A search for genuineness: poetry with Gerry Cambridge – 21 November 2018

Gerry Cambridge, poet, essayist and editor of The Dark Horse visited Ayr Writers’ Club to share some of his writing experiences and views with members.

Introduced by President Gill Sherry as a talented published poet, musician, nature photographer, we anticipated an interesting evening ahead.

Gerry recounted tales from his early writing days when he lived in a caravan in the depths of Stewarton countryside. It seems that life lived alone can inspire and enhance deep thinking in the search for truth in writing. Gerry recalled Alasdair Gray’s advice on writing; to first become a shepherd for five years and talk to no-one.

Gerry’s successful writing career began with a letter to the Reader’s Digest magazine. Following the advice given to aspiring writers such as ourselves in Ayr Writers’ Club, ‘study the market’, he researched the Reader’s Digest style, content and readership then wrote an article and sent it off.

Gerry held our attention as he explained how he had become the Reader’s Digest’s youngest-ever freelancer, receiving £1000.00 per article in the 1980s. Reading excerpts from his article, Life’s Like That, The Passing of a Publishing Empire, Gerry gave insights into the ways of writing for that once-mighty magazine. By 2010, the Readers’ Digest was facing closure, but Gerry Cambridge fortunately could turn his hand to poetry.

He describes his poetry as a ‘search for the truth or genuineness’ and referenced Philip Hobsbaum’s description of poetry as a sensitivity to language, with a personal orientation towards the Universe. Gerry gave us a thought to ponder: that poetry cannot be corrupted by money; usually poems are not published for big money, therefore they express something closer to truth than other forms of writing.

Or he asked us to consider Ted Hughes’ approach to poetry as to ‘come into possession of your own experience’. In this way, writing poetry can be a personal exploration.

Gerry reminded us would-be poets to avoid cliché, to be aware that the more literary a poem is, the more readers may be aware of style, structure, etc.

In order to explain the importance of structure in poetry, Gerry read as one sentence, William Carlos Williams’ experimental poem, The Red Wheelbarrow: ‘so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.’

Next, Gerry explained that the poem had been crafted in eight lines, controlling the way in which a poem is read, thus creating a shift in the reader’s perspective on the subject matter.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Gerry shared some ideas of how the creative process may be kindled by putting two words together, e.g. light and leaves. Both words have various meanings and grammatical forms; light (adj.) meaning illuminated; light (adj.) meaning fair; light (verb) to start on fire; leaves (noun) green foliage; leaves (verb) to abandon, etc.

During questions in Part Two of the evening, we discussed poetry competitions. Titles are important for poems, but Gerry advised us to avoid what he called ‘funky’ or weird titles for competition entries. As a judge in a major poetry competition, Gerry was not in favour of attention-seeking titles.

In common with other professional guest writers to Ayr Writers’ Club, Gerry advises careful editing before submitting poems for competitions or publication.

On compiling poems for an anthology, Gerry’s technique is to write and write and write, then when a big enough pile gathers, he picks poems out for a book.

For how to get your poems out there, Gerry does know poets who have written poetry for use in adverts; performance poetry is an increasingly popular trend (as proven by our own Tracy Harvey); poetry appears on YouTube, in blogs and in self-publishing. Gerry pointed out that the public turn to poetry at certain times in a national sense, so it may be possible to get involved in writing poetry for a local or nation project.

For me, Gerry’s lasting advice is to be genuine in your writing.

Rhona Anderson

One comment

  1. Rose Macgregor

    Great recall of the evening and of a very fascinating writer well done Chris.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.