Friday, February 20, 2009

February Free Write...

... around any, or all, of the following. Use the words or phrases as your starting points, or let them springboard you into a memory, image, or phrase of your own. But whichever you choose, try and write freely:

Keep your pen moving (even if you have to write - I don't know what to write, or What I really want to say is...)

Don't stop to change, edit or correct.

Go with what arises, even if it feels poor, ridiculous, or anxious.

Write for at least 10 minutes, 20 minutes if you have the time.

Don't read back over your writing. Not for a few days.

Perhaps you'll find the seeds of a poem when you do read it. Perhaps not. But you will feel better for having written deeply.


Remember the time when...


These are the lies I have told...

Once upon a time...

Old bones...

When I die I will...


Write well.
Lynne x

Sunday, February 08, 2009

February Poetry Prompt 1 - Imperative

Prose poems are not easy to write, though there are one or two poets who have the gift of making them seem effortless. Patricia Debney is one of those poets.

How Not to Be a Woodlouse

Avoid damp, dark places. Try not to hide. Your shell is for protection only.

Seek sunshine, dry weather, fresh flowers. Develop a taste for clean, clear water, and the smooth, pungent skin of just-picked fruit.

Celebrate the lightness of your touch, the way your feathery caress holds people still.

Remember, that, like you, the world is not black and white, but made up of delicate shades of grey.

Patricia Debney
from How to be a Dragonfly
Smith Doorstop 2005

Buy now from The Book Depository

However, what I'd like to explore during this prompt is not how to write a prose poem. although the option is there, but how we might use the imperative.

The imperative is the verbal form that expresses command, entreaty, advice, exhortation, and generally exists in the 2nd person (Pick up the book - literally 'you' pick up the book) or the 1st person plural (Let's catch a train.)

We use imperatives from day to day for different reasons, e.g.
telling people what to do: Close the window.
giving instructions: Put the coin in the slot and press the red button; Add 3 oz of sugar.
giving advice: See the doctor - it's the best thing.
making recommendations: Have the fish, it’s always good here.
making offers: Have a bit more wine.

There’s an idea of authority behind the use of the imperative, but its use doesn’t imply that the addressee will succumb to the suggested authority of the speaker.

Patricia Debney's poem is a list of instructions that takes the form of an extended metaphor: we realise that these actions and insights translate to the human condition. This is persuasive, gentle advice (to the poet herself, to a specific person, or to a more general audience) that transcends any one individual's experience and addresses a collective consciousness. The use of the imperative is an essential part of the poem's effect on the reader.

However, the imperative can also be aggressive, accusatory, judgemental. It can express anger, fear. It can exhort, and even suggest hopelessness. Think of Dylan Thomas's 'Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light' - a poem that asks for the impossible, that is without authority to change anything.

Flick through an anthology and look for poems that use the imperative. Try and identify:

1.the effect of the imperative (tone, mood, theme)
2. who’s speaking to whom
3. the degree of authority

and then try writing your own poem that uses the imperative either as a principal shaping tool, or at some point in the poem for a particular effect.

I look forward to reading your poems, and in the meantime here's one of mine from my collection, Learning How to Fall:

The Path

What woke you last night –
screech of owls,
the moon smothered by clouds?
This morning a fracture
of tail-feathers on the path,
wind scouring the glen,
your own breath sucked in
through clenched teeth,
and this bush choked by holly –
green berries hard as stone.
Don’t touch them. Don’t stray
into the tangled woods
with your gift of fruit,
your feet twisting in hollows.
Don’t look up
through the cracked
kaleidoscope of leaves
to see what that cawing is,
the world tipping, your heart
unsure where it belongs.
Go back.
...........At the place
you started from, an open door,
heat, a man and woman
laughing – voices
you will begin to recognise.

Lynne Rees

Friday, February 06, 2009

January Prize Poem

Well, you certainly had fun with the Fibonacci poems! I loved reading them... tricky little things to make interesting though, aren’t they?

One of the difficulties I encountered was giving each line enough ‘weight’ i.e. making it interesting enough... always a problem when a line only has one word.

There’s also the issue of fluidity. Does the line break help or hinder the flow of the poem? Is it just an exercise in counting syllables or have we used the line breaks to contribute more to the poem e.g. hesitation, suspense, dramatic development?

I thought Martin Cordrey’s:

as if
someone has
moved the horizon
and I can nibble the moon

made good use of the line breaks (the hesitations feel appropriate to the emotional mood in the first 3 lines - even if the last line is one syllable short) as did Charlotte Segaller’s:

falls back down,
like the hilltown's sighs
in that soft grey column of rain.

The image accumulates in the first 3 lines, taking us higher, before the fall contained in the 4th line with its thump of three one syllable words.

But the poem I’ve chosen this month is Annie Clarkson’s ‘Recovery’:


Here is a chicken coop with no hens.

A burnt out caravan, a tin of gasoline,
a rusting tap, three empty barrels,

standing by a corrugated shed.
Where I can hear a radio

an old transistor’s crackle and hiss.
Nobody is listening.

Cold mug of tea. Worn armchair
Pair of slippers with nobody to wear them.

I sit in the shed and stare out
at nothing, no life that I can see.

Brown furrows where there should be
leeks or carrots or beets.

Not even prickled bushes or squat trees.
Dried earth for miles. Grey sky.

Then, at the edge of my vision-
a dash of colour, a wingbeat.

It’s hard for me to see, but for a moment
on the rotting handle of a spade,

almost breathless, it flits from spade
to rusting tap to the edge of the door,

darts towards me and rests
this fleeting sign of life

on the arm of my chair.

Annie Clarkson

One of the things I enjoyed so much about this poem was the reward of returning to the title and it feeling so absolutely, perfectly chosen. Because of the length of the poem, and the accumulation of imagery, I’d actually forgotten about it until I reached the end and glanced back. And then came the ‘Yes!’ that we all want our readers to say and feel in response to our work.

The dash of colour, the wingbeat is nudging the narrator towards recovery, away from the emptiness, the brokenness, and the absence suggested by the powerful imagery in the poem. This is more than hope, this feels like promise.

Many congratulations, Annie. If you email me with your postal address, I’ll put your ‘prize’ in the post.