Thursday, November 20, 2008

November - Poetry Prompt 2


......A sealed stillness
––only the stream moves,
tremor and furl of water
under dead leaves.

......In silence
the wood declares itself:
angles and arabesques of darkness,
branch, bramble,
tussocks of ghost grass
––under my heel
ice shivers
frail blue as sky
between the runes of trees.

......Far up
rooks, crows
flail home.

Frances Horovitz
Collected Poems
Bloodaxe Books 1985

Frances Horovitz's poem precisely captures a scene, a moment, a season through well chosen concrete imagery. The poet is only just present (my heel) yet the poem still feels suffused with the human emotional experience: tremor, declares, ghost, shivers, frail, flail home. It could be the last word that 'saves' the poem from bleakness - the comfort we associate with 'home'.

You could use any month, but why not start with November? You'll be able to go out and witness first hand the world around you: what you can see and hear, how those things make you feel. But try and avoid directly stating what you feel. Let your language choices suggest that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

November - Poetry Prompt 1

Often I don't know what I want to write until I start writing, and occasionally I'm surprised by what I discover. Here's a writing exercise in stages that might take you to a place, or encourage you to make connections, you hadn't though of.

Write a list of constants in the world that are general, universal: e.g. the sun rises, tides ebb and flow, politicians keep on lying... be specific and aim for about 10 to 12.

Write another list of constants in your own life: trivial and profound, silly and serious. Again be specific, e.g. I cry at sad films, I wash clothes that get dirty and I have to wash them again, I visit my parents.

3a. Choose one of these personal constants, one that involves some kind of activity/process and explore and expand on it, fill in the concrete details of what happens, what you have to do, what it feels like physically, etc. Start with the line: Perhaps this is how everything will always be…

3b. When you come to the end of this activity/process, look beyond yourself, physically and/or imaginatively and write down what you find, what is there, what you can see, what you feel.

4. Read back over your writing and identify the dominant emotional tone. Does the form (the shape of the poem on the page) support that? Do your line breaks add tension, or comfort? Think about what effect you want the shape of your poem to have on your reader.

Here’s a rough draft of a poem I wrote while creating this exercise. It’s very unfinished but I feel it has the core of something I want to say... though the theme isn’t quite clear enough yet, I don’t think. I’ll have to work on it some more.

Looking forward to reading your poems.

Perhaps this is how everything will always be

I leave my mother’s house
turn left along the sweep of Silver Avenue
and cross the road towards the sea,
over the crazed tarmac on the prom
where the sweetshops used to be
and down the concrete steps
where the tide is in, or out.
And if it’s in I sit and listen
to the waves breaking,
and if it’s out I walk
the flat plain of damp sand
to reach the shore,
my face sticky with salt.
And beyond the horizon someone else
leaves their mother’s house
walks towards another sea
wanting to believe this
is how everything will always be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

October Prize Poem

Good poetry is often paradoxical. It can be direct, but also oblique. It can show and at the same time hide. It can state and suggest.

Stephen Fryer’s poem, ‘Fish’, succeeds in all these areas:
• it speaks directly about one thing in order to point to another
• it describes one situation but another is masked
• it states the narrator’s specific feeling towards the aquarium which suggests so much about the narrator’s relationship with ‘darling.

Congratulations, Stephen. If you email me with your postal address I’ll put your ‘prize’ in the post this week.

I’ll post the first prompt for November before the end of the week, and don’t forget to take a look at the daily writing prompts at too.


I’ve been watching the fish in the aquarium.
It’s an oblong box and it sits in the corner of the living room,
full of brooding water. I hate it.
I think that they would hate it too
if they knew the alternatives, or even
that there were any alternatives.
But they don’t,
do they darling?

Stephen Fryer