Saturday, January 19, 2008

January Poem Prompt 2 - Seeing what isn't there

Susan Wicks's latest collection, De-iced, closes with a wonderful series of poems on 'the fictional painter Graham Mickleworth', each poem written in response to an imagined painting, and what I enjoy so much about these is the illusion that the poet, and by extension the reader, is standing before the paintings and examining the details.

The following poem asks us to consider a painting of a leaf that looks like a bird that looks like a leaf. Perhaps we’ve all had similar experiences, both accidental and deliberate: a sliver of plastic on the floor that looks like a slice of sunlight, or mistaking a folded jacket on a chair for a sleeping cat. Why does this happen? Do we have a need, conscious or unconscious, to make connections between things? Or is just our brain playing meaningless tricks on us?

Write a poem in which you perceive one thing as another (either accidentally or on purpose) and explore the questions this raises, what it makes you think and feel, the journey you take.

Portrait of a Leaf as Bird

How good of this small grey leaf
to pose as bird
so still in the middle of the road!

How kind not to fly away
as the artist approached,
to curb its sharp claws and beak

and let him paint leaf-as-bird
and bird-as-leaf
and put his irrelevant questions about flight

and stillness
seeing and not quite seeing
whether or not life is

feathered and wing-tip singing
and bird-brain lifted
small beating heart

or else this crumpled thing
he painted in careful shades
of grey, and brown.

Susan Wicks
from De-iced (Bloodaxe 2007)

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Friday, January 11, 2008

January Poem Prompt 1 - Thinking about Couplets

Two lines of poetry working as a unit are known as a couplet. They can be syntactically complete in themselves, or they can employ enjambment and rely on the previous or succeeding couplet/s to complete the thought or image.

Couplets can have a feeling of isolation on the page - there's all that white space surrounding them - or maybe it's not isolation or loneliness, maybe it's aloneness, self-containment. Maybe they can act as a celebration of that white space and what it represents to you.

My challenge to you is to write a poem whose subject matter and theme deserves being shaped into couplets. Your reasons do not have to be the same as any I've suggested above, but try to be aware of the reciprocation of form and content.

And one other thing: couplets tend to draw attention to themselves so make sure that each couplet has some power, something to show or say for itself, even if it does run on to the next.

Good luck. And here's a poem by the wonderful Catherine Smith to inspire you.

On 6th July 2005, a fifteen year old girl sleep-walked from her home in East Dulwich and was spotted at 2 a. m., curled fast asleep on the counterweight of a crane.

She doesn’t register
the slap of pavement

then the grip

of each rung
as she ascends

towards the sky –
­a mild night,

stars winking
over the library,

the railway station,
the Curry Club.

She’s not dreaming this,
she’s not dreaming

anything. Something
drives her upwards ­

to curl her body
on cooled steel

rest her cheek
against the dust

and pigeon shit,

she could roll off
like a pea on the blade

of a knife, and her
mouth opens,

bubbles spit,
her limbs still warm

from the tangled nest
of sheets ­–

she’s not dreaming this,
she’s not dreaming

anything, she’s risen
above the tilt

of the earth,
she’s risen

as high as she can,
as high as this.

from Lip
Smith/Doorstop Books 2007

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Just start

I'd be the first to admit to a lack of inspiration when I sit down to write at times, but it's happened so often now that I know if I start writing then something will emerge. It might not be a poem, or even the seeds of a poem, only a few raggedy pages, but inevitably I leave that writing session feeling better than when I started because it feels like it might be the beginning of something. Even if it's only the beginning of getting back into the practice of writing. So if you're feeling uninspired, or need to trick yourself into writing, or need a kickstart in a different direction, choose one of the following phrases/titles/lines (chosen at random from books on my desk right now)... and just start!

  • we aren't supposed to know
  • The Regulars
  • peeling an apple
  • not enough attention is paid to the hanging process
  • mad
  • Directions for Breeding Women

As I need my own kickstart at the moment, I'll join you in this one and post what I end up with.

Haven't you started yet?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

December Prize Poem

There were good things about all of the poems posted this month, and I was torn between three, finding different reasons to select one over the others during several readings. I eventually decided on the following poem because its opening line struck me the first time I read it; in fact I stopped and read it again to savour the language and the image. It is so freshly expressed.

Here’s the Prize Poem for December 2007 – ‘No rose bed, no gardener’ by Gillian Moyes – followed by a brief commentary:

No rose bed, no gardener

Light as a child in her bones,
we’re lifting her in linked arms
from bed to commode.

The blue nightie furled to her spine
exposing the red buds of bed sores,
she tenses at the glimpse of a face

in the patio window. It’s OK Mum
just reflections, says my sister. Well,
she replies, now dignity’s intact,

it’s a bloody good job we never
had a gardener

and gives us the old look – that flicker
of laughter in her eyes, her dry
throat rattling with chuckles.

My shoulders shaking, I dare
to glance at my sister
like that morning in school assembly

and she’s tickled pink with keeping it in
which doesn’t help me or our mother
who might slip like a soapy baby.

Stop it Mum or we’ll drop you,
I say, don’t make us laugh.
It hurts.

Gillian Moyes

The mother has become a child; the daughters the parents who care for her. The poem sensitively explores this reversal of roles that will be familiar to many people. The concrete detail creates a strong sense of place and the use of the present tense and dialogue engages us as readers, draws us in to these specific people and this particular moment.

The opening simile sets the scene so economically: fragility, helplessness, possibly a body that has wasted so that it seems little more than ‘bones’ and ‘light as a child’. At the end of the poem the mother is even smaller, compared to ‘a soapy baby’, and this reinforces the idea of the pending, and inevitable, loss through death.

I particularly like the lines and break – ‘of laughter in her eyes, her dry’/throat rattling with chuckles – which combine so movingly, and tragically, ideas of life and death: a dry sense of humour, death rattle.

And finally the understatement and ambiguity of the last stanza: we know as well as the narrator that it’s not only the laughter that hurts.

Congratulations, Gillian, on a very moving poem. I’ll put your prize in the post.
And many thanks to everyone who posted a poem; I enjoyed reading them all and look forward to reading more during January. The first prompt will appear at the end of this week.