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.
Friday, 29 July 2011
hayfields, horse-dung & blossom
In case you're in at 4.30pm in the UK this Sunday coming, July 31st, the first of the new series of Poetry Workshop on Radio 4 with Ruth Padel is broadcast. With any luck they won't have cut my poem! (Aired again the following Saturday, 6th August, 11.30pm.)
Talking of cuts, I've had another little flurry of communications about the absence of my regular column in MsLexia mag. Thank you, friends. This jolted my (also absent) memory about my intention to include previous columns here. This is one of them.
‘Being a writer is a whole way of life,’ says Natalie Goldberg; ‘a way of seeing, thinking, being.’
In my columns I addressed what I consider to be core practice for a writer: finding ways to open conduits from the fertile life of the subconscious realm into the conscious mind, and finding starting points for making use of the flow of images, memories, associations and feelings that arise and are captured in ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing.
This practice can be deepened so much by including close observation. Paying attention, really paying attention, is key to writing of any kind: poetry, fiction, non-fiction.
Much of the work I do with others, whether schoolchildren or adults, takes place outside. I ask people to register and record their sensory response with close attention to the environment, and then to pay attention to the relationship they make with what they perceive – in other words, to the flow between inner and outer.
Something I stress is the way we overlook certain senses in favour of our eyes, or our ears; so I also ask people to relate consciously and singly via each sense (if appropriate, including taste): so often we forget the potency of smell, or the messages received via the haptic. There’s a certain Zen discipline in this: when we’re fingertipping the moss, describing the exact shade of the first bluebell, the feel of bare feet on cool sand or hot tarmac, noticing the distant roar of traffic, sinking teeth into a sharp apple, catching a whiff of hayfields or horse-dung, we’re doing it with all of ourselves, bringing everything to this moment, this now.
Clearly, close observation includes observation of our own species, too: invaluable for fiction writers. More on that another time; but if you'd like to put this observation into practice, here's a start. Take your notebook outside, and find a place, where there is plenty of foreground detail but where you can also see the horizon.
You’ll see that in one of the five stages I also invite in imagination and/or memory.
This exercise is most effective if you keep your responses brief and vivid – just a few lines each time, and stay with the present tense. Please feel free to be poetic!
Spend some time noticing, and then jot down, what you perceive in the environment in front of you in the:
1. Foreground – a spread of a few metres
2. Middle distance – not close enough to be aware of much detail
4. Over the horizon
5. Very close up and detailed – within centimetres or fewer: an insect, a piece of lichen, a mark or stain, your thumbtip.
Which of these proved easy, and which more challenging? It can also prove fruitful to apply this template separately to your inner, or personal, life. Is there a way then to bring the two together?
Sharp-eyed readers might spot that my post yesterday sort-of followed these guidelines.
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- lughnasadh: John Barleycorn must die
- hayfields, horse-dung & blossom
- speaking of now
- architecture of a wasps' nest
- political extremism and acts of hatred
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