticed on his door was his designation: Professor of Poetry (or some such title). Despite my woeful ignorance of his speciality, he nevertheless gave me a place on the course.

He led a whole term’s work on poetry through the ages. I found it fascinating, though did begin to wonder, where are all the women? This led me to my own research. I asked at work (I was receptionist at the Women’s Press at the time) and was recommended The Rattle Bag (edited by Seamus Heaney & Ted Hughes). Despite still being light on women poets, it did turn me onto the joy of anthologies. I suggest an anthology is the place to start for novice readers and writers of poetry.

Reading took me onto writing…

Also, around this time, I fell into a very deep depression and began to have therapy which opened up all sorts of difficult emotions for me. It was a tough period of my life. At first, writing poetry was a way of venting. Then it became a way of exploring. Eventually, it became a way of healing. Discovering new poets who seemed, like me, to be struggling, was part of this journey. Anne Sexton was one of my companions through these difficult years. These days, I find her incredibly hard to read. But doing so, reminds me of the tempestuous waters I navigated.

Another tip for novice writers/reader of poetry: poets and poems will mean different things to you at different times, so if one doesn’t ‘speak’ to you, put it away for another moment or mood.

Once I had got over the venting stage, I wanted to understand more about the craft. The only way to learn the craft is to read, read and read some more. I also found Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem useful. Plus find a community of poetry lovers to share both your reading and writing with. I was most fortunate to discover this when I came to Scarborough. For writing poetry, I needed feedback. However, the great joy was to be able to join with others in reading poetry and learn from others about poets I had not yet heard of. If there is no community near you, find a podcast… there are plenty out there.

More recently, my focus has been on writing novels, but I still keep up reading (and listening to) poetry. Writing less so. I think poetry has filtered into my use of words in prose in what I consider to be a good way. The editor at Constable/Little Brown praised my lyrical language when she offered me a three book deal, so perhaps I am not wrong.

It seems that for many, poetry is a bit high-brow, a bit scary, sometimes unintelligible. All this can be true of poetry. However, you don’t have to search far to find a poem which seems to be written just for you. It could bring you pleasure or recognition or an ‘aha’ moment. It could be a mirror or a window on the world – on your world or on someone else’s. Why not look for a new poem today…? Once you start, I’ll wager, you won’t want to stop.

 

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.