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

Friday, 29 April 2011

margins - the practice of writing

I’ve previously posted two of my past columns for the MsLexia magazine slot ‘Writing Your Self’: ‘rainforests and fishing lines’ and ‘reeling in the fish’. The column looked at the relationship between inner work and writing, and also writing practice as a discipline. The columns I’ve posted looked at entering ‘the zone’, the place in which creativity is allowed to emerge. I spoke of the importance of freeflow writing (often known as ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing).
   I need to say that simply the practice of this kind of freeflow writing is enough in itself. Like any other discipline – scales, meditation, yoga, running – you will in any case see long term benefits, and these increase with the doing anyway. What’s important is the process, and the showing up for it, as Natalie Goldberg says.
   However, in my groups (in which I almost always use this freeflow technique at the start of the day) I choose usually to take this work further, often with astonishing results.

There are three stages to what happens next. The first part involves applying some reflective questions to the passage you’ve written (and I need to acknowledge here some thoughts on which I’ve built from a conference workshop by Kate Thompson some years ago).
   Here’s a way forward, if you want to follow this – even if you’re not a writer it offers useful insight. Assuming you’ve a reasonably substantial chunk of freeflow writing, maybe from a creative journal, if you keep one, or prose reflections from a notebook – say a couple of pages – first take a moment to read it back. Then jot down these three questions, and read it through again slowly, responding to each question in turn:

What do I notice in the writing?
Are there any surprises?
What am I really writing about?

At this point you might want to take time out – make a cup of tea, walk the dog. When you come back to the writing, the third question in particular may have opened a doorway.

Now comes the second phase. Take a highlighting pen and mark out any strong words, images or phrases – strong because you like them, because they hold an emotional charge, or because they work poetically.

For phase three, you might choose to use some of the marked phrases, or you might find that you don’t use any of the words in the original piece (in fact this last stage may appear to have few obvious connections with the original freeflow. That’s OK.) The brief here is to write a tiny poem – and it’s important that you keep it short. I’m really strict with my students about this: they are allowed a maximum of 30 words (no, not even 31). It concentrates the mind wonderfully, and you will find that with so little room for manoeuvre you really focus on what you want to say. I find that some extraordinary writing comes out of this. I hope you do, too.

Here’s a little 30-worder of mine (plus title):

To margins

and nameless places

to that twig quivering
where the bird

to the tilt of our lives
and away from
each other

to words
and to
speaking without them

– Roselle Angwin (this poem prefaces the anthology Pendulum: the poetry of dreams, ed Deborah Gaye)

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