Poetry workshop – 20th February 2013

Three years ago Dave gave me a light bulb moment, my poetic epiphany. Until then I’d studiously avoided dipping into what, to me, were the dark arts; expertly practised only by those who had some elusive gift or power.
Dave, was a professional writer, a journalist with Which? We often sat together on the creative writing programme we both attended and bemoaned our apparent poetic blindness. However, while I always chose the non-poetic option for an assignment, he would occasionally come up with a few crafted lines or verses.
It helped add depth to his other writing, he claimed. It forced him to think and write about his “everyday” in a richer, more interesting way. Although I understood, I didn’t do anything about it: until one of Alison’s workshops.
At the last one she shared a quotation that captured the essence of what we should aspire to achieve when writing poetry:
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world and makes familiar objects be as if they are not familiar.”
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)
As before, having encouraged us to indulge in a spell of “free writing”, we all scribbled like fury for five minutes to expand on, “I walked past a house where I used to live …”. After extracting the words and phrases that stood out, we looked at how they could be shaped, honed or simply tweaked. The remainder was not necessarily dross or drivel, just material that could be put aside for the future. Now we had something to work on. Importantly we also saw how useful the technique could be to unlock any latent creativity, and also discover emotions and thoughts that lay just below the surface.
Since the previous workshop earlier efforts had been sharpened. Now it was time to see how they had progressed. Rhona started the day with a morning walk, while Alison sipped tea as she rested tiring legs. A recurring challenge arose as comment and feedback was made: what else needs to be done? Despite the way in which Michael squeezed every last detail from a sepia photograph, to Greta’s “arboreal rhapsody”, improvements could always be made: a word that jarred here, a cliché to be avoided there, a rhythm not quite right when spoken out loud. In fact, it was suggested that a poem was never finished, just abandoned. The challenge is to know when to stop.
But how do we start to fill that empty page? Don’t look for things; just take what life throws at you was Alison’s advice. Or in our case this evening, use the random objects we’d brought along. I’m sure we’ll all wait with bated breath for the next workshop to discover what arises from jewellery, old pens, trolls, photographs, ink pots, and even something to do with belly-dancing.
Finally came the evergreen advice, and Alison’s confession that she often needs to immerse herself in some poetry to help get into the right frame of mind: you need to read to write. So now I’m off to find some poetry.
Nigel Ward

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