from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 7 July 2014

poetry: q & a

For over twenty years now, I've been leading a closed monthly poetry group here at my home. A few of the original people are still with me; most of the current group have been coming since last century(!), and from time to time, I invite a new person to join us, if I believe that their poetry is strong enough, they are au fait enough with the contemporary poetry scene, are serious about improving their work, and also fit with the ethos and essential spirit of this group.

The actual groupwork, and the bond we share, is a significant part of the process of supporting and encouraging our individual creativity. It's very clear each time how profound is the companionship in the group, how trusting, how intimate – and playful – our connections, and from what a deep well the poetry we write springs. No matter what else is going on in our own individual lives, we know that once a month we can drop into that shared silence from which good art might arise; and we know that poetry and the group process will contain us, nurture us, challenge us – both to be authentic and to write from the heart. This is poetry; and this is soulwork.

But I don't mean sloppy soppy spills of emotion; a gush of the sentimental. Poetry is maybe unique amongst the expressive arts in that first we have to write from the level of the heart, and then we have to bring in the shaping reasoning aspects of mind: the creator and the editor.

One of the challenges for me as facilitator is to come up with new exercises. Naturally I repeat some, sometimes in a slightly different format; but mostly I imagine something new. I must have dreamed up 2000+ new 'ways in' to writing since the group's inception.

I enjoy stuff 'from left field' that might shake us out of our grooves. One catalyst is to jolt ourselves out of our habitual vocab, diction, concerns.

Sometimes, then, the poems have the flavour of, to borrow Hesse's title, 'News from a Distant Star'. When this happens, it's very exciting; and that's something I want to try and trigger as much as I can.

When Hilaire told me of an exercise on Roy Marshall's blog I thought I might adapt that for last Saturday's workshop.
What I did was to bring in a heap of magazines: The New Scientist, New Statesman, Resurgence, Devon Life, RSPB, MsLexia. I suggested that they flipped through one or more (knowing than in fact they'd of course be sidetracked by Really Interesting Info, especially in the New Scientist, for those of us of an 'arty' bent), and make a list of questions they found in the mag/s. I suggested they also look for statements that they could rephrase as questions. When it came to 'answering' the questions, I left it open: make up their own, go back to a (different?) mag, or 'do what the **** they wanted' with the qs, as one (male) poet expressed it. The point, though, was to make both q and a as original and surprising as possible.

Of course there was a further step: to find a way in to creating a new poem from the phrases or ideas generated. For some people, this exercise was simply a 'way in' to stimulating something new from their own imagination that didn't appear outwardly to have much to do with the list. For others, recombining questions and answers as they were generated something interesting, and led them as poets into a different direction altogether from their usual 'habits' of imagining/thinking/writing/subjects.

One person stuck with Roy Marshall's way in, creating a list of their own questions rather than finding them elsewhere (Roy doesn't specify how or where you 'find' the answers) and sometimes but not always 'answering' from a mag. In some ways this was a useful and easier way in. His final long 'list' poem was excellent. Other poets who'd gone off at a tangent, or found surprising juxtapositions, created really original, and/or moving, poems.

I love questions. I personally feel that, philosophically and heuristically speaking, qs are much more fruitful than answers, as of course they can be creatively, too. The latter can keep us stuck in outworn and rigid modes of behaviour. Questions have a dynamic motion, such potential, vibrating in that little glyph '?' – so much more than in the full stop. (Don't they?)

So here's a small exercise – perfectly safe for you to try at home. I think.

Over the course of day one, make a list of ten questions, in relation to anything at all and from as many disparate spheres of life/your life as possible. Capture them as you hear them.

Tomorrow morning, or day two, either as soon as you wake up or throughout the day as yesterday, scribble very quickly some answers to each of them (it may be more than one for each q; or miss some qs out if they don't yield potential. It doesn't matter.) The answers might come from your imagination, or books you pick up at random; something you overhear. What's important creatively is to not try to answer the questions logically, rationally; but to allow strange things to blossom.

On day three, make a poem - binning those lines/ideas which didn't work. Reorder as necessary.

If you'd like, send one in to me, and if I have a few I'll post them here.

1 comment:

  1. (D R - I've moved your comment from the Comments block to where it should be - on today's post! Thank you!)


Blog Archive