Workshop Three at Trowbridge Museum: Simon Armitage and other poets

For my final March workshop at Trowbridge Museum, on UNESCO World Poetry Day, March 21, 2012, we started by reading Paul Farley’s poem ‘I Ran All the Way Home’ (after Joe Brainard) and used the repeated phrase “I remember” as a warm-up exercise to write memories, as detailed or as fleeting as the group wished.

Still thinking about our memories of the past, we looked at two Simon Armitage poems, ‘Mother, any distance greater than a single span..’ and ‘My father thought it bloody queer..’ and the next writing task was to write about a parent/child relationship.

We then looked at Carol Ann Duffy‘s poem about the death of her mother, ‘Premonitions’ and another of what Duffy has called her ‘Times Arrow’ poems, ‘Last Post’, ‘Times Arrow’ poems being poems which tell the narrative backwards (after Martin Amis’ novel of the same name).  The next challenge was to use this backwards technique in a poem.

Still thinking about time and its manipulation in poetry, we read Patience Agbabi‘s poem, ‘Unfinished Business’ which is a specular or mirror poem, and the next writing task was to use the technique of writing a poem with a mirror image. This poem was published the Winter 2011 issue of Poetry Review.  I liked it so much I wrote to Patience Agbabi and she told me that the poem is a retake on the Tale of Melibee from the contemporary version of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales that she’s is working on.

Next we turned to something more light-hearted, and attempted to write a dramatic monologue, particularly thinking about writing a condescending or patronising voice, using Simon Armitage’s ‘Very Simply Topping Up the Brake Fluid‘ as our model.

Returning to the theme of ‘time’ we read Robin Robertson‘s poem ‘About Time’ and stole his  lines “In the time it took to hold my breath” and “I swam one length underwater..” as prompts to write about the illusion of time passing quickly.

We returned to Armitage for another dramatic monologue, this time writing the voice of a side-kick or secondary character, using the poem ‘Kid’ as inspiration.

Staying with Armitage for the final two poems, the group looked first at ‘I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself to the National Health..” and used these first lines to write about what they would leave of themselves, who they’d leave it to and what they’d leave out.  Finally, returning to time, the poem ‘Night Shift’ and its opening line “Once again I’ve missed you by moments;” was a prompt to write about just missing someone.

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