Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Short Prompts

One of the disadvantages of living far from your place of birth is that you don't get to see your family very often. One of the advantages is that when you do get together with them you appreciate them so much. My parents, my sister and her husband, my niece and her husband and their two children have been here in Antibes for a week and so my attention has been focused on them... and not DIY work, but also, unfortunately, not on AppleHouse Poetry Workshop Online. My apologies.

Here are some short prompts that might take you to a place where the words and ideas matter deeply to you.

Because of love...
Inside this box...
I never meant to say...
The sea is cold...
Before I heard you call...
The trees have lost...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What arrives? What leaves?

I love coming across a poem that hits me with a force, that impresses me with its language and ideas, and that’s exactly how I felt when I read the following:

When We Sold the Tent

When we sold the tent
we threw in the Grand Canyon
with its shawl of pines,
lap full of cones and chipmunks
and crooked seams of river.

We let them have the
parched white moonscapes of Utah,
and Colorado's
magnificat of flowers
sunbursting hill after hill.

Long gentle stretches
of Wyoming, rain outside
some sad Idaho
town where the children, giddy
with strange places, clowned all night.

Eyes like small veiled moons
circling our single light, sleek
shadows with pawprints,
all went with the outfit; and
youth, a river of campfires.

Rhina P. Espaillat

from Playing at Stillness
© Truman State University Press.

Don’t you just love the 2nd line – ‘we threw in the Grand Canyon’? That mix of ordinary, colloquial expression juxtaposed with the enormity of the place? And a ‘shawl of pines’… there’s such comfort there, the comfort of good memories. In fact, I could comment on something in every line. I’ve read the poem about half a dozen times now and each time I feel so ‘lifted’ by it. The third stanza, with its enjambed lines is a delight to read and feel, and then the opening line of the 4th stanza: ‘Eyes like small veiled moons’/ - the beauty of it is breathtaking, while the last line ‘lands’ the poem perfectly. It focuses to a theme, but allows the poem to stay ‘open’ so the reader can wander along their own ‘river of campfires’.

I am so pleased to have discovered this poet and look forward to reading more of her work. You can buy her book at The Book Depository, my favourite online bookseller.

So, the prompt is to write a poem that explores what an object brings into your life when it arrives, or what it takes out of your life when it leaves, when it’s given away, or maybe even lost.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Summer Prize Poem

Hello everyone - it feels good to be back, though I’m uneasy about asking if you all had a good ‘summer’ because, as far as I can tell, August has not been the sunniest of months in the UK! I hope some of the Cote d’Azur sunshine finds its way north to you for September.

So many good poems to choose from, among them Charlotte Segaller’s ‘Lost' and Linda W’s ‘Spilling the Salt’. Both of these hold back from revealing the full impulse behind the poem, they suggest and imply and leave room for the reader to enter and make their own ‘story’ from the images and ideas. But the poem I’ve chosen as the Summer Prize Poem is Anne Kenny’s ‘Helen Kongai, Ugandan Farmer, July 2008’.

I like the choice of couplets, the two lines supporting the idea of two lives running parallel. I like the line break at ‘unravelling:/’ which subsequently leads us into Helen Kongai’s story, and again at ‘shudders’ for its ambiguity of meaning –the physical action of milking and the emotional connotations of fear or anxiety. It’s a poem that asks us to reflect on the ease of our western lives but at the same time celebrates this woman’s determination to survive and provide for her family. If I had one suggestion to edit a little, it would be to cut ‘to feed her young’ from the 4th couplet, as we have ‘infants to feed’ in the previous one, and ‘the flesh to reap its milky river’ is such a powerful image that it could well benefit from a line of its own. But the last line of the poem is wonderful – the ordinariness of ‘cowpats and cabbages’ anchors us to the earth that Helen Kongai depends on for her life. I feel I want to applaud her as she ‘spreads her word’.

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

I’ll post the first of September’s prompts in the next few days. It’s a good one!

Helen Kongai
(Ugandan Farmer, July 2008)

I press clutch, push pedal, move gear,
drive to gather food from heaving shelves.

Her voice travels with me, unravelling:
after his death she’s left with stony soil,

infants to feed, & the gift of a treasured
cow. She wraps hands around udders, shudders

the flesh to reap its milky river, to feed her young.
A barren land, enriched with dung, she swaps

surplus for seeds, conjures pigweed,
sweet-corn, spinach, leaves hunger between

cowpats & cabbages - spreads her word.

Anne Kenny

Monday, September 01, 2008

Haiku at Essex Poetry Festival

If I was in the UK this month you'd find me here on 27th September:

Nature walk and haiku poetry workshop at Chafford Gorges Visitor Centre, led by award-winning poets John Barlow and Matthew Paul. The workshop will explore various ways of writing haiku in English and will feature several group activities. Participants will be encouraged to write haiku on the day, and there will be the opportunity to discuss these or haiku you may already have written, both in a group context and/or one-to-one with the poets. Whilst concentrating on haiku, the workshop may also touch upon related poetic forms such as tanka and haibun.

Suitable for all ages and abilities - from those completely new to haiku to more experienced writers.

An Essex Wildlife Trust / Essex Poetry Festival event
Chafford Gorges Visitor Centre
Drake Road , Chafford Hundred , Grays Thurrock , RM16 7RG
Phone 01375 484016 to book a place

1.30 pm Donation: £5

Essex Poetry Festival