Tag Archives: Poetry

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the words: ‘This is not what I meant at all’

I am delighted to welcome to my blog poet Adrienne Silcock who ponders on how poetry communicates.

Given that any poem is a communication (even if it’s to our own inner selves!) and many of us want to write something that someone else can read and enjoy, it’s surprising how difficult it can be to express a thought, even when we know exactly what it is. Isn’t that what Alfred J. Prufrock was indicating in Eliot’s famous Love Song – “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all” ?

How often we come across a poem that seems far too simplistic, or that we simply don’t get. The poet knows what they are saying and no doubt there are complex thoughts behind either style, but we don’t receive the message. In order for the reader to reach the final line of a poem with a sense of satisfaction, there has to be a connection. They may not necessarily understand everything the writer is trying to say but will nevertheless be left with a feeling of comprehension. And from a writer’s point of view that has to be bull’s eye.

So as I edit that first precious draft which is the nugget of my poem, not only am I trying to grow the poem, but I also try to step into the reader’s shoes. How might a reader interpret this? What might a reader see? Will giving the words a specific poetic form aid understanding? Will the music of rhyme help? How much can I expect the reader to interpret metaphor without blatant hint? Is the idea clichéd? There are so many ambiguities in life, in art, in communication. If I can achieve with my poem a resonance, an emotional recognition where my reader understands my message, my human theme, then I feel that I have succeeded with my poem – even though the lines may be open to quite different interpretations. But it is a constant struggle.

These were the kind of thoughts which passed through my mind as I walked the wintry landscape of the Dordogne this January. And these are some of my poetic notes:

 

Dordogne haiku
Woodpecker hammers
high in the frozen forest
now silence echoes

 

Direction
If it’s pain you feel
when white egrets fly over
the brown field in winter,
then it’s not I who can explain
or understand.
We both watch, see the same thing
from differing directions,
the birds landing, settling upright
upon the dark earth.

 

 

Adrienne’s work has been published widely in the independent press. Her first novel Vermin (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her third novel The Kiss is published on Amazon. She has self-published two poetic sequences Flight Path and The Fibonacci Sequence. Mudfog published her poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon in 2014 and she is a featured poet in Arachne Press’ 2018 collection by six women poets Vindication.

Links:

Website: www.adriennesilcock.co.uk

https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/vindication-poems-from-six-women-poets/

http://www.mudfog.co.uk/portfolio-item/taking-responsbility-for-the-moon/

For a copy of Vermin, please direct message me on Facebook, or see the links on my website.

The Writer’s Toolbox (3)

I’m not a cat person, but these ladies look pretty curious.

Curiosity may be fatal for felines but it is essential for writers.

If you’ve been following this series of blog posts up to now, you are hopefully writing regularly in a writing journal. At this stage, be curious not critical about what your work. Instead of judging your writing – this is good/bad – wonder what brought me to write this? If you choose to bring your writing to an audience at some point, there will be plenty of time to garner critiques, for now let curiosity and compassion for your words be your guide.

Writers also need a voracious curiosity about the world around them. What you see, hear, taste, smell, feel, experience, are all essential inspiration for a writer. In her seminal book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about taking artist’s dates. These are trips taken by creatives to feed the imagination. It could be as simple as going to a local museum or visiting a part of town you’ve never been to, perhaps a park, a graveyard, a church (or another place of worship). It could be going further afield. Everywhere is redolent with stories.

Go on these trips of discovery as a writer. Possibly alone or with another creative person, certainly not with others who will constantly need your attention. Then notice, notice, notice. Notice the external, but notice also what is going on for you, how the external is impacting on the internal. Stop frequently to write in your journal. Personally, I find stopping frequently for tea and cake also aids the creative process!

It may be that you have already decided on something you wish to pursue in your writing. Of course, these days, it is easy to sit at our desks and research with Mr Google etc. However, there is nothing like experience as research.

Go to places you want to write about. Find the little niche museum which covers the subject you are interested in, speak to the volunteers/staff about their passions. Visit the historical sites which are connected to what you are interested in. Put yourself in the environments which are inspiring you. It may not always be possible to do this in actuality, so see if there is a way of replicating it. Perhaps it is the rainforest which is stimulating your words and a ticket to Peru is beyond you, then a visit to Kew Gardens may not be.

I was listening to crime writer Ann Cleeves on the radio yesterday, she said, ‘People make a mistake when they separate setting from plot and character. People grow out of where they are born and live.’ (Desert Island Discs, Radio 4, 17th February 2019, Presenter: Lauren Laverne. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.)

Stories also grow out of place, out of environment, out of setting. Open your curiosity to the world around you and your internal landscapes and allow the words to tumble onto the page.

A Writer’s Toolbox: the self

If you’ve read the first post in this series, https://bit.ly/2RqqBKn, then hopefully that has encouraged you to write regularly. You may have adapted the sprints to suit yourself, all well and good. The point is to be writing regularly without critiquing and without too much concern over what is the point, apart from enjoying yourself.

Now we come to the most important implement in the Writer’s Toolbox: the writer themselves. Everything that comes from the writer is mediated through the self. So let’s consider how the self might work for the writer.

We have five physical senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. We may favour one of these senses. If I say the word ‘tractor’, do you see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, feel the texture of it? This little exercise gives an idea of which sense you may lean towards. A writer encourages the development of all the senses. Try these explorations:

  •      walk (preferably through a bit of nature) with all your senses opened. Write for ten minutes, uncritically, letting the words drop onto the paper.
  •       Once you have worked out which sense you least favour, go for a walk and focus on that sense. Write for ten minutes, uncritically, letting the words drop onto the paper.
  •       Take an image (a photo or a postcard or a picture or a painting), imagine yourself within the picture, what would you be seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling? What textures could you touch? Write for ten minutes, uncritically, letting the words drop onto the paper.
  •       Imagine that one of your senses has gone. Take a short walk without that sense working. Write for ten minutes, uncritically, letting the words drop onto the paper.

You may discover your own ways of opening up your senses. Keep exploring what your five physical senses can tell you.

Writing is about imagination, inspiration, that’s what people commonly say, which all sounds very head-based. Poet William Blake likened the imagination and inspiration to a grinding millstone and a blacksmith’s forge. If we continue with his analogy, then we need the grain, we need the base metal, for the millstones or the fire in the forge to produce anything. We need the raw materials for the imagination and inspiration to feed on. These raw materials come through the senses, but also through the body as a whole. The body is the receptor by which we experience the world as we pass through it, then the mind puts language and interpretations to this experience. Working in concert, the two enrich our writing.

The self can be a tuning fork, resonating with the environment and finding the individual note for the individual writer. One of the things I have found which encourages the mining of the resources of the body is mindful walking. Mindfulness is a word which is used in many different contexts with a myriad of meanings. I like this definition from psychologytoday.com (accessed 5th October 2015): Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. Try walking mindfully and then writing for ten minutes, uncritically, letting the words drop onto the paper.

Writing creatively means engaging emotion, both for the writer and for the reader. We don’t think emotions, we feel them. Philippot et al. (2004) suggest that emotions are primarily experienced though bodily sensation and then translated into feelings and brought into consciousness. Writers connecting with their bodies are more aware of emotion, more able to capture them and find ways of communicating them which will touch a reader. However, writers are in the business of engaging with a plethora of emotions, not just the ones which we might think are nice or respectable or allowed. This can be hard, can be painful, can be distressing. Be sure you have supports in place to help you through.

The self may also be the spanner in the works, which jams the creative wheels. Another part of a writer’s toolkit is a small but resilient core of self-belief. This is usually difficult to hone and maintain. Writers need to experience a full range of emotions to put them into their writing, some, such as shame and anger, are not conducive to self-belief. Writers might lay themselves open to criticism and rejection – generated by themselves or by others, or (even harder) imagined others.

It is worth remembering that both the creative practice and the construction of self-belief are iterative. There is a back-and-forth to the process. ‘Onwards and upwards’ is an oft repeated phrase, as if going forwards is always what’s best. Writers can feel they are going backwards or round in circles. Remembering that this is an important part of being creative may help this become less frustrating.

Take your time exploring your senses and mindful walking and see where it takes you. I’ll be exploring further tools in the writer’s toolbox in the next post in the series in the coming weeks.

 

Philippot P, Baeyens C, Douilliez C, & Francart B. (2004). Cognitive regulation of emotion: application to clinical disorders. In: Philippot P, Feldman RS (eds.). (2004) The regulation of emotion. New York: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.

Be Inspired!

I was going to write a considered post about Wilfred Owen and Edith Sitwell. Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4th of November 1918, almost a hundred years ago and seven days before the Armistice. His poetry still haunts us today with his depictions of the horrors and waste of war. Edith Sitwell (daughter of Scarborough) was instrumental in having his first collection published after his death and it is mainly thanks to her that we can read his poems today. However, since I have got my nose stuck into rewriting my fifth novel, No Justice, I haven’t got the creative energy to do anything else considered. So you can catch up with Edith and Wilfred in Richard Greene’s excellent biography Edith Sitwell: Avant garde poet, English genius (https://amzn.to/2zhuSDE)

Meanwhile, I invite you to be inspired by the changing seasons. Go out for a walk in some nature if you can. Notice the nature around you, open all your senses to it. Also notice what is going on in your body and your emotional state. I say notice, do not judge, merely notice. Then take fifteen minutes to free write – write quickly without thought to purpose, construction, spelling etc. Unhitch your internal critic as much as you can. If you want to, use this free writing as the basis of a short poem or a piece of flash fiction.

Feel free to ‘publish’ it in the comments section of this post, I would be interested to read what comes out. But make it short!

Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Aspects of Autumn

Season of mellow mists and after damp,
joint between fecundity and decay,
you’re the rusted hinge, the balanced moment
before summer green becomes winter grey.
Your turned leaves are brazen in their dying,
firelit, their brassy tones trumpet their end,
they only fall to nest the ripening
kernels, torn from their cradles by the wind.
Your clods of decomposing foliage
remind us of our oozing hours,
your fruitfulness recalls our barren endeavours
to do, to strive — vanquish the final toll.
So then, only let your splendour fill us —
allow it to give us pause. Let us be still.

 

Experimentation in Writing

I have begun my read through of novel #5, No Justice. I put it away several months ago, so I am coming to it with a relatively clear head, in preparation for re-writing. I had set out to write a straight forward crime novel, but it seems I am incapable of straight forward. I break several ‘cardinal’ rules: there are many characters; there are many narrative voices; there are ‘poetic’ descriptions; we’re several chapters in and there is no crime to investigate.

On the other hand I enjoy writing (and reading) it, and since I may be its sole reader, isn’t that the point?

I admire writers and artists who break the rules and stick to their own creative vision. We would not have most contemporary prose without Virginia Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’ approach. Yet she had to self-publish as she could not cope with the rejections she got from commercial publishers. She and her husband Leonard set up the Hogarth Press to publish her novels in 1917 with a hand-press in their dining room. The hand-press cost them £19, the equivalent of £900 today. Hogarth press is now part of Random House publishing. Ironically perhaps, RH is one of the big conglomerates which currently so dominate the market that they can dictate what books we find on shops’ shelves and what reviews we find in the media.

I have written elsewhere about trends in experimenting with the narrative arc (https://bit.ly/2yTSX6Q). I recently read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor and boy does he knock around with our expectations of story-telling. Each chapter is a year, there is no traditional paragraphing, human tales are given the same value/space as nature’s tales, there are no speech marks (this last, I personally found rather confusing). Not to mention the unresolved resolution. I had some complaints about the ending to my first novel, The Art of the Imperfect (for me the clue was in the title, it’s going to be imperfect). I would suggest these critics would hate McGregor’s finish.

I understand that some readers want an easy ride, they don’t want to be pushed or challenged, but I like it, and I want greater daring to come into my writing. In my last post (https://bit.ly/2xinR5B) I said I was entering a piece into a novella competition. I made the deadline and my submission included fictional prose (which moved between centuries), literary criticism and poetry. Maybe the judges will merely see it as a mish-mash, however, I was pleased to have attempted something different.

Currently I am wondering how to pull apart the timeline in No Justice without losing pace. Or, given I’m already transgressing various ‘cardinal’ rules, maybe it’s OK to lose pace?

How do you experiment in your writing?