Sunday, December 23, 2007

December Poem Prompt 3 and ...

...enjoy the holidays and the end of 2007 with good food, good wine, good company. There's still time (until midnight on 31st December) to add a poem in response to this or any of the postings below.

I've had lots of Christmas cards with trees on them this year so my final prompt for December 2007 is to write a poem about a tree, or trees. Here's one of my favourite tree poems... and I'll be back on 1st January to read all the responses and choose December's 'prize' poem.


I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

W. S. Merwin
from The Compass Flower
Macmillan Publishing Company

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Call for Submissions

In the Telling, an anthology of new writing edited by Gail Ashton and Susan Richardson, to be published by Cinnamon Press, seeks poems that tell any kind of story - old and new, real and imagined, fairytales, myths, urban legends, about people, places, artefacts - in fresh ways.

Please email up to 4 previously unpublished poems, maximum 50 lines each, in one attachment to BOTH editors: and by March 31st 2008. Please write 'Submission: In the Telling' in the email subject line.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Notebook Idea - Lost Words

I'm clearing out my old notebooks. Part of me would love to keep each one I've ever filled, but a bigger part of me says, 'if there's anything in them that's really worth writing about, it'll come back, at some time, and in some form'. And anyway, it's not that I'm short of things to write about. No-one is.

So I usually allow myself a few years' build-up and then I tear up or burn the older ones. Although when I first pull them out of the big bottom drawer in my desk, I tend to flip through and scan the pages for things that might just catch my eye... some seed that will fire my imagination. Yesterday the following phrase jumped out at me:

a jumble of yellow bones

I couldn't remember writing it and the context made no sense to me at all, but the phrase has stayed with me, although for now that's all it is, a phrase that suggests a picture, maybe a particular emotion. It has no meaning. Maybe that will come. Maybe not. But these days I want my writing to mean something, not just to me, but to the reader. I don't want to create poems that might startle with their level of craft and/or subject matter, but not take the reader any further. I'd like my work to make people think. I'd like my work to be about some 'thing', for ideas to arise from it and take the reader further into their own life experience and relationship with the world. I don't think I always succeed, but having that in mind keeps me focused.

Free writing ideas:
  1. Look through an old notebook and see if a phrase leaps out from the page. Don't worry about the context - start writing from that point.
  2. Write a list of things you have written.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December Poem Prompt 2 - Frost

Choosing a resonant word and free-writing around it to see where it leads us can often result in the early draft of a poem. Try doing that with frost. Think about the physical aspects (e.g. a winter landscape, icing on a cake, the artificial spray we add to windows and indoor trees at this time of year), the emotional suggestions (e.g. distance, rejection, grief) and the phonetic quality of the word too (the light-heartedness of the f, the sibilance of s that can have the attraction of a whisper or the hostility of a snake, and the 'tink' of the final consonant). Words live in our mouths not just in our minds.

Here's a poem by the wonderful Raymond Carver from his essential Collected Poems:

Yesterday, Snow

Yesterday, snow was falling and all was chaos.
I don’t dream, but in the night I dreamed
a man offered me some of his whiskey.
I wiped the mouth of the bottle
and raised it to my lips.
It was like one of those dreams of falling
where, they say, if you don’t wake up
before you hit the ground,
you’ll die. I woke up! Sweating.
Outside, the snow had quit.
But my God, it looked cold. Fearsome.
The windows were ice to the touch
when I touched them. I got back
in bed and lay there the rest of the night,
afraid I’d sleep again. And find
myself back in that dream…
The bottle rising to my lips.
The indifferent man
waiting for me to drink and pass it on again.
A skewed moon hangs on until morning,
and a brilliant sun.
Before now, I never knew what it meant
to “spring out of bed”.
..........All day snow flopping off roofs.
The crunch of tires and footsteps.
Next door, there's an old fellow shoveling.
Every so often he stops and leans
on his shovel, and rests, letting
his thoughts go where they may.
Staying his heart.
Then he nods and grips his shovel.
Goes on, yes. Goes on.

Raymond Carver
All of Us, The Collected Poems
Knopf 1998

I hope to read your poems later in the month.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Notebook Idea - One Thing

Go and look out of your window right now. What can you see? Rain, winter trees, the grey sky reflected in someone's window? Have a good look and choose one thing. Don't spend too much time wondering whether it's right or not. Just choose one thing. Using this as a starting point, free-write for 20 minutes allowing your creative mind to take the routes it chooses. Let it run.

When you've finished, close your notebook. Don't read over it.

Using the same starting point, write for another 20 minutes tomorrow.

Do the same again the next day.

If you can, aim to do it every day for a week. Or at least every other day.

At the end of the week read through everything you've written. You might find the seeds for a poem here. Maybe not. I believe that it's only a small portion of our writing that's actually worth making into 'art' for other people. But you'll still be able to extract something from this exercise. What matters to you. Look at what you've written - the themes, the ideas, the emotions behind the writing. Make a note of them. This could be where your passion for writing lies. Follow it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

December Poem Prompt 1 - The End

My first challenge, as we're coming up towards the end of the year, is to write a poem about endings, or one particular ending.

Once you've decided on your subject matter, allow yourself to free-write around the material before trying to shape it into a poem. Don't edit and select during this process; try to be as honest as you can with the page. Once you've done enough free writing, try and identify the dominant emotional tone and be aware of that as you shape the poem on the page? Is there a tension to the material? Do you need short lines that cut the reader's breath to reflect that? Is there a burst of energy? Will longer exuberant lines support that? Do you need the 'containment' and control of a traditional form, e.g. a sonnet? Whatever you decide, try and work consciously with the form and let it reciprocate with the subject matter.

Post your poems via the 'comments' facility below and I look forward to reading them over the next few weeks.

In the meantime here's a poem of mine about one particular type of ending.


My mother said Girl
you’ll be late for your own funeral
She was right
but who could blame me for wanting
a last look at the waves
the smell of salt.

And you know the timelessness
of the sea and what was meant to be
a glimpse became three hours.

I picked up the sensible court shoes
and ran along the quay
through the town’s busy streets
regretting the choice
of Friday afternoon, the flesh coloured tights
fraying on my feet
but what struck me most
was the effortlessness of that run –
the silence of my heart
not a single squeeze of lung.

As I cornered the crematorium gates
and saw them hunched together
in the porch I thought of running
straight past their stricken faces
and across the memorial lawns
as if this was what I was made for

as if this was how I’d always
planned to spend the day.

From Learning How to Fall (Parthian 2005)